During his third meeting with President Bush, the Pope John Paul II reminded President Bush of the Vatican’s opposition to the war in Iraq, and called for a speedy return of the country’s sovereignty, Friday, June 4, 2004.
"It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq's sovereignty, in conditions of security for all its people," the pope said as he read his statement before Bush and the first lady.
The pope also mentioned that Italy, along with the rest of the world, has been troubled by “deplorable events” that have surfaced in the war-torn nation.
"In the past few weeks, other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all." He said those events "made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values. In the absence of such a commitment, neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome."
Upon questioning from reporters, the papal spokesman Joanquin Navarro-Valls refused to elaborate on the pope’s remarks, but did not deny the characterization of the comments as being in reference to the prisoner abuse scandal in the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq.
According to an anonymous White House official, Bush did not feel stung by the pope’s remarks, but rather took the reference as an affirmation of his own statement that the abuses were “deplorable.”
The Pope also commented upon the situations in the Middle East and the Holy Land.
"Mr. President, your visit to Rome takes place at a moment of great concern for the continuing situation of grave unrest in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in the Holy Land," said John Paul II.
After Bush sat through the Pope’s entire statement, he presented the pontiff with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award – the highest of America’s civilian honors.
"We appreciate the strong symbol of freedom that you have stood for and we recognize the power of freedom to change societies and to change the world," Bush said.