Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in the United States for his first visit since he was elected as the head of the Roman Catholic Church nearly three years ago.  On the flight from Rome, the pontiff said he is "deeply ashamed" of the sex abuse scandal that has stained the Catholic Church in America.  VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports from Washington.

Pope Benedict arrived at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington having directly addressed one of the toughest issues facing him during his first papal visit to the United States.

On the flight from Rome, Benedict said the scandal involving sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has caused great suffering for the church in America and for him personally.

The pope says he is deeply ashamed by the scandal and that pedophiles will be banned from ministry.

The church has paid at least $2 billion to victims of abuse and hundreds of priests have been removed.

Monsignor Kevin Irwin, the dean of the School of Theology at Catholic University, says it will take a long time for wounds to heal.

"No one can solve that crisis," he said.  "It is going to be a lot of time and a lot of wounds and a lot of prayer and a lot of mortification.  In once sense this crisis has brought the church back to its origins.  We have to be a humble, pilgrim church."

President and Mrs. Bush along with their daughter Jenna made the unusual gesture of greeting Pope Benedict at the Air Force base, the first time the president has welcomed a foreign leader there.

While the pope and Mr. Bush differ on such issues as the Iraq war and the death penalty, they do find common ground in opposing abortion and gay marriage.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

"President Bush is very excited to have the Holy Father here," she said.  "One of the reasons he is so excited is because he has established a bond with him and they have a lot - they share a lot of common values."

The formal greeting for the German-born pope will come Wednesday when thousands of people are expected to welcome him at the White House.

During his six-day visit the pope is scheduled to celebrate mass at large baseball stadiums, address the United Nations, meet leaders from other religions and pray at the site in New York of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

James Brennan is the provost of Catholic University.

"I think he will also bring to all Americans a very positive message of hope and love, which is the essential message of Jesus Christ," he said.

During his trip to the United States Pope Benedict will mark two personal milestones.  His 81st birthday is Wednesday and Saturday will mark the third anniversary of his election as pontiff.