Bill O'Reilly & Pope Francis Met Hours Before Fox News Cut Ties With Him

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Despite the fallout from the sexual harassment allegations scandal he denies, Bill O'Reilly met Pope Francis in Vatican City Wednesday. O'Reilly sat in the special VIP section behind the stage for the pope's weekly general audience and got to shake the pontiff's hand. According to the New York Times, tickets for this special section are granted by the prefecture of the papal household, not the pope himself, so it's likely that Pope Francis didn't know whom he would be meeting with.

O'Reilly was reportedly vacationing in Italy while Fox News executives were figuring out what to do about the public relations crisis surrounding the multiple sexual harassment allegations against the talk show host — allegations O'Reilly has repeatedly denied. The network confirmed Wednesday that he will not return to The O'Reilly Factor, or Fox News in general. The New York Times published a report in January claiming that Fox News had settled several separate sexual harassment lawsuits against O'Reilly over the years, paying out a total of more than $13 million.

When announcing his Easter vacation on air, O'Reilly claimed that the vacation was a longstanding, pre-planned trip. Either way, it coincided with the network's pressure to come up with a plan for O'Reilly's future at the company. Advertisers began ending their sponsorships of the show two weeks ago — Mercedes-Benz, Allstate, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Lexus, and ConstantContact had all dropped out of ad buys for the show, as well as many others.

News broke Wednesday about Fox News terminating its relationship with O'Reilly. According to New York Magazine, the network decided to end the 21-year run of The O'Reilly Factor, which Fox News later confirmed. O'Reilly also produces the Fox News series Legends and Lies, which is based on his own book series. The network did not say whether Legends and Lies will also be getting the ax due to O'Reilly's involvement.

The final question hanging in the wake of his termination is whether Tucker Carlson, who Fox News announced will be taking over O'Reilly's coveted 8 p.m. ET time slot, will be able to win over O'Reilly's audience. O'Reilly had one of the most loyal audiences on television, consistently placing him among the highest-rated cable news hosts over the course of its run. In the aftermath of the harassment allegations, as advertisers fled his show, O'Reilly's ratings actually rose by 28 percent from the previous year. According to the Los Angeles Times, the network as a whole could lose a quarter of its viewership when The O'Reilly Factor ends, so converting his audience to another personality would be critical for the network's continued success.