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Pope challenges Bush on death penalty

While speaking to President Bush on Monday, Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty, which Mr Bush authorised a record number of times while Governor of Texas and has reintroduced at federal level as President.

The Holy Father met Mr Bush at his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, in the hills south of Rome. He bluntly delivered the kind of message on the crisis of values in Western society which the more moderate anti-globalisation protesters would have liked to convey to Mr Bush had they been able to penetrate the "red zone" around the G8 summit venue.

The London Times reports that Mr Bush, with his wife, Laura, and his daughter, Barbara, sat straight-backed with his hands in his lap, a little like a schoolboy in the presence of a stern master. He and his family, who are Methodists, all wore black, in accordance with Vatican protocol, with the women covering their hair in lace mantillas.

The Pope told Mr Bush that America had a moral responsibility to reject actions that devalued and violated human life. He said that leaders must not succumb to the current "tragic coarsening of consciences" and "acquiesce in evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and most recently proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, which were destined for destruction in the process".

On the death penalty, the Pope said America should "reject practices that devalue and violate human life". During Mr Bush's six years as Governor of Texas he authorised 152 executions. Since his election as President there have been two federal executions after a gap of four decades.

Mr Bush praised the Pope as an opponent of tyranny: "You have urged men and women of goodwill to take to their knees before God and stand unafraid before tyrants." Mr Bush avoided any mention of the G8 summit but the Pope referred to "the greatly accelerated process of globalisation which you and other leaders of the industrialised nations discussed in Genoa" and hoped "all those who hold human rights dear . . . will struggle for a world of justice and social solidarity".

John Paul II welcomes US President Bush to the Vatican (VIS)

Times (London)