Big White House Crowd Greets Pope

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The Bush administration is playing host to the head of the Roman Catholic Church with pomp and circumstance.

Today's White House visit for Pope Benedict included a red carpet welcome ceremony and a 21-gun salute.

The White House is pulling out all the stops for Pope Benedict, as he celebrates his 81st birthday in Washington.

"We're expecting upwards of 9,000 people. It will be one of the largest arrival ceremonies ever held at the White House," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

It's even bigger than last year's ceremony with Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

Pope Addresses Clergy Abuse

But amid all the excitement and celebration, the pontiff is sounding a serious tone.

During the transatlantic flight, he offered the most extensive remarks to date on the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

"We are deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future," Pope Benedict said.

He said the Vatican is actively working to weed out pedophiles in the Church.

"Because it is more important to have good priests than to have many priests," the pope said.

But some of the victims of abuse say the pope's comments don't go far enough.

"He's not meeting with survivors and sitting down and talking with us and asking us what can be done. He 'should' be ashamed," said abuse victim Robert Costello.

The Pope on Immigration

The pope also plans to tackle the issue of immigration, cautioning President Bush on the separation of families, which he calls "dangerous for the social, moral and human fabric."

For his part, President Bush will raise human rights issues and address hunger and disease in Africa.

One topic he will not bring up is the Iraq war, which the Vatican strongly opposes.

But church officials say the trip is not all about politics, rather inspiring Christian hope to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

"You know it's very historic. I'm not a Catholic but I would like at least a glimpse of the Pope," said one bystander.

"Like a lot of Baptist churches have, maybe once a year, they do a revival. This is kind of a revival for my whole life," said another bystander.

By all accounts, this is an historic trip. The pope will perform open air masses in Washington and New York.

He'll also address the United Nations and lead prayers at Ground Zero.

But in the nation's capital, his visit marks only the second time for a pontiff to meet at the White House.

Even his landing was history making, with the President and first lady waiting with a personal welcome -- Bush's first airport greeting for any foreign leader.

This Saturday, the pope hits another mile marker. It'll be the third anniversary of his election as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

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CBN News
Melissa Charbonneau

Melissa Charbonneau

CBN News White House Correspondent

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