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Protect human life, Pope urges Bush

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- Pope John Paul II has urged President George W. Bush to reject medical research on human embryos.

During their first face-to-face meeting on Monday in Italy, the pope said the United States had a moral responsibility to reject actions that "devalue and violate human life."

The pontiff and Bush met for about 30 minutes behind closed doors at the papal summer residence Castel Gandolfo in the foothills south of Rome.

In a statement afterwards, the pope said an "area in which political and moral choices have the gravest consequences for the future of civilisation concerns the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life itself."

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

Pope John Paul II comes out against stem cell testing, ahead of Bush's decision. CNN's Kelly Wallace reports

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U.S. President George W. Bush meets with Pope John Paul II

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Transcript: President Bush's full statement  
Transcript: Pope John Paul's full statement  
Message board: Stem cell research  
CNN's Alessio Vinci: "The pontiff reiterated his opposition to stem cell research"
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"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.

"In defending the right to life, in law and through a vibrant culture of life, America can show the world the path to a truly humane future, in which man remains the master, not the product, of his technology."

On Sunday, Vatican officials had indicated the pope would not be drawn on stem cell research when he met the president.

The pontiff's remarks touched on Bush's pending decision whether to permit federal funds for potentially breakthrough medical research on stem cells from human embryos.

The Roman Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to such studies because they involve the destruction of surplus embryos being discarded by fertility clinics.

Bush did not immediately respond to the stem cell question but later at a press conference, the president said; "He's sent a consistent word throughout the Church, and throughout society, that we ought to take into account the preciousness of life,"

Like the two Republican presidents before him -- his father George and Ronald Reagan -- Bush sees eye to eye with the pope on some moral issues, particularly abortion.

The Clinton administration and the Vatican clashed openly over abortion at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo.

Bush also met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Bush's wife Laura and daughter Barbara, dressed in black and wearing mantillas, also went into the room to greet the pope.

The private talks between Bush and the pope covered a range of issues, although it is believed the controversial issue of capital punishment was not raised.

The pope has called for a worldwide ban on the death penalty, saying modern means of punishing, repressing and preventing crime had made cases where it was necessary "practically non-existent."

When Bush was Republican governor of Texas, 152 executions took place during his nearly six years in office, the highest rate in the United States.

The Pope asked Bush to spare the life of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in May. The president refused and McVeigh was executed June 11.

Bush, a Methodist who has been courting Catholic voters, has spoken of how much he looked forward to meeting the frail 81-year-old John Paul.

"His influence has had an extraordinary importance in encouraging freedom," Bush said in an interview with an Italian newspaper.

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