The Cable

Joe Biden On Confessions, Cars, and Holy Wagers

In unscripted moment at the Vatican, the U.S. veep seeks absolution not for betting on cars, but for losing.

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 29:  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) greets Pope Francis (R) upon his arrival before Pope Francis receives in audience the participants at the international conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture on the progress of regenerative medicine and its cultural impact, at Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican City, Vatican on April 29, 2016. (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - APRIL 29: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) greets Pope Francis (R) upon his arrival before Pope Francis receives in audience the participants at the international conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture on the progress of regenerative medicine and its cultural impact, at Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican City, Vatican on April 29, 2016. (Photo by Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

ROME — God bless Joe Biden. The U.S. vice president can almost always be counted on to spice up an otherwise routine photo opportunity — even against the most august of backgrounds.

Biden was in Rome on Friday, and met with Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for an hours-long visit to address a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine. Biden’s oldest son, Beau, died of cancer last year, and the ebullient veep since has been even more vocal than usual in urging the world to fund cancer research.

According to White House pool reports, Biden was already in a light-hearted mood — and was spotted palling around with the pope — before heading into a meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state. This, despite losing a $10 bet with a New York Times reporter who was part of the vice president’s small contingent of traveling press.

Parolin may have been a bit nonplussed by Biden at the top of their meeting. In a characteristic non sequitur, the vice president announced he had a picture of himself with the cardinal hanging in his office. “Oh yeah?” Parolin responded, before turning to higher issues at hand: “You have already met with the Holy Father,” the cardinal said.

But Biden, being Biden, was still thinking about losing that bet. The vice president is known not only for his competitiveness and ability to banter endlessly, but also his love of American heavy metal — that is, sport cars.

“I have met with the Holy Father. And I’ve met with these guys, too,” Biden said, gesturing to the assembled journalists. He then gripped Times reporter Gardiner Harris — we’re assuming by the arm — and introduced him to Parolin thusly, according to the verbatim transcript of the White House pool report:

BIDEN: I had to pay this man $10. He’s from the New York Times. We had a bet: which is the faster car, the newer Cadillac or the new Musk car. Which?

POOLER: Tesla.

BIDEN: The Tesla. I bet the Cadillac.

POOLER: He went for the old technology. I went for the new.

PAROLIN: Oh yes?

BIDEN: The Tesla’s two tenths of a second faster. But I lost. I paid my $10. (LOUDER TO ENTIRE POOL, ROOM AND PERHAPS CITY) I want the record to show, I paid my $10.

MEMOLI (CATHOLIC REPRESENTATIVE IN POOL): Does that count as a confession, sir?

BIDEN: I’m seeking absolution!

As the pool report noted, betting is not a sin but isn’t exactly encouraged by religious authorities — particularly, one would think, at the Vatican. Yet Parolin “seemed unconcerned,” the report said.

In an earlier pool report, filed at 4:19 a.m. local time, the undoubtedly exhausted Harris noted that Biden had hunted him down to pay off the bet.

Biden “is a Corvette man,” the report said. “And he doesn’t Welsh on a bet.”

Photo credit: Riccardo De Luca / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

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