Popular Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly was fired from his prime-time TV position yesterday, just hours after shaking hands with Pope Francis.
O'Reilly has been dogged by claims of sexual harassment, which caused many advertisers to cease sponsorship of his Fox News show, the O'Reilly Factor. Yesterday 21<sup>st Century Fox, which owns the Fox News Channel, announced O'Reilly had been dropped. Hours before, he had spent his morning meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican, according to the New York Times.
The Catholic TV host who had previously taken the pontiff to task for his views on immigration, sat in a VIP section in St Peter's Square. After the Pope's traditional Wednesday address, O'Reilly shook hands with Francis.
Francis clashed with US conservatives last year when he made comments aimed at then presidential-candidate Donald Trump, who had repeatedly called for tighter immigration and a border wall between the US and Mexico. Francis said in February: 'A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.'
Days later O'Reilly hit back on his Fox TV show.
'The Pope. I would very much like to speak with him. And if I can arrange that, I would like to bring the family of Kate Steinle with me,' O'Reilly said, referring to an American woman killed by a deported Mexican labourer.
He added: 'Finally, I would suggest to Pope Francis that millions of Americans have been harmed economically by our immigration system, which desperately needs reform. I think I could persuade the Pope that providing protection and enforcing settled law is certainly not un-Christian.'
It is not known what words were exchanged between O'Reilly and Francis. Before their meeting Francis had given an address about hope in the face of despair, saying that 'God makes his most beautiful flowers bloom amid the most arid rocks'.
He also gave a special blessing to English-speaking pilgrims, saying: 'I invoke upon you and your families the loving mercy of God our Father.'
In a statement yesterday 21<sup>st Century Fox said: 'After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.'
The move is a significant one given that O'Reilly's show is one of the network's most popular, averaging 4 million viewers, and bringing Fox News $147.13 million in advertising revenue in 2016.
Fox and O'Reilly had previously paid five women a total of $13 million to settle harassment claims made against the anchor, but O'Reilly denies the allegations.
Responding to the news of his departure, O'Reilly said: 'It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims. But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today.'
He added: 'I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.'
Additional reporting by Reuters