- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Washington, kicking off three days of festivities in the nation’s capital as he meets with church leaders, holds Mass and is honored by a gala dinner at the White House before traveling on to New York.

Benedict briskly descended his Alitalia jet about 4:10 p.m., walking down a red-carpeted stairway amid cheers as he waved to well-wishers with the brisk afternoon wind whipping his white robes.

President Bush personally greeted the Pope at Andrews Air Force Base, meeting the pontiff on the tarmac along with First Lady Laura Bush and soon-to-be-wed daughter Jenna.

Bells rang out from Catholic churches around the District to announce Benedict’s arrival. He was met aboard his plane by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

The Pope, whose trip is as much a public relations visit as a diplomatic one, is expected to address challenges to the church when he holds mass at the Washington Nationals Stadium on Thursday — from the priest sex abuse scandal as well as the downsizing of U.S. catholic schools, churches and priests.

Aboard the plane traveling from Rome to the U.S. earlier today, the pontiff, who will turn 81 tomorrow, addressed the sexual abuse that has outraged many of the church’s faithful and shaken Catholics around the world.

“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,” he said, adding that he would work to make certain that pedophiles would not become priests in the Catholic church.

“We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” he told reporters traveling aboard a special Alitalia airliner that carried his delegation to a six-day U.S. visit, the first by the Pope since the pedophilia scandal broke. “It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound.”

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted two weeks before the papal visit, found that 52 percent of Americans view him favorably, but three in 10 Americans said they didn’t know enough about the German-born pontiff, a former university theologian now in the third year of his reign, to form an opinion. Seventy-four percent of Catholics, more familiar of Benedict’s tenure, view his leadership positively, the survey found. Still, he remains less popular than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who was regarded as iconic by many around the world during his 27-year reign.

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