Embattled Fox News host Bill O’Reilly met Pope Francis on Wednesday in a greeting line at the Vatican in Rome.
According to the New York Times, the brief visit with the pontiff was part of the family vacation that O’Reilly embarked upon last week amid mounting accusations of sexual harassment, bullying and verbal abuse of women who worked with him at Fox.
During warmer weather, the Pope holds a weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square each Wednesday. O’Reilly was seated in a VIP section of congregants with whom Pope Francis shook hands, one by one.
Papal audiences are open to the public and many attendees arrive hours before the 10:30 a.m. start time to get good seats.
“The special section beside the stage holding the papal throne, where Mr. O’Reilly sat, is exclusive and entered only with special tickets distributed by the prefecture of the papal household, according to the Vatican press office,” the Times said.
The Vatican stated last week that no official audience between O’Reilly and Pope Francis was planned, nor would one occur.
Horowitz explained, “The post-audience greetings in the section are something akin to a V.I.P. rope line, and a way for visiting dignitaries to get to meet the pope without a formal audience. Often though, the pope is unaware of the people he is meeting there, and Wednesday’s exchange with Mr. O’Reilly echoed the pope’s 2015 meeting in the United States with Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who became a conservative hero for defying a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
O’Reilly has publicly criticized Francis for straying from hardline Catholic doctrine and for being pro-immigration. The conservative host said he wanted to meet with the Pope in Feb. 2016 so he could dissuade the pontiff from his stance on immigrants and refugees.
“I think I could persuade the Pope that providing protection and enforcing settled law is certainly not un-Christian,” O’Reilly said.
Whether he addressed the topic with Pope Francis Wednesday morning is unclear.
O’Reilly’s career is reportedly hanging in the balance as Rupert Murdoch — owner of Fox News and its parent company NewsCorp — and his sons James and Lachlan weigh whether O’Reilly, a ratings titan, is worth the public relations damage his presence does to a company that was already rocked by a sexual harassment scandal involving now-deposed CEO Roger Ailes.
O’Reilly is slated to return from vacation on Monday Apr. 24, but many are questioning now whether he will ever return to the airwaves on Fox at all.