Those in attendance included first lady Melania Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, communications adviser Hope Hicks, former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller and social media manager Dan Scavino. Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish, also met with the pontiff.
Meanwhile, Spicer, the highly visible White House aide who was reportedly excited to meet with Pope Francis, wasn’t there.
“Wow,” a source told CNN. “That’s all he wanted.”
Spicer’s absence struck a chord. By excluding him, “Trump has done something I thought was impossible,” tweeted Josh Dawsey, Politico White House reporter. “He has made everyone empathize with/defend Spicer.”
Even New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush spoke out. Spicer has on multiple occasions criticized and clashed with Thrush during press briefings, exchanges portrayed by Melissa McCarthy’s Spicer character on “Saturday Night Live.”
“That planners of this trip couldn’t or wouldn’t get @seanspicer into the Vatican speaks to a small-mindedness I find incredibly depressing,” Thrush tweeted.
Thrush’s colleague Maggie Haberman also tweeted about the snub. “This seems needlessly harsh — when else is Spicer likely to meet the Pope, and it mattered to him?” the Times White House correspondent said.
“Trump is a cruel boss,” said New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer, who said the president “didn’t let Sean Spicer meet the Pope out of sheer meanness.”
Politico Magazine editor in chief Blake Hounshell said that leaving out Spicer “seems like a slight.”
Huff Post published the headline: “Sean Spicer Gets A Ride On The Nope Mobile.”
CNN’s Erin Burnett said that getting to meetwith the pope “by all accounts would have been the highlight of his life.”
Mark Preston, a senior political analyst for CNN who attends church in the same parish as Spicer, told Burnett that “I’m sure is really hurting him,” and suggested Spicer’s exclusion reflected the president’s “pettiness.” Preston said of Spicer’s job: “There are very few perks; there are very long days. For something like this to happen to Sean Spicer I think really is an indictment against Donald Trump and again in his lack of loyalty.”
Burnett wrapped up the segment with this: “If Donald Trump indeed plans to remove him, go ahead and get rid of him. But he’s done a lot for you. This deeply mattered to him. I just think on a human level it was clear what the right thing to do was.”
Some outside of the media industry were equally sympathetic.
“I’m no Spicer fan, but Trump’s petty refusal to include him, a devout Catholic … was cruel and disgusting,” Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe tweeted.
“There are few things I despise more than people who use their power to step on the dreams of others,” another tweet said.
Spicer is a regular at Sunday Mass and told reporters earlier this year that he had given up alcohol for Lent. He was mocked last year for appearing on CNN with ashes on his forehead on Ash Wednesday.
Spicer did not respond to media requests for comment Wednesday evening, but he has spoken of his faith publicly. In a television interview during the Trump transition, Spicer said of his new job: “I’m going to look to God every day to give me the strength to do what’s right. That’s all you can ask for is to get up and say, ‘Can I do this thing?’ Help guide me and ask Him for strength.”
But some on social media expressed less sympathy toward the press secretary, with at least one Twitter user surmising, “maybe he didn’t want to go!”
And comedian Samantha Bee offered Spicer a word of advice, tweeting: “sorry about the pope. Remember, you don’t HAVE to put up with this …”