WASHINGTON - The head of the Roman Catholic Church arrived in Washington today for his first trip to the U.S. as pope.
Hundreds of spectators waved to him as he stepped off the plane in Washington D.C. President Bush, the first lady, and their daughter Jenna personally greeted him on the tarmac.
The pope and the president left in a motorcade a few minutes later.
Shame for Sex Abuse Scandals
Earlier, en route from Rome, the pontiff expressed deep grief over clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The U.S. church has paid out $2 billion in abuse costs since 1950, most of that in 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 in English. Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Catholic Church.
A Presidential Welcome
The White House called the ceremonious greeting an "extraordinary" gesture. For first time President Bush travelled to Andrews Air Force Base to greet a visiting world leader.
"The President, as leader of a great country, and the Pope, as leader of a great faith, can speak with some amount of moral authority in terms of issues that do matter across the globe," Bush counselor Ed Gillespie told CBN News.
Pope Benedict XVI is the second pontiff ever to visit the White House. The first, Pope John Paul II, visited America during the Carter administration.
"It comes at a very important time in terms of understanding the need to stop the spread of terrorism and the notion that violence and terror should be committed in the name of religion. It's an important time in terms of religious freedoms across the globe," Gillespie said.
Gillespie says the President and the pope share many common concerns -- the culture of life, the fight against aids, and combating global disease.
The White House welcome ceremony for the pope is the first since 9/11 and is expected to draw 12,000 guests to the South Lawn.
Ambassador Nancy Brinker, head of the State Department's office of protocol, says security is high.
"These are the sorts of visits that take an inordinate amount of time, planning, forecasts, all kinds of things, and of course predicated on good weather, so that's another issue," she said. "And this visit will be met with the highest possible security and highest possible safety."
Also expected, are sightings of the pope mobile as Benedict delivers mass Thursday to an estimated crowd of 46,000 in Washington's Nationals Stadium. He will also meet fellow Catholics, as well as leaders of other faiths.
"People will have an opportunity as he holds mass and addresses large groups of people in stadiums, I think that there will be many media opportunities the breadth and the scope of this visit," Brinker said.
From Benedict's controversial comments about the evils of radical Islam to his recent baptism of a prominent former Muslim who converted, his stance on Islam has made him friends and enemies alike.
"The Pope agrees with the President that we have to confront this ideology, and the notion that you can justify not only violence but murder in the name of religion," Gillespie said.
But he has also opposed Bush's war policy in Iraq which raises questions about the fallout from speech to the U.N. set for Friday.
"There may be some tactical differences as to how best we do that and where we do that, but there's no doubt there's an agreement on principle that we have to stand for religious freedom and for stand against the notion that terrorism and murder can be justified in the name of religion," Gillespie said.
After visiting with the President and spending two days in the nation's capital, the pope will head to New York on Friday for his U.N. address.
He'll hold mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and will visit Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 terrorist attack, before heading home to the Vatican on Sunday.