09.07.02 - Obama To Meet Pope For First Time

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, whose support for abortion rights and stem cell research has angered some Catholics, is due to meet Pope Benedict for the first time on July 10 during a visit to Italy.

Vatican officials said the U.S. leader would have an afternoon audience with the pope in the Vatican after the conclusion of a July 8-10 summit of Group of Eight industrial nations, scheduled for the Italian city of L'Aquila.

"The pope is ready to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in the afternoon of July 10," deputy Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini told Reuters.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington the pope and the president would "discuss a range of issues, including their shared belief in the dignity of all people."

Obama has angered some American Roman Catholics with his support for abortion rights and his decision to lift restrictions on stem cell research, which is likely to be a topic of discussion at the July meeting.

In 2001, the late Pope John Paul II urged then-U.S. President George W. Bush not to allow stem cell research.

The Vatican and Italian Church leaders condemned Obama's decision in March to lift restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research put in place by Bush.

The Catholic Church, other religious groups and abortion opponents oppose such research -- which scientists hope can lead to cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's -- because it involves the destruction of embryos.

Obama's subsequent invitation to speak at Notre Dame, a premier U.S. Catholic university, sparked criticism last month. While some heckled Obama during his speech, his appeal for a "fair-minded" discussion on abortion was received with several standing ovations.

The G8 summit is due to discuss a response to the international economic crisis and global warming. Its location was moved to L'Aquila in a sign of solidarity with victims from an April earthquake that killed nearly 300 people and devastated large parts of the city.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Lin Noueihed and Peter Cooney)

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