WASHINGTON -- Pope Benedict XVI was expected Wednesday to raise sensitive issues such as the Iraq war and Hispanic immigration when he meets with President George W. Bush on the second day of a US visit that began under the cloud of a clergy sex scandal.
On the flight from Rome to Washington Tuesday, Benedict told reporters he felt "deeply ashamed" by the child abuse scandal that has rocked the US church, and would use his first visit as pope to the United States to try to "heal the wounds caused by pedophile priests."
He also vowed to raise the issue of immigration when he holds one-on-one talks with Bush at the White House on Wednesday.
The United States must do "everything possible to fight ... all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives," the pope said in response to a reporter's question about whether he would address the issue of Latin American immigrants with the US leader.
Hispanics make up nearly 40 percent of the 70 million Catholics in the United States and are increasingly targeted by a crackdown in the United States on illegal immigrants.
Benedict was also expected to discuss with Bush the US involvement in Iraq, where more than 4,000 US soldiers have died in a war launched by the United States against firm opposition from the Vatican.
"There was a difference of opinion back in 2003, when the war began, and beyond", White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.
"But I do think that they share an agreement that in order to stabilize the region and promote human rights and justice, having our troops there has been helpful," she added.
Benedict said in his Easter message last year that "nothing good comes out of Iraq" and more recently lamented the "grim sound of arms" in the world's conflict zones, in particular "Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land."
Seminary student Mark Ivany, whose older brother is deployed in Baghdad, speculated that the pope would repeat a call he made in Rome on Palm Sunday, urging an end to the "massacres, the violence, the hatred in Iraq."
He was also likely to pray for a new Iraq "where people are free to worship as they choose" during his six-day US visit, which comes in the wake of the kidnapping and killing of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul in northern Iraq and the shooting of an Assyrian Orthodox priest in Baghdad in recent weeks, Ivany speculated.
The two leaders were expected to discuss Lebanon, which has been without a head of state for nearly five months.
Their "shared desire to work together to combat terrorism" was also likely to be a topic of discussion, she added.
While Benedict XVI condemns terrorism, he does not approve some means used by Washington to combat it, including hardline CIA interrogation methods such as waterboarding, which Bush has defended as necessary to effectively interrogate terrorists.
"The Catholic Church condemns use of torture as a means of getting the truth," said in 2005 Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
"Torture is a humiliation of a human being, and, therefore, the church does not accept it."
Another issue the pope and the president were likely to touch on, and not see eye to eye on, was the death penalty.
The Vatican wants capital punishment to be banned, while Bush believes "the death penalty, when carried out through a system of justice, can help protect innocent life and can punish the most grievous of crimes," according to Perino.
"There's a divergence, but I would caution you that there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement," the White House spokeswoman said.
The one-on-one talks between the pope and the president would come after a lavish ceremony is held in the White House gardens to welcome Benedict, who celebrates his 81st birthday on Wednesday.
The pope will be given a 21-gun salute at the ceremony, which "upwards of 9,000 people" were expected to attend, Perino said.
The arrival ceremony will be one of the largest ever held at the White House, marking another first in the papal visit after Bush made the unprecedented gesture by a US president of welcoming Benedict at the airport.
Copyright 2008 AFP