President Barack Obama met with Pope Benedict XVI. The meeting was different from those with secular heads of state.
"Given the influence of the Catholic Church globally, as well in the United States, and frankly, given the influence of the Catholic Church and church social teaching on the president himself, he recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit," said Denis McDonough, a national security aide, AFP reports.
Obama and Benedict held private talks for about 40 minutes in the pope's frescoed study in the Vatican's apostolic palace and the Vatican said bioethics and life issues were a central part of the discussion.
In a surprise move, the pontiff gave Obama a booklet explaining Vatican opposition to practices such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, which Obama supports.
"Obama told the pope of his commitment to reduce the number of abortions and of his attention and respect for the positions of the Catholic Church," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters after he was briefed by the pope.
Obama supports abortion rights and says his policy is to change economic and social conditions so as to put more women in situations where they do not feel they have to have an abortion, Reuters reports.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama joined them toward the end of the 25-minute meeting. The pope also privately met with the president's two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
During an exchange of gifts, the pope presented Mr. Obama with a mosaic picture of St. Peter's Square and two books on the church's view of bioethics and the sanctity of life. The president gave the pontiff a stole that once draped the body of St. John Newmann, one of America's first saints, Voice of America reports.
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