Bill O’Reilly, the embattled Fox News host facing a barrage of sexual harassment accusations, briefly met Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning during the pontiff’s weekly general audience, shaking hands with a religious leader he once lectured over immigration.
Mr. O’Reilly, on vacation in Italy for the past week, sat in a V.I.P. section and shook hands with Francis. A photographer for L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, took a picture of Mr. O’Reilly, in a striped tie, shirt and jacket, shaking hands with Francis.
The weekly audience is a large event open to the public, with tens of thousands of the faithful filling the square. But 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 Vatican said last week that no official audience with Mr. O’Reilly was scheduled or would occur.
The current prefect of the papal household is conservative Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the longtime personal secretary of the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI.
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. That meeting struck a discordant note with the rest of Francis’ visit to the United States, but many conservative American Catholics, who have criticized the pope’s inclusive agenda, pointed to it as proof that the pope had not departed from the traditional culture war agenda.