Pope Benedict XVI arrives

April 16, 2008 3:53:45 AM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI arrived Tuesday in the United States to a presidential handshake and enthusiastic cheering, a warm welcome that followed the pontiff's candid admission hours earlier that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American church.For information on street closures in NYC during the Pope's visit, Click Here.

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    On his first papal trip to the U.S., Benedict gave hundreds of spectators a two-handed wave as he stepped off a special Alitalia airliner that brought him from Rome. Students from a local Catholic school screamed ecstatically when the saw the pontiff, who shook hands with President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter, Jenna on the tarmac.

    The pope and the president left in a motorcade a few minutes later.

    On the flight to the United States from Rome, Benedict addressed the most painful issue for the Roman Catholic Church in America - clergy sex abuse. The U.S. church has paid out $2 billion in abuse costs since 1950, most of that in just the last six years.

    "It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen," Benedict said. "It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission ... to these children."

    "I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future," the pope said on the flight from Rome to Washington, speaking in English as he responded to questions submitted by reporters ahead of time.

    Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Catholic Church.

    "We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry," Benedict said. "It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound."

    The pope's promise failed to mollify advocates for abuse victims, however. They said the problem is not just molester priests, but bishops and other church authorities who have let errant clergymen continue to serve even after repeated allegations.

    "It's easy and tempting to continually focus on the pedophile priests themselves," said Peter Isely, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It's harder but crucial to focus on the broader problem - complicity in the rest of the church hierarchy."

    On the campus of the Catholic University, they were setting up the security gates, preparing for the pontiff, who will address that nation's bishops in Washington D.C. Wednesday evening.

    He may again address the sex abuse scandal, but there is also concern that the scandal not overshadow the real purpose of his visit.

    A crowd of 9,000 or more is expected at the White House Wednesday to greet Benedict on his 81st birthday. Aides say he is in good health.

    After making little headway in his efforts to rekindle the faith in his native Europe, the German-born Benedict will be visiting a country where many of the 65 million Catholics are eager to hear what he says.

    A poll released Sunday by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found eight in 10 Catholics are somewhat or very satisfied with his leadership.

    On Friday, Benedict will address the United Nations. The day before, he will celebrate Mass at Nationals Park in Washington. His final event of the week will be another big Mass, this time in New York's Yankee Stadium on Sunday.