Pope urges Bush to reject use of embryos in research

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Pope John Paul II urged President Bush to bar using human embryos for medical research, saying Monday that America has a moral responsibility to reject actions that "devalue and violate human life."

President Bush and Pope John Paul II discuss a variety of international issues during a meeting at the pontiff's summer residence near Rome.

Associated Press

Bush said later that he was not surprised by the pope's admonition and will take it into consideration as he makes his decision on whether to allow federal funding for such research.

"He's sent a consistent word throughout the (Catholic) church and society that we ought to take into account the preciousness of life," Bush said.

He said his decision revolves around "the need to balance value and respect for life with the promise of science in the hope of saving life."

Bush made his comments at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The 81-year-old pontiff and Bush met behind closed doors at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence in the foothills south of Rome. Bush said John Paul did not raise the subject of stem-cell research during their private session but focused on foreign policy and Bush's meeting Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While contemplating his decision, Bush also has been actively courting the United States' 44 million Catholic voters. He said he would listen to all sides of the debate but added that the stem-cell matter is not a political decision for him.

"I frankly do not care what the political polls say," Bush said. "I do care about the opinions of people, particularly someone as profound as the Holy Father."

Bush also said he admires the Catholic Church because "it's a church that stands on consistent and solid principle."

John Paul, stooped and frail in his chair, read a statement to Bush and his entourage after their private meeting.

"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 creation for research purposes of human embryos destined to destruction in the process.

"A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception to natural death," the pope added.

The pope opposes any stem-cell research specifically using embryos, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. Such research destroys the embryo.

Also on Monday, Bush met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Later Monday, Bush was attending a dinner held by Ciampi at the Quirinale Palace in Rome. He was to visit American forces in Kosovo on Tuesday.