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Pope tells Bush to reject embryo research

Pope John Paul II yesterday impressed upon US President George W. Bush his views on the difficult stem-cell decision awaiting Bush's return to Washington.

The Holy Father met Bush behind closed doors at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in the foothills south of Rome.

The Pope followed the meeting by reading a statement to Bush and his entourage, urging the US to reject the use of human embryos for scientific research.

He said: "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."

Bush thanked the Holy Father for reminding Americans that their prosperity "must be matched with compassion and moral purpose".

"And always to all you have carried the gospel of life, which welcomes the stranger and protects the weak and the innocent," said Bush, who also read from a prepared statement. "Every nation - including my own - benefits from hearing and heeding this message of conscience."

The pontiff's remarks, which Vatican officials a day earlier had not expected, will likely bear upon Bush's pending decision whether to permit federal funds for potentially breakthrough medical research on stem cells from human embryos.