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Papal Visit Prompts Reflection on U.S. Catholic Identity

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the U.S. Tuesday for his first official visit -- a trip aimed partly at rallying Catholics still struggling with the aftermath of a clergy sex abuse scandal. Experts on religion examine U.S. Catholicism and how Americans view the pope.

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    Now, the pope comes to America. Jeffrey Brown begins with some background.


    Pope Benedict's plane, dubbed Shepherd One, touched down at Andrews Air Force Base late this afternoon. Waiting to welcome him were President and Mrs. Bush. It was the first time Mr. Bush has journeyed to Andrews to meet a foreign leader.

    The trip, this pope's first to the U.S., and months in the planning, includes a mass to Washington and a visit to New York City. Thousands of American Catholics have clamored for tickets to these events.

    It is Benedict's eighth foreign trip since becoming pope almost three years ago to the day.

    This weekend in Rome, he appealed for prayers for the trip.

  • POPE BENEDICT XVI, Vatican City:

    I ask you all to pray for the success of my visit, that there may be a time of spiritual renewal for all Americans.


    The pope will find an American church at a crossroads. There are about 65 million Catholics in the U.S. today, about one-quarter of the nation's population.


    At this time that we have a lot of troubles in this country, and I think it would be very helpful that he would come to offer some guidance, spiritual guidance.


    Six years ago, the child sex abuse scandal rocked Boston Archdiocese and quickly spread across much of the country.

    Some 5,000 victims have come forward, and more than $2 billion has been paid out to them to settle claims. That forced many dioceses to close parishes. More than 800 churches have been shuttered since 1995, most since 2000.

    Catholic schools have also been affected.

    After departing from Rome this morning, the pope told reporters on the flight he will take steps to ensure pedophiles do not become priests.


    Really, it is a great suffering for the church in the United States, and for the church in general, for me personally that this could happen.

    If I read the histories of these victims, it's difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way the mission to give healing, to give love of the God to these children.

    We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible so this cannot happen in future.


    But the pope is not scheduled to meet with victims during his six-day trip, nor will he visit Boston.

    Some survivors of abuse have called this an insult and protesters have pledged to be a visible presence during the pope's trip.

    BARBARA DORRIS, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests: I don't want an apology. I mean, words are cheap. I want actions. That's what I want, action.


    There are also fewer and fewer American men entering the priesthood. In 2007, there were 456 new Roman Catholic priests, less than half the number ordained four decades ago.

    Nearly one in every six parishes in the U.S. was without a resident pastor last year.

    According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, an increasing number of American Catholics have views that conflict with the Roman Catholic doctrine: 63 percent of Catholics believe that same-sex couples should have the same legal protections as heterosexual couples. And 62 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

    The poll also found that 62 percent of American Catholics think the church is, quote, "out of touch," up 10 percent since 2005 when Pope Benedict became pontiff.

    But that same poll found this pope is popular among his American flock, with 74 percent of Catholics holding a favorable impression of him.

    The make-up of the faithful is also changing. An infusion of Latino immigrants has offered growth and new vibrancy to the church. According to the Pew Forum, their numbers are expected to grow in the coming years.

    REV. J. BRIAN BRANSFIELD, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: If anything, we're seeing an up-tick in participation, in eagerness, in finding strength in the teachings of the church.


    The pope will be in the U.S. until Sunday.