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Pope thanks President Bush for defence of ‘moral values’


Pope Benedict XVI received President George W. Bush, not at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, but in the Vatican Gardens’ Tower of St John, a rare move interpreted by some media as papal agreement with the views of the US leader on bioethics and abortion.

The Vatican, however, said in a statement after the 13 June meeting the "special protocol" was to respond to the cordiality of the welcome received by Pope Benedict during his April visit to the United States.

Still, the statement said Benedict thanked Bush "for the president’s commitment in defence of fundamental moral values". Their discussions also covered issues such as US-Europe relations, the Middle East, globalisation, the food crisis and international trade, and the achievement of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty.

Some Italian newspapers, including the Rome-based La Repubblica and Milan-based Corriere della Sera, reported rumours about a possible conversion to Catholicism by president Bush. But there has been no confirmation about this, and the same newspapers also suggested such a conversion would be quite implausible. Bush is a United Methodist, and has sometimes been described as a "born-again" Christian.

The Tower of St John, where Pope Benedict received Bush, is an old palace situated at the top of the Vatican Gardens, behind St Peter’s Basilica, 300 metres from the Apostolic Palace.

After finishing their meeting, the Pope and President Bush walked together in the Vatican Gardens to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a copy of the grotto in the French town where according to tradition the virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

There they were joined by the president’s wife, Laura Bush, and the Choir of the Sistine Chapel sang two hymns.

La Repubblica reported that some cardinals disagreed with the welcome given to Bush due to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a war strongly condemned by Pope John Paul II. Other Italian newspapers wrote on 13 June that the problem for the Holy See is how to put an end to the tragedy of Iraq, and how to promote peace and reconciliation there.