Pope John Paul II was today opening the doors of his hilltop summer residence to US president George W Bush during their first meeting - but neither intended to raise touchy issues of capital punishment or embryonic stem cell research.
Bush, putting the weekend Genoa summit and its violent protests behind him, did not plan to ask the Pontiff about a thorny decision awaiting back home: whether to permit federal funds for potentially breakthrough medical research on stem cells from human embryos.
‘‘He’s very familiar, as are most people, with the position of the church,’’ said presidential counsellor Karen Hughes.
Pope John Paul II is staunchly opposed to such studies because they involve the destruction of surplus embryos being discarded by fertility clinics.
Vatican officials considered it unlikely the Pope would raise the issue himself.
They also said the Pope did not expect to lobby Bush against the death penalty, which Bush favours, when he welcomed the president, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter Barbara into his library at the lakeside Castel Gandolfo in the foothills south of Rome.
John Paul asked Bush to spare the life of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in May. The president refused and McVeigh was executed on June 11.
Bush, a Methodist who has been courting Catholic voters, has spoken of how much he looked forward to meeting the frail 81-year-old Pope, whose 23-year pontificate has spanned five American presidencies.
‘‘The president is a man whose faith is very important to him and meeting a man of great faith like the Pope is truly a privilege,’’ White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Bush’s papal audience promised to be much more cordial than any former President Bill Clinton ever enjoyed - primarily because this new American president shares John Paul’s opposition to abortion rights.
In an unusually sharp attack, the Vatican had condemned Clinton’s veto of a bill banning certain late-term abortions as ‘‘shameful’’.
In contrast, it welcomed the new administration’s move to bar US funds to international family planning groups involved in abortion.
And it would certainly be receptive to Bush’s initiative to bring religious groups into government-funded charity efforts.
A Vatican official said it was likely the Pope would touch on the same themes he did in a message to Bush and the seven other leaders who attended a summit of industrial nations in Genoa that ended yesterday.
John Paul expressed the hope that ‘‘no person and no nation will be excluded from your concerns’’ about peace, poverty, health and the environment.