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The BBC's Tom Carver in Rome
"The Pope seized the opportunity to tell the President of his vehement opposition"
 real 56k

Monday, 23 July, 2001, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Pope warns Bush on stem cells
George and Laura Bush at the Roman Forum
President Bush and his wife visited Rome before meeting the Pope
Pope John Paul has told the United States it should ban genetic research involving human embryos, describing the work as evil.

Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life

Pope John Paul II
"A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death," the pontiff told the president during their first ever meeting.

"Every nation, including my own, benefits from hearing and heeding this message of conscience," responded Mr Bush in a prepared statement.

The president travelled out to the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, in the hills outside Rome in what is one of the most important moments of his European tour.

Papal condemnation

Mr Bush must decide whether to allow federal funds to be used in research on stem cells from human embryos.

Doctors believe that these cells would help cure severe illnesses and a number of American anti-abortion groups have supported it.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope issued a strong condemnation of embryo research
But the pontiff made his unequivocal condemnation of the research clear.

"Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the world, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide, and, most recently, proposals for the creations for research purposes of human embryos destined to destruction in the process," he said.

The Pope also called on Mr Bush to help bridge the gap between rich and poor nations.

"A global world is essentially a world of solidarity. From this point of view, America, because of her many resources, cultural traditions and religious values, has a special responsibility," he said.

Church partnership

Mr Bush, a Methodist, was accompanied by his wife and 19-year-old daughter during the 35-minute meeting.

He is trying to drum up support for his proposal to develop a partnership between religious groups and the state in caring for America's poor and elderly.

The initiative has been flagging because of the lukewarm response from American churches.

After seeing the Pope, Mr Bush is holding talks with the centre-right Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

On Tuesday he travels on to Kosovo to boost the morale of American troops.

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See also:

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