Pope, ahead of U.S. trip, speaks of abortion, gays

VATICAN CITY Fri Feb 29, 2008 7:52pm GMT

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican February 27, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead his weekly general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican February 27, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, ahead of his first trip to the United States, praised Americans on Friday who oppose gay marriage and abortion and called for global nuclear disarmament.

In an address to new U.S. ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, Benedict touched on issues he will likely raise on his April 15-20 visit, during which he will meet President George W. Bush in Washington and address the United Nations.

The Vatican timed the April 10-15 visit to take place before the final phase of the U.S. presidential campaign in order to avoid anything that could be seen as trying to influence the vote.

But in his address to Glendon, 69, a Harvard law professor who has been a consultant to various Vatican departments, Benedict touched on sensitive political issues.

He said Americans' appreciation of religion's role in public life is "reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death."

Benedict also spoke of safeguarding the family and "the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman."

Gay marriage is a hot political issue in the United States.

Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that allows same-sex marriage while several states allow civil unions for gay couples. More than 25 states have constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage.

The pontiff also told Glendon, a close friend of Bush, that the world's problems extended well beyond terrorism.

"The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East," the pope said.

He called for "trust in, and commitment to" international organizations like the United Nations to foster dialogue to diffuse global tensions.

His call for "patient and transparent" nuclear disarmament negotiations came as the United States pushes ahead with plans to build a global missile defense shield, opposed by Russia.

Washington says the shield is meant to protect it and allies from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

Glendon, a Pittsfield, Massachusetts native who in 1994 became the first woman to lead a Vatican delegation to a U.N. conference, said the German-born Pontiff would receive a warm welcome in Washington and New York.

"You will be among friends," she said, noting that Benedict's predecessor John Paul II made seven U.S. visits that were "opportunities for a conversation on the important issues of the day".

Glendon is the second woman U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Jon Boyle)