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Pope asks Bush to spare McVeigh

Pope John Paul II has asked President Bush to spare the life of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who is scheduled to be executed on 16 May.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that a letter from the Holy Father requesting clemency was received last week.

Legal scholars said it appeared Bush had no way to intervene in the execution even if he were inclined to.

McVeigh allowed a 16 February deadline to pass without filing a request for clemency. After that the execution date was set. Under federal rules, McVeigh had one month after his execution date was set to ask the president for consideration.

"The president has great respect for the pope and this is a tragic situation. The president also has deep compassion and sympathy for the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and their families," Buchan said.

"While a clemency decision is not before the president, as governor of Texas, he asked two questions: one, was there any doubt about the guilt or innocence of the person? and two, did they have full access to the judicial system? In this instance, there is no doubt and Mr. McVeigh has had full access to the courts."

Catholic leaders in the US released statements echoing the pope's request.

"Our faith challenges us to transcend a personal desire for revenge," said Stephen Glodek, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. "After all, if an unrepentant Timothy McVeigh does not deserve the death penalty, who does? Yet our spiritual conviction remains that state-sanctioned execution is immoral."