VATICAN CITY, MAY 28, 2002 ( The new NATO-Russian alliance against terrorism, the Mideast conflict, and the scandals involving American priests were the main topics broached during U.S. President George Bush´s audience with John Paul II.

The contents of the meeting today was disclosed in a statement issued by the Vatican. It was the second meeting between the Pope and President Bush. They met in Castel Gandolfo last July.

The Holy Father welcomed the president in his study, then motioned for Bush to sit down facing him across a desk. "Thank you for receiving me," Bush said.

In a press statement, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said that Bush first discussed the summit held in Pratica di Mare, near Rome, in which Russia and 19 NATO countries signed a declaration aimed to open a new era of collaboration on international defense policy.

While the Pope was meeting Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell met Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Navarro-Valls explained that during these meetings a "review was made of some of the most urgent international problems, among them that of the Middle East. In addition to the political aspects, the humanitarian dimension of the tragic situation lived by the two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, was taken into consideration. Reference was also made to the difficult situation of Christians in the Middle East." "The Pope again expressed his total closeness to the American people, following the events of last Sept. 11," the Vatican statement added.

The statement also revealed that the pair talked about the numerous cases of sexual abuse of minors by U.S. priests.

The statement said that, despite the present difficulties, the Pope "wished to express" his "confidence in the spiritual resources of American Catholics committed to witness evangelical values in society."

At the NATO-Russian summit, Bush described the Pope as "a man of enormous dignity and compassion," and expressed a desire to discuss alleged sexual improprieties committed by priests in the United States.

"I´m going to listen closely to what the Pope has to say," Bush said. "I will tell him that I am concerned about the Catholic Church in America, I´m concerned about its standing."

"I say that because the Catholic Church is an incredibly important institution in our country," Bush added. "I´m also going to mention the fact that I appreciate the Pope´s leadership."