Pope expresses shame over priest sex abuse
Pontiff will 'do everything possible to heal this wound' as he heads for U.S.
MSNBC News Services
ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE - Pope Benedict XVI said on Tuesday he was "deeply ashamed" over sexual abuse that shook the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.
He said the scandal caused him "great suffering" and pledged to work to make sure such abuse wouldn't happen again.
"It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission ... to these children," he told reporters aboard the plane taking them to Washington for his first visit to the United States as pope.
"We are deeply ashamed and will do whatever is possible so that this does not happen in the future. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry.
"It is more important to have good priests than many priests. We will do everything possible to heal this wound."
$2 billion in settlements
The trip is the first by a pontiff since a wave of sex abuse scandals began in 2002, provoking lawsuits that have forced dioceses to pay more than $2 billion in settlements.
The pope also said he would discuss immigration when he meets with President Bush.
From a presidential welcome, to two Masses at baseball stadiums, to a stop for prayer at ground zero in New York, the pope will get a heavy dose of the American experience in his first pilgrimage to the United States.
Benedict departed for Washington on Tuesday, with President Bush planning to make the unusual gesture of greeting him when his special Alitalia jetliner touches down at Andrews Air Force Base — the first time the president has greeted a foreign leader there.
Planners have kept that as Benedict's only public appearance on first day of six in America, clearly trying to help him get over any jet lag. He will turn 81 on Wednesday, although he seems spry and aides pronounce him in good health.
A visit by the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics is clearly a big deal, despite the American tradition of separation of church and state.
A crowd of up to 12,000, larger than the gathering for Queen Elizabeth II, is expected Wednesday at the White House for the pope's official visit to the American president. The White House is also planning a gala dinner that evening — although Benedict won't be there. The White House says he will be attending a prayer service with American bishops, although it would also be unusual for a pope to attend a state dinner.
While the pope and Bush differ on such major issues on the Iraq war, capital punishment and the U.S. embargo against Cuba, they do find common ground in opposing abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.
In his regular Sunday greeting from his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square, Benedict asked for prayers so that his visit would be a "time of spiritual renewal for Americans."
In fact, 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 anxious 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.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, said in an Associated Press interview last week that "religion is deeply rooted in American life despite the separation of church and state."
Benedict is expected to stress the importance of moral values and take on what he sees are the dangers of moral relativism — that is that there are no absolute rights and wrongs.
His address at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral to a gathering of clergy will be watched for how he responds to the clerical sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American church. Bertone said Benedict will seek healing and reconciliation.
Also while in New York, he will deliver at major address at the United Nations. He will also visit the Park East synagogue, part of his efforts for close relations with Jews whom, like his predecessor John Paul II, he has referred to as "our older brothers in faith."
He will celebrate Mass at Nationals Park in Washington and Yankee Stadium in New York, his last major event of the trip.
Worthy of note is what ole Joe is not offering to do, like handing over Bernard Law to this country, so he could face punishment for his crimes of omission in allowing hundreds of boys to be raped and molested. He is not offering to stop the crimes by threatening to have any priest responsible for such behavior extradited to any country they committed their crimes for future prosecution. And, naturally, his allowance for child molesters and his relativization of the crimes five years ago (before the $2 billion in settlements kicked in) is not accompanied by any humility. No, we are still lectured on who and how we have sex. We still get that, along with the expectation that, as Catholics, we should be going to mass and giving our money to these sexual deviants, compelling us to subsidize their activities after litigation. I state this in all seriousness, if there is a god, I hope she smites and strikes down this evil serpent and his pederast sycophants hiding away in Rome. They deserve nothing less.