By Bruce Johnston
THE POPE this week urged President George W Bush to ensure that man remained "the master, and not the product," of science.
In a meeting which took place in the summer papa! residence south of Rome, John Paul II asked the President of the United States to make an undertaking to oppose the use of human embryos in research.
He also urged him to oppose abortion, and tu open a debate into the death penalty.
John Paul said: "Experience is already showing how a coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes human embryos to be destroyed."
Mr Bush was said to have also informed the Pontiff of the outcome of the G8 summit, although he did not discuss the violence that over-shadowed it. The Pope for his part warmly recalled the two meetings which he had had with Mr Bush's father, George Bush, when he was President.
The Pope also raised the issue of the distribution of the world's wealth. He told the President: "A global world is essentially a world of solidarity."
The Vatican said that Mr Bush and the Pope also discussed the Middle East, the embargo against Iraq, to which the Pope is strongly opposed, and the question of religious freedom in the far East.
According to sources, during the talks Cardinal Angelo Soden°, the Vatican Secretary of State. complained about religious inequality of Catholics in Saudi Arabia.
He apparently also asked Mr Bush for America to help the Vatican to have a more meaningful dialogue with China with a view to ending religious persecution in the country.
Mr Bush, who is himself opposed to abortion, later assured reporters in Rome that he would "take the words of the Pope" concerning embryos "into consideration."
The Vatican's interest in the matter is understood to be connected to a decision which is expected to be taken soon, over whether to approve American federal financing for the production of the embryos of stem cells for research.
The meeting between Mr Bush and the Pope was described by one newspaper as "the first papal audience with an American President in the new era of the scientific frontier".
Mr Bush later said of the 20-minute meeting with the Pope: "We had a very good discussion."
He said that he was "not surprised" by the fact that the Pope broached the subject of embryos, adding: "The pro-life message is consistent with the messages that the Pope has always given, and from which he has never strayed.
"It is a message which had already had from the Catholic Church in our own country. What we have before us is a difficult choice.
"There is the need to balance the value of life, and the respect for it, with the promises held out by science, and the hope of saving other lives, "I will return home and continue to listen to different points of view, and will then decide when I am ready. And I will do it in the interests of the American people."
But it was on the subject of the death penalty that the American President was said to have been expecting to be given pressure by the Pope.
When governor of Texas, Mr Bush was approached more than once by Vatican diplomats with messages from the Pontiff requesting a stay of execution for people on death row.
The Vatican has similarly pleaded over every execution order in America, and recently, it has tried to sway Mr Bush in the first two federal execution cases in 37 years.
During the "extremely cordial" meeting at Castelgandolfo, Mr Bush and his wife were shown the panorama from the summer papal residence of the hills and Lake Albano, and were spellbound.