Busy week for Pope Benedict XVI...

Behind The News
April 15, 2008 12:44:49 PM PDT
Just how up-front will be the Pope be about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal involving priests and young children? They barely had the fasten seatbelt sign off before the Pope answered that question.

Pretty up front, at least judging from his comments on Shepherd One, the plane that took him from Rome to Washington.

"We are deeply ashamed and will do whatever is possible so that this does not happen in the future," said Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope's church has shelled out $2 billion or so to settle civil claims brought by about 5,000 sex abuse victims. So this presents a problem that is at once financial, moral, legal and political.

It's not like the Pope went on a limb by saying, "we will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry." But that he is addressing it should be seen as a sign that the highest levels of the world's second largest religion no longer has its blinders on about the dirty little secret that was, for so many decades, kept quiet.

The Pope lands in Washington this afternoon, and our coverage begins when his plane touches down. We will be with the Pontiff every step of the way on his first trip to the U.S. -- something of an introductory tour.

Polls show Americans generally have a positive image of the Pope; but many admit they don't know much about him.

That might change this trip.

He'll turn 81 while he's here; the White House is throwing him a birthday bash Wednesday night, but the guest of honor won't be there. Instead, he'll be in a prayer service with the nation's Bishops.

He is, make no mistake, very different from his predecessor. Pope John Paul II was, by his second vocation, an actor and playwright, and so he relished and embraced his rise on the world stage as a media star.

This new Pope believes it's less about him and more about the Church and the ceremony. He tends to shy away from the pomp and circumstance. For instance, when he was installed three years ago this Saturday, his first instinct was to have the ceremony inside, not in St. Peter's Square, where millions would have the chance to see him in person.

His advisors convinced him to be outside; John Paul II never would have considered holding such a public ceremony inside.

There are political differences as well. This Pope seems more convinced that the way to deal with secularism is to harden the commitment of the truly faithful. Debates over interpretation and behavior seem to matter less to him than to the previous Pontiff. A smaller but fervent flock, this argument goes, is better than a broader, more liberal base.

Which should make his visit here fascinating, since debate over the future and liberalism within the church is a centerpiece of being a modern day Catholic in the U.S. -- especially for Catholics here in New York.

The Pope will meet briefly with Pres. Bush today - the first time Mr. Bush is greeting a foreign dignitary at Andrews Air Force Base. And it will be interesting to find out what the two men talk about. They have much in common - both are anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage - but they have many differences, like the war in Iraq, the environment (Benedict is now being called the Green Pope after he ordered the installation of 1,000 solar panels at the Vatican, and he added to the Commandments, Thou Shalt Not Pollute the Earth), the death penalty and the accumulation of excess wealth (he does think a person can be too rich!).

We'll have the latest on the Pope's visit, tonight at 11 -- and anytime at our website, 7Online.Com.

We'll also have the latest from the campaign trail. And it's John McCain making news today, with a speech about the economy and taxes. And it's something of a sea change for McCain -- he is now clearly embracing the Bush strategy of cutting taxes to stimulate the economy. He wants to cut the corporate tax rate and increase personal income tax breaks.

And an attack on McCain today from a Democrat who some say may be auditioning for a possible Vice Presidential spot on the ticket. Senator Joe Biden, himself a Democratic candidate early on, gave a speech at Georgetown and criticized his fellow Senator. "When it comes to Iraq," said Biden, "there is no daylight between John McCain and George W. Bush. They are joined at the hip. When it comes to Iraq, there will be no change with a McCain administration, and so there is a real and profound choice for Americans in November."

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.