Pope Francis raises 'right to life' in Obama talks


The BBC's Alan Johnston describes the relaxed atmosphere at the meeting

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Pope Francis has met President Barack Obama in Rome for the first time, with the contentious issues of abortion and contraception on the agenda.

The Vatican said the talks touched on "the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection".

The Church backs doctors who refuse to perform abortions and is concerned at contraception in US healthcare laws.

Mr Obama, who has praised the Pope's compassion, told him it was a "great honour" to meet him.


The rather terse, short communique put out by the Vatican after nearly an hour of talks between Pope Francis and President Obama reflects the very different perspective on world affairs held by two of the world's most powerful leaders.

For Pope Francis, the Obama visit was just the latest in a long line of international VIPs who have been queuing for an audience with the first Pope in modern times to have emerged as a superstar.

Quite naturally he felt obliged to warn President Obama that there are certain limits to his "new look" for the Catholic Church which does not permit him to suggest there is any dissonance of views (on hot button issues like abortion and contraception) between US bishops and the Holy See.

Pope Francis' diary today included a special mass for 500 Italian MPs in which he warned them to avoid sliding ever downwards into corruption, and a meeting with his bishops from one of the world's poorest countries, Madagascar.

But the world view from the White House and the world view from the Vatican can sometimes be surprisingly varied.

The US president had flown to Rome after three days of talks with world leaders in the Netherlands and Brussels.

The Vatican gave few specifics about the nature of the "cordial" one-hour audience.

But in a statement it said: "In the context of bilateral relations and co-operation between Church and state, there was a discussion on questions of particular relevance for the Church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection."

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says the Pope strongly opposes Mr Obama's liberal views on abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

For example, contraception coverage is mandated under Mr Obama's healthcare laws.

Our correspondent says it had been expected that efforts to combat global poverty might feature prominently in the talks. But the Vatican's official statement made no mention of this.

It did refer to two areas of accord - reforming US immigration laws and tackling human trafficking.

President Obama's car enters the Vatican, flanked by Swiss Guard members Old met new as the president's high-tech car passed Swiss Guards on his way into the Vatican
Pope Francis and President Barack Obama smile as they exchange gifts at the Vatican The meeting likely came as a welcome rest-stop on a European tour dominated by Crimea

The Vatican said that "the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world was stated".

Mr Obama later said the pair did discuss responsibility to care for the poor.

The US president's motorcade had delivered him to a courtyard in the heart of the Vatican and he met the Pope in the papal palace.

Katty Kay speaks to Greg Burke the Vatican's Senior Adviser for Communications about the meeting between Barack Obama and Pope Francis

There was more traditional Vatican formality than the Pope has observed during much of his papacy so far.

Our correspondent says there were smiles and an easy opening exchange.

"It is a great honour. I'm a great admirer," the president said. "Thank you so much for receiving me."

Mr Obama presented Pope Francis with a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House garden.

The Pope replied "for sure" in Spanish when invited to visit the garden.

He gave Mr Obama two medals and a leather-bound copy of Evangeli Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospels), Francis's self-written guide to his papacy.

"I actually will probably read this when I'm in the Oval Office, when I am deeply frustrated, and I am sure it will give me strength," Mr Obama said.

In a newspaper interview published before their meeting, Mr Obama described the Pope as a man who "lived the Christian Gospel".

After meeting the Pope, Mr Obama headed to meetings with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

President Obama is accompanied in Italy by US Secretary of State John Kerry.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Its hard to know the political capital that Obama can hope to make meeting Pope Francis. If he is looking for forgiveness concerning his country's foreign policy, then he can expect a lesson much like the mafia was given a few days ago. If he wants anything else then this pope is probably not the guy for him. This pope is likely to be privately blunt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    Strange,I can't remember hearing Pope Francis saying one word on the crisis that has hit the Ukrain. Why was he so mute when there was the opportunity to try and encourage a bit of good will and peace on earth etc?He seems to be a good talker and picture painter like Obama, but where is the actions to back up the words. Is it another case of change you can believe in?!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I like Pope Francis
    What would the world be like if nations like USA, UK, Europe, Russia and China worked together for the good of humanity through the U.N. Instead of using it to protect/expand they're own power base?

    A much better and safer world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I am no fan of organised religioun but I do believe we may. at last, have a truly good man as Pope of the Catholic church.

    I hope he advises Obama to do the right thing and stay out of the Ukraine issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The Pope must have pulled out all the stops to get BA into town, what's in it for him? BA can't re-elected next time round, the Catholic church is wrecked by scandal of the most vile kind possible, the American Christian right only agree with Catholics on abortion. I can only guess at some kind of Hispanic angle, or Obama has gone mad and now believes Milton's Paradise lost is non fiction.


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