VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict will make his first trip to the United States next spring in a visit that will likely try to heal some of the wounds caused by recent sexual abuse scandals.
The Pope will visit New York and several other cities in the East, Vatican sources said on Tuesday, adding that the itinerary was still being worked out.
The main purpose of the trip, expected for the second half of April or the start of May, will be to address the United Nations at the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Apart from New York, several other cities will be included. One likely but still unconfirmed stop is Washington and other possible stops include Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
News that the Pope would visit the United States spawned a number of invitations from dioceses, including some that want him to come for the 200th anniversary of their founding.
The trip will probably run for about five or six days.
While a visit to Boston has not been confirmed by that archdiocese, such a stop would be significant following the priestly sexual abuse scandal centered there which forced its archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, to resign in disgrace in 2002.
The state of American Catholicism in the wake of the scandal will likely be a major theme of the trip and offer an opportunity to heal lingering wounds.
Last July the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 500 victims of sexual abuse dating back as far as the 1940s.
The settlement, which means victims will receive more than $1 million each, was the largest from the Catholic Church in recent years following many cases in which victims sought financial compensation for suffering abuse from priests.
The scandal rocked the U.S. Church to its foundation and before his election as pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger went out on a limb to decry the “filth” in the Church.
Benedict, who was elected in 2005, has taken a tougher stand on sexual abuse in the Church than his predecessor, who was old and frail when the scandals broke.
Last year Benedict disciplined Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the 86-year-old founder of the conservative Legionaries of Christ, who had been accused of sexually abusing boys decades ago.
It was still not clear where the Pope would meet President George W. Bush if the Pontiff did not visit Washington, but traditionally a head of state greets a pope at his arrival.
The Vatican wants the trip to be out of the way before the U.S. presidential campaign enters its most heated phase to avoid anything that could be seen as trying to influence the vote.
The Pope is also due to visit France and Australia in 2008.