Pope Francis raises 'right to life' in Obama talks

  • 27 March 2014
  • From the section Europe
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Media captionThe BBC's Alan Johnston describes the relaxed atmosphere at the meeting

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 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.

Image caption Old met new as the president's high-tech car passed Swiss Guards on his way into the Vatican
Image caption 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.

Media captionKatty 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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