Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bush to Give Pope Presidential Medal of Freedom

ROME (Reuters) - President Bush will award Pope John Paul the Presidential Medal of Freedom Friday, the highest U.S. civilian award, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pontiff was being honored for "years of fighting for freedom and for his important moral voice."

Bush is to meet the Polish pope at the Vatican Friday.

The pope strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and last week publicly condemned torture as an affront to human dignity, seen as a veiled reference to American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

In November the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bi-partisan resolution to encourage Bush to give the 84-year-old Roman Catholic leader the medal for his contribution to the fall of communism and his defense of freedom throughout the world.

The last pope to receive the medal was Pope John XXIII, who was given it posthumously in 1963.

President Harry Truman founded the award in 1945 and President John F. Kennedy re-introduced it in 1963.


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