WASHINGTON (AFP) — Pope Benedict XVI was expected Wednesday to raise thorny topics such as the Iraq war and Hispanic immigration in talks with President George W. Bush on the second day of his US visit.
On the flight from Rome to Washington on Tuesday, Benedict broached the most sensitive issue surrounding his trip when he told reporters he felt "deeply ashamed" by the child abuse scandal that has rocked the US Catholic church, and would "do everything possible to heal this wound".
He also vowed to raise the issue of immigration when he holds one-on-one talks with Bush at the White House on Wednesday, in his first trip to the United States since becoming leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics in 2005.
The United States must do "everything possible to fight ... all forms of violence so that immigrants may lead dignified lives," the pope said when asked if 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 in efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Benedict was also expected to raise the US involvement in Iraq, where more than 4,000 US soldiers have died in a war that was strongly opposed by his predecessor, John Paul II.
"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."
Perino said a "shared desire to work together to combat terrorism" was also likely to be a topic of discussion between the two leaders.
While Benedict XVI condemns terrorism, he does not approve of 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.
Another issue the pope and the president were likely to discuss, 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 will follow a lavish ceremony 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.
Benedict will hold a mass for 48,000 in Washington Thursday before going to New York to address the UN General Assembly and hold another huge mass at Yankee Stadium.
He will also visit, on Sunday, the scene of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center to offer a prayer and meet with survivors and relatives of the dead.
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