Who Is Pope Benedict XVI?

He's been pontiff for three years, but for many Americans, Benedict XVI is still best known as the pope who followed John Paul II.

As Pope Benedict arrives in Washington, D.C., this afternoon, the United States has never been more important for the Roman Catholic Church.

His visit comes at a time when religion has high cultural relevance and the American Catholic Church, for all the talk of scandal and division, is actually growing.

It's a big opportunity for the pope to introduce himself to the American audience. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 62 percent of American Catholics now say the church is out of touch with their views.

"I think for many Americans, the jury is still out with this pope. They don't know what to think," said the Rev. John Wauk from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

While his predecessor was something of a rock star among Catholics and chipped away at the Iron Curtain and won over the hearts of Catholic youth with his very public warmth, Benedict is a decidedly different pope. He served John Paul II as "defender of the faith," a hard-liner responsible for protecting Catholic orthodoxy.

His passions include books, cats and Mozart. Interestingly, he did not take his cat to live with him in the Vatican, but he did bring his piano.

"What people say is that they came to see John Paul II and now they come to hear Benedict XVI," said Wauk.

Born in Germany, Benedict interrupted his seminary studies during World War II to become a member of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi army before being taken as an American prisoner of war.

In the United States, Benedict is perhaps best remembered as the cardinal in charge of dealing with the church sex abuse scandal, who seemed at times to defend the priests accused of the wrongdoing.

"Always, temptations of human beings are present also for the priests. So always we have to accept that," Pope Benedict said in an interview when he was a cardinal.

Controversy has followed him into his role as pope. In 2006, he set off a firestorm after making a speech in which he quoted a description of 14th century Islam as "evil." He later apologized but not before his effigy was burned in the streets in some Muslim countries.

Coming to the states may present the biggest challenge yet for Pope Benedict. His goal is to unite a splintered American Catholic Church, striking a balance between placating conservative followers and giving hope to liberals who seek social reform.

"The American Church is extremely important to this pope. I think his trip to the United States will win people over," said the Rev. Keith Pecklers from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

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