Pope Benedict XVI's trip this week to the United States will include high-profile visits to the White House, United Nations and Ground Zero. But no matter what political issues or media angles may be buzzing before take-off, the Vatican tends to stress the pastoral aspect of any papal journey. The six-day itinerary is above all stacked with church services, baseball stadium masses and Catholic institutional encounters to allow the pontiff to tend to his flock, and to the priests and bishops who do the ministering when he's back in Rome.
The American visit, however, poses an unprecedented pastoral challenge for the 80-year-old pontiff. Benedict's is the first papal trip to the United States since the priest sex abuse crisis erupted in 2001. It is a controversy that has left much of the American laity bitterly disillusioned with their Church's leadership. For many of the 67 million American Catholics, how the Pope confronts the lingering fallout from the pedophilia scandal may largely determine the success of this visit.