ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Maryland (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI stepped onto United States soil for the time as Pontiff, arriving to a presidential handshake and wild cheering only hours after he admitted that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church.
Benedict gave hundreds of spectators a two-handed wave Tuesday as he stepped off a special Alitalia airliner that brought him from Rome. Students from a local Catholic school screamed ecstatically when they saw the Pope, who shook hands warmly with President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and their daughter Jenna on the tarmac.
Hundreds of onlookers, some from local Roman Catholic parishes, clapped and shouted as they watched the scene from nearby bleachers.
Benedict described his pilgrimage as a journey to meet a "great people and a great church." He spoke about the American model of religious values within a system of separation of Church and State.
President Bush made the unusual gesture of greeting Benedict at Andrews Air Force Base, the first time he has welcomed a foreign leader there.
Aides say he is in good health and the Pope seemed spry as he stepped energetically off the plane Tuesday.
Benedict said he will discuss immigration with Bush, including the difficulties of families who are separated by immigration.
While the Pope and Bush differ on such major issues on the Iraq War, capital punishment, and the US embargo against Cuba, they do find common ground in opposing abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic stem cell research.
White House Press secretary Dana Perino said the two leaders would likely discuss human rights, religious tolerance, and the fight against violent extremism. She downplayed their differences over Iraq.
Benedict tackled the most painful issue facing the US Catholic Church -- clergy sex abuse -- on his flight to America. The US church has paid out $ 2 billion in abuse costs since 1950, most of that in just the last six years.
Seemingly in a nod to his American flock, the Pope spoke in English as he answered questions submitted in advance by reporters.
"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.
Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Catholic Church.
"I do not wish to talk at this moment about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is another thing," he said.
"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."
Gary Bergeron, who was molested by a priest in the 1970s in Lowell, Massachusetts, called the comments a "step I've been looking for." Bergeron said he was disappointed that Benedict did not plan to visit the Archdiocese of Boston, the scene of a case that sparked the greater scandal, but urged the Pontiff to meet with victims this week.
The Pope's promise failed to mollify other 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. …