Monday, February 16, 2009

Pope to meet with Pelosi


VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Visiting US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during her weeklong visit to Italy, a Vatican official said Monday.

The meeting will take place on Wednesday, the official told AFP, saying it would likely occur after the pope's weekly general audience.

Pelosi, who describes herself as an "ardent" Catholic while advocating reproductive rights, will be the highest-ranking US official to see the pope since President Barack Obama took office last month.

The new Democratic administration is at odds with the Vatican over abortion, stemcell research and other bioethical issues.

Senior Vatican officials slammed Obama's rapid overturning of a ban on US government funding for family planning groups around the world that carry out or facilitate abortions.

Obama signed the executive order cancelling the eight-year-old restrictions imposed by his predecessor George W. Bush on the third full day of his presidency.

The Roman Catholic Church has also criticised the approval of US authorities for the first human trials using embryonic stemcells of a therapy to help paralysed patients regain movement.

Pelosi, who arrived in Rome on Sunday after spending the day in the Tuscan capital Florence, was to meet with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and lunch with her Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini on Monday.

Monday afternoon she was to lead a conference on security before meeting the press.

On Tuesday, Pelosi was to meet Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the defence and foreign ministers, Ignazio La Russa and Franco Frattini.

The House speaker plans to spend Thursday in southern Naples.

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