Pope Gives Bush Clear Message On Embryonic Stem Cell Research

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

London (CNSNews.com) - If President Bush was looking to Pope John Paul II for guidance as he ponders a decision on whether to allow federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, he could not have asked for a clearer message than the one delivered on Monday.

"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," the pope said in a statement after meeting Bush at the papal summer residence near Rome.

The pontiff cited the creation of embryos for research purposes as an evil akin to euthanasia and the killing of babies.

"Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the world, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide, and, most recently, proposals for the creations for research purposes of human embryos destined to destruction in the process."

Bush is considering calls to fund research on embryos that are left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, rather than on those created specifically for the purpose of providing stem cells for disease research.

But the fact the embryos are destroyed afterwards, irrespective of their origin, has prompted firm opposition from most pro-life advocates.

Some pro-life Republican lawmakers have, nonetheless, thrown their support behind embryonic stem cell research, saying theirs is a truly pro-life position because of the potential that stem cells may hold in treating debilitating diseases.

After hearing the pope's comments, Bush read from a statement prepared earlier, praising him for carrying "the gospel of life, which welcomes the stranger and protects the weak and the innocent."

Every nation, including the U.S., the president said, "benefits from hearing and heeding this message of conscience."

Shortly before Monday's meeting, Bush - a Methodist - told the Italian daily La Stampa that the pope had "enormous impact" in the U.S.

"He is a staunch defender of the right to life and the right to be heard, even for those without a voice," said Bush, adding: "I have profound respect for the Catholic Church and its leadership."