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Bush raises sex scandal with pope

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush raised the sex-abuse scandal in the American Roman Catholic priesthood during a meeting with Pope John Paul II on Tuesday.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking after the meeting, told reporters that Bush raised the issue of the Catholic Church's status, given the sexual abuse scandal. They also discussed the Middle East and Russia.

Before arriving at the Vatican, the president, who is in Italy on the final leg of his four-nation European tour, countered aides who said he would not discuss with the scandal with the pope.

He said he would voice his "concerns" during the meeting, while praising Vatican efforts to deal with the crisis.

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"I'm going to first of all listen carefully to what the pope has to say," Bush told reporters.

"He's a man of enormous dignity and compassion. I will tell him that I am concerned about the Catholic Church in America. I am concerned about its standing, and I say that because the Catholic Church is an incredibly important institution in our country," he said.

Accusations of sexual abuse within the U.S. Catholic Church have surfaced for years, but the sheer volume of cases in recent months has focused greater attention on the issue.

The pope recently convened a meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops to discuss the scandal and the church's handling of it. (Full story)

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King says the Vatican prefers not to discuss the issue, which it says is being handled by U.S. church leaders based on the guidance they received from the Vatican.

After the meeting, Bush will fly back to Washington at the end of a week-long trip that has also taken him to Germany, Russia and France.

On Tuesday NATO endorsed a new partnership deal with Russia in Rome, giving Moscow improved status and more of a voice in NATO's affairs.

U.S. President George W. Bush told the new NATO council the agreement was an "historic achievement." He added: "NATO was born 50 years ago to defend democracy and freedom. Today we renew this important goal."

He said the alliance could work towards defeating terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)

On a visit to Normandy, northern France, on Monday, Bush linked the D-Day landings that ultimately led to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II to the war against terrorism. (Full story)

In Russia, Bush signed a nuclear weapons disarmament treaty with President Vladimir Putin. (Full story)




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