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Pope challenges Obama directly on life issues

Catholic World News - July 10, 2009

In advance of Pope Benedict's meeting with President Barack Obama on July 10, several major American media outlets advanced the theme that the Pontiff, unlike some American bishops, was likely to show sympathy for Obama's political approach.

However, a Vatican statement released soon after the Friday meeting indicated that the Pope had spoken directly into a discussion of issues involving the sanctity of human life, on which Obama differs markedly from the Catholic Church. The Vatican said that the "cordial" conversation "turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all and which constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation and for the true progress of peoples, such as the defense and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience."

The conversation also touched upon embryonic stem-cell research, and the Pope gave his guest a copy of Dignitas Personae, the Vatican document that explains the Church's teaching on cloning, stem-cell research, and in vitro fertilization. Obama promised to read the document during his flight to Ghana.

The Pontiff and the American president also spoke about the quest for peace in the Middle East, concern for the environment, and efforts to relieve poverty.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that the Pontiff was impressed by the American president. Father Lombardi emphasized in his own comments to reporters that President Obama had spoken at length about his commitment to reduce the number of abortions performed in the US. Thus the papal spokesman-- who has issued public statements reducing the force of papal pronouncements on several recent occasions-- delivered the message that the White House had clearly hoped to convey to the world's media.

President Obama reportedly gave Pope Benedict a private letter from Senator Edward Kennedy. Although the contents of that letter were not disclosed, Obama did ask the Pope's prayers for Kennedy, who is suffering from a brain tumor.

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