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VATICAN CITY — Face to face for the first time, President Obama and Pope Francis focused publicly on their mutual respect and shared concern for the poor on Thursday. But their lengthy private discussion also highlighted the deep differences between the White House and the Catholic Church on abortion and birth control.
The gaps were evident in the differing accounts Obama and the Vatican gave of the meeting, with Obama stressing the two leaders’ common ground on fighting inequality and poverty while Vatican officials emphasized the importance to the church of ‘‘rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection.’’ That point by church officials referred to a major disagreement over a provision of Obama’s health care law.