Bush touts political agenda at Catholic prayer breakfast.
Speaking to a Washington, D.C., crowd of 1,600, Bush said "societies need high moral standards" and asserted that "the Catholic Church and its institutions play a vital role in helping our citizens acquire the character we need to live as free people."
Bush quoted Pope Benedict XVI on abortion.
"In his Christmas homily," said the president, "the pope noted that the Savior came to Earth as a 'defenseless child,' and said that the splendor of that Christmas shines upon every child, born and unborn. Here in the United States, we work to strengthen a culture of life, through many state and federal initiatives that expand the protections of the unborn."
Turning to immigration, Bush saluted the role of Catholic faith-based organizations in "welcoming newcomers and helping them become citizens." He said America "does not have to choose between being a compassionate society and a society of law."
"As the Congress continues this debate," he added, "its members must remember we are a nation of immigrants. And immigration has helped restore our soul on a regular basis."
The April 7 event at the Washington Hilton Hotel is the third National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. It is the second at which Bush has spoken.
The eponymous sponsoring group is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that says on its IRS Form 990 that it exists to "host an annual prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C., for Roman Catholic clergy and laity ... for the purpose of worship and fellowship."
In fact, the gathering has an overwhelmingly partisan character, with speakers reflecting a Republican agenda.
When Bush, an evangelical Methodist, left the stage, one of the event's organizers, Austin Ruse, referred to him as "the second Catholic president."
According to news media accounts, dignitaries in attendance this year included Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), as well as 11 members of the House (all but two of them Republicans).
Chief Justice John Roberts was also present, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.