- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2001

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy — Pope John Paul II yesterday urged President Bush to reject the "evil" of stem-cell research, which Mr. Bush said holds "so much hope" for battling diseases that he is being "unusually deliberative" over the politically charged moral dilemma.
During a joint appearance with Mr. Bush at Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence, the leader of the Catholic Church used strong language to dissuade the president from allowing federal funding of stem-cell research.
He was particularly upset that some U.S. labs have begun creating embryos for the sole purpose of research, not in vitro fertilization.
"Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils, such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process," the pope said.
"A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death," he said. "In defending the right to life, in law and through a vibrant culture of life, America can show a world the path to a truly humane future in which man remains the master, not the product of his technology."
Mr. Bush did not mention the stem-cell issue in the pope's presence, but he later told reporters he remains torn over the issue. Catholics believe it is murder for scientists to destroy embryos and harvest their stem cells for research that might hold promise in the fight against diseases.
"It is an issue that, on one hand, deals with so much hope — hope that perhaps through research and development, we'll be able to save lives," the president said. "It's also an issue that has got serious moral implications."
He added: "And therefore, my process has been, frankly, unusually deliberative for my administration. I'm taking my time."
Still, the pope appeared to make an impression upon Mr. Bush, who seemed surprised that the pope spoke so forcefully in public just after a private meeting with the president in which the subject never came up.
"I frankly do not care what the political polls say," Mr. Bush said. "I do care about the opinions of people, particularly someone as profound as the Holy Father.
"But I will tell you that the first time the subject came up was when he read his statement at the palace," he added. "My discussions with the Holy Father were more about foreign policy."
Mr. Bush was pressed by a reporter to reveal which way he is leaning and to outline any compromise he might be considering. But the president refused to share his deliberations.
"I'm thinking about all options, but I'm thinking about them privately," he said. "I'd rather not be expressing, laying out my options out on the air, because I have yet to reach a conclusion."
Mr. Bush seemed in no hurry to made a decision. Although he insists it is not a political decision, his extensive consultations with people on both sides of the issue would prevent research advocates from accusing him of hastiness if he decides to protect the embryos.
"Time has helped people understand the complexities of the issue," he said. "And when I get back, I will continue my deliberations. And when I'm ready, I will lay out my decision."
While advocates of stem-cell research might have been heartened by Mr. Bush's assertion that such research holds "so much hope," opponents could also find a measure of encouragement in the president's remarks. A self-described pro-lifer who has consistently maintained that life begins at conception, Mr. Bush spoke glowingly of the pope.
"I'm not poetic enough to describe what it's like to be in his presence," the president said. "Nor was I surprised to hear his strong, consistent message of life. It's been his message ever since he's been the Holy Father. He's never deviated.
"He sent a consistent word throughout the Church and throughout society that we ought to take into account the preciousness of life. I hear that message from his cardinals and bishops throughout our country.
"One of the things about the Catholic Church that I admire: It's a church that takes stands on consistent and solid principle," said Mr. Bush, a Methodist. "I'll take that point of view into consideration as I make up my mind on a very difficult issue confronting the United States of America."
Before returning to Washington tonight, Mr. Bush was scheduled to visit U.S. peacekeeping troops in Kosovo.
Although he and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, strongly suggested during the presidential campaign that a Bush administration would pull U.S. troops out of the Balkans, the White House has backed off that threat amid European skittishness about going it alone.
"The president wants to thank our troops for their service there," Miss Rice said yesterday.

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