The leader of the Roman Catholic church has welcomed the new United States Ambassador to the Vatican with praise for her country’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Mary Ann Glendon, a close friend of President Bush, took up her appointment last month.

Speaking in English Pope Benedict XVI said that he is “looking forward” to his five-day trip to the US next month.

“The American people’s historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God’s gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family,” the German-born Pontiff said in an address to the new Ambassador last week.

While more than half of US states have banned gay marriage, others have passed laws recognising same-sex partnerships.

“On your first visit to the US as Pontiff, you will find a warm welcome from a nation that understands the important contribution offered by people of faith in our society,” Ambassador Glendon said in response to Benedict.

“You will be among friends.”

The Pope will visit Washington and New York between April 15th and 20th, and will meet President Bush and address the United Nations.

It is the Pope’s first official visit to the US. His predecessor John Paul II visited seven times.

In all nine US states have gay and lesbian spousal rights in some form: Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts.