President Joe Biden is facing questions after the self-described "devout Catholic" announced he would not be visiting Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI.
The White House was careful to downplay Biden's absence, saying it was in "line with the wishes of the Vatican."
The only state delegations in attendance will be from Italy and Benedict's native Germany. The Vatican has said that Benedict wished for a simple funeral.
At a White House briefing, Biden press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the White House is sending Joe Donnelly, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, "in line with the wishes of the late Pope and the Vatican."
"This is what their requests were. This is what their wishes were,” Jean-Pierre said.
In a statement, Biden praised Benedict as a "renowned theologian, with a lifetime of devotion to the Church, guided by his principles and faith."
During a brief interview on the White House lawn Wednesday, Biden conceded that his own views were more in line with Pope Francis than the "more conservative" Benedict, who Biden met in 2011.
Biden called Benedict a "fine man" all the same.
"I found him to be relaxing, very rational and he was a more conservative view in the Catholic realm than I have. I'm closer to the Pope, the present Pope, in terms of philosophy, his view," Biden added. "But I admired him. I thought he was a fine man."
Biden said, "you know why" when asked why he is not attending Benedict's funeral, before clarifying that the president's large entourage would "get in the way."
"The reason why I'm not attending the funeral tomorrow is because it takes an entourage of 1,000 people, not literally, but we would move everything in the wrong direction," he said.
Biden visited Rome in 2021 to meet with Pope Francis, who permitted Biden to receive the eucharist despite his vocal support of abortion, which is a grave sin in Catholic teaching. At the time, Biden said that Francis called him a "good Catholic" and said he should continue receiving communion.
Pope Benedict died Saturday at 95. His last words were, "Lord, I love you."
The pope was the first in centuries to resign, taking on the title of "pope emeritus." His funeral will take place Thursday at St. Peter's Square.