- (Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)
President Barack Obama is "looking forward" to meeting in the near future with Pope Francis, a White House spokesman confirmed after Secretary of State John Kerry hinted at the possibility.
"I do not have any more details for you on that – timing or location – except to say that the president very much looks forward to a meeting," White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing on Tuesday, according to Reuters. He added that the U.S. president is "certainly aware of and paying attention to the work being done by the pope and the Vatican."
The White House confirmation followed a remark by Kerry during his visit to the Vatican on Tuesday to discuss Middle East peace efforts with Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin.
"I know that the Holy Father is anticipating the visit of President Obama here, and the president is looking forward to coming here to meet with him," Kerry said in Rome, according to CNN.
Obama has praised Pope Francis' speeches and remarks on a number of occasions. In an October interview with CNBC he admitted that he was "hugely impressed" with the Vatican leader.
"I tell you, I have been hugely impressed with the pope's pronouncements. Not because of any particular issue," the commander-in-chief said.
"First of all, he seems somebody who lives out the teachings of Christ," Obama continued. "Incredible humility, an incredible sense of empathy to the least of these, the poor … He's also someone who is first and foremost thinking about how to embrace people as opposed to push them away."
Obama also praised Francis for his remarks on the global economy, in particular when the pope condemned global inequality and the "tyrannical" world economic system in his "apostolic exhortation" last year. Both Obama and Francis have been criticized for their economic views by conservative commentators like radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called the pope's comments "pure Marxism."
Pope Francis has met a number of the world's leaders since he was elected to serve as head of the Roman Catholic Church last year, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has not yet met Obama.
Former President George W. Bush did meet Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, when the Vatican leader flew in for an official state visit in April 2008. This marked the first papal U.S. visit since America and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations 24 years ago.