President Bush visits Pope Benedict - amidst conversion rumours

 US President George Bush had an audience with Pope Benedict on Friday, two months after the White House hosted a birthday party for the pontiff. during his tour of the USA. Over the weekend, many newspapers across Europe - referring to unnamed "Vatican sources" - speculated on whether the President might be considering becoming a Catholic. While some noted that the Catholic Church had strongly opposed the war on Iraq and other US policies such as the death penalty and Guantanamo Bay detention centre, several pointed out that that Bush's policies on same-sex marriage and abortion were firmly in line with Catholic teaching. They also noted that President Bush's brother Jeb Bush has converted to Catholicism. The Vatican press office issued the following statement after the visit: This morning, the president of the United States, George W.Bush, was received in audience by Benedict XVI. To respond to the cordiality of the welcome offered the Pontiff during his recent visit to the United States of America, the audience was carried out according to a unique protocol. The Holy Father welcomed the president, accompanied by his wife, Laura, and the ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, in the entrance of St John's Tower in the Vatican Gardens. Later, His Holiness and the president of the United States went up to the study on the upper level for a private meeting; meanwhile Laura and Ambassador Glendon waited with Archbishop James Michael Harvey, prefect of the pontifical household. Afterward, the cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, arrived. During the cordial dialogue, the Holy Father above all renewed to the president his gratitude for the warm and special welcome received in the United States and the White House during his visit last April, and for the commitment in defense of fundamental values. Then they spoke of principal topics of international politics: relations between the United States and Europe, the Middle East and the commitment for peace in the Holy Land, globalization, the food crisis and international commerce, and the application of the Millennium Development Goals. At the end of the meeting, after an interchange of gifts, Benedict XVI and President Bush took a brief walk through Vatican Gardens until reaching the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where the president's wife and entourage joined them. The choir of the Sistine Chapel performed two motets. Source: correspondents/VIS

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