Common Ground, Divisions Surface in Obama-Pope Francis Meeting at Vatican

President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014, at the Vatican. Obama called himself a "great admirer" of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama's administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama meets with Pope Francis, Thursday, March 27, 2014, at the Vatican. Obama called himself a “great admirer” of Pope Francis as he sat down at the Vatican Thursday with the pontiff he considers a kindred spirit on issues of economic inequality. Their historic first meeting comes as Obama’s administration and the church remain deeply split on issues of abortion and contraception. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have concluded their first meeting at the Vatican. The U.S. president focused on common ground issues like economic inequality during the much-anticipated visit. However, sharp differences over abortion and birth control also emerged. Discussions between the leaders centered on questions of “particular relevance for the church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,” the Vatican said. The leaders also discussed immigration reform, touching on an issue where Obama has largely enjoyed the support of America’s many Hispanic Catholics. The Vatican didn’t say whether those issues came up directly with Francis or in a subsequent meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Obama emerged refreshed from his audience with the pope, during which he expressed his great admiration and invited him to visit the White House. “It is a great honor. I’m a great admirer,” Obama said after greeting the pope with a slight bow as they shook hands. “Thank you so much for receiving me.”

Although Obama and the church remain deeply split over social issues, Obama considers the pontiff a kindred spirit on issues of inequality, and their private meeting in the Papal Library ran longer than scheduled. After they emerged to cameras, Francis presented Obama with a copy of his papal mission statement decrying a global economic system that excludes the poor. Obama said he will keep it in the Oval Office.

This report compiled with information from the Associated Press.