updated 5/18/2009 7:42:51 PM ET 2009-05-18T23:42:51

The Vatican said Monday that President Barack Obama was clearly looking for some common ground with his speech at the University of Notre Dame about abortion.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Obama's speech at the leading Catholic university on Sunday confirmed what he had said at a recent news conference — that signing the so-called Freedom of Choice Act in the U.S. Congress wasn't his highest legislative priority. The bill would protect a woman's right to have a child or end a pregnancy.

Obama's stance on the issue is that he supports abortion rights but says the procedure should be rare.

The article didn't mention the protest by dozens of U.S. Catholic bishops who denounced Notre Dame for honoring Obama because his abortion rights record clashes with fundamental church teaching.

Instead, it simply quoted Obama as inviting all Americans to work together to reduce the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies, and concluded he was searching for common ground on the "delicate question of abortion."

The Vatican has been open to Obama ever since his election, despite his record on abortion and support for embryonic stem-cell research, which the Vatican also opposes.

Pope Benedict XVI broke Vatican protocol the day after Obama was elected, sending a personal note of congratulations rather than wait to send an official telegram on inauguration day.

In addition, L'Osservatore Romano gave Obama a positive review after his first 100 days in office, saying in a front-page editorial that even on ethical questions Obama hadn't confirmed the "radical" new direction he had discussed during the campaign.

Benedict and Obama are expected to meet in July, when the U.S. president is in Italy for a Group of Eight summit, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said recently.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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