Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the United States to a presidential handshake and enthusiastic cheering. It was a warm welcome that followed the pontiff's candid admission hours earlier that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American church.
On his first papal trip to the US, Benedict gave hundreds of spectators a two-handed wave as he stepped off a special Alitalia airliner that brought him from Rome on Tuesday. Students from a local Catholic school screamed when they saw the pontiff, who shook hands with President George W Bush, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter, Jenna on the tarmac.
The pope and the president left in a motorcade a few minutes later.
On the flight to the United States from Rome, Benedict addressed the most painful issue for the Roman Catholic Church in America, clergy sex abuse. The US church has paid out USD 2 billion in abuse costs since 1950, most of that in just 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 on the flight from Rome to Washington, speaking in English as he responded to questions submitted by reporters ahead of time.
Benedict pledged that paedophiles would not be priests in the Catholic Church.