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Pope Benedict XVI Meets Sex Abuse Victims; Interfaith Meeting Scheduled with Pope Benedict XVI; Obama Faces Criticism From all Sides

Aired April 17, 2008 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, breaking news just in to CNN. We've learned Pope Benedict has spoken with a group of sex abuse victims in an unprecedented meeting. We'll have new details coming just ahead this hour.

Also, how do you give communion to 46,000 people? We'll take you inside the papal mass at Nationals Stadium and the sermon confronting the scandal head-on.

An historic look at a growing crisis facing the church -- a chronic shortage of priests. We'll show you what's behind it and what's being done.

I'm John King. Wolf Blitzer will be back with us shortly.


In just a few moments, Wolf Blitzer will be among a handful of selected guests to be introduced to Pope Benedict XVI at a private meeting here in Washington at Catholic University. Wolf has close ties with the school and its president, having delivered the commencement speech there just two years ago. He'll join us after his meeting with the pontiff to share his impressions.

Meanwhile, we're following breaking news coming out of the papal visit. The Vatican has just released a statement saying Pope Benedict met a short time ago with five people who were victims of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. It's an unprecedented event, as the pontiff uses his visit to America to try to repair some of the tremendous damage the scandal did to the church.

Let's talk with our John Allen now -- John, come on, walking in here to THE SITUATION ROOM.

John is a Vatican analyst.

John, you broke the news of this dramatic meeting. You were reporting this story. The Vatican issued a statement confirming it. Unprecedented -- that's a word thrown around in our business a lot. But, truly unprecedented in this case. The church has been criticized, at times, for how it has dealt with this scandal. This pope made a point in three public addresses -- his masses here, including his mass today, to deal with this. But to sit face-to-face, the pope His Holiness, the leader of the Catholic Church with the victims, the significance?


I mean when you cover an institution with 2,000 years of history -- you don't get to talk about unprecedented very often. But this truly is. No pope before today has ever met with a group of victims of sexual abuse. And, of course, since the crisis erupted, this has been a standing source of criticism -- that it suggested the pope was insensitive or out of touch with the reality of the crisis.

Clearly, Benedict wanted to send a strong symbol today that he was, in fact, aware. You know, as he said today in the mass at Nationals Park that he couldn't even put into words the harm and the pain that has been caused. This is his way of signaling that he's connecting with that.

But beyond the symbolism, there's also the substance that this was some face time directly with the head of the Catholic Church for these people to make their case about how they think the church ought to respond to this.

KING: And as we continue our conversation with John Allen here about this unprecedented meeting, there you see dramatic images. This is Pope Benedict on the campus of Catholic University here in Washington, D.C. . He just emerged from his limousine moments ago. I'm going to be quiet so you can hear the throng of people for just a moment.

Pope Benedict now inside, on the grounds of Catholic University.

And, John, help with the dichotomy of this scene. You hear the cheers, the enormous applause. Albeit, he's on the campus of a Catholic school, but the reception so far has been dramatically positive for this pope here in the nation's capital, as he begins his United States visit. And yet, under the surface in the Catholic community, in some communities perhaps more than others because of the degree of the scandal, there are still wounds and scars. And he's obviously trying to deal with them.

ALLEN: Yes. John, I mean, obviously, those pictures we just saw -- that kind of almost rapturous response you saw the pope getting -- that's very much an insider Catholic audience there at Catholic University. The people who are the pope's, if you like, if we can use the political term -- core constituency.

But I think, you know, there are obviously people at the margins, those who have been scarred by the sex abuse crisis, those who maybe have lost confidence in the leadership of the church because of what they have seen. Clearly, Benedict's coming here not just to play to his base, but also to reach out to those people who maybe have some trust issues with the church at this point, having very frankly and candidly engaged this crisis repeatedly.

And remember, we're only on day two, the second full day, really, of this trip. He's already spoken about it publicly three times, talking about his deep sense of shame, his determination to bring healing and reconciliation to the victims.

And now, this afternoon, we have this dramatic bit of news that for the very first time, the pope has agreed to sit down with a group of victims, accompanied, in this case, by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, to hear their stories, to offer in person, you know, his healing to them and also to pray with them.

Now, you know, obviously, after this news gets digested, John, there will be conversation about whether this is enough, what policy steps might follow from something like this. But it is, nevertheless, a dramatic gesture.

KING: And remarkable.

We want to let you go to continue your reporting.

But quickly, before you do, how much of a debate within the church has this been over how public to be in confronting the pain and the scars?

KING: Well, John, I think that it is very much a live issue. I think there are some in the church, both at the leadership level and the grassroots, who would like to say, look, we got through this, let's turn the page, let's move on, that continuing to talk about it simply keeps that wound alive.

I think the other argument would be that, you know, try as anyone might to pretend it is over, it simply isn't, that the moral damage that has been caused is very much of the long-term. And I think we now know, between those two views, which position Pope Benedict XVI takes. Obviously, he came here to engage this issue, understanding that its aftershocks are still being felt.

KING: Fascinating.

We'll let you get back to your reporting and we'll check in with you as the hours go on today. It's a fascinating, unprecedented meeting.

John Allen, thank you very much.

And later tonight, Pope Benedict will meet with leaders of other faiths, highlighting ecumenical ties, but also underscoring some controversies dogging Catholic relations with Muslims, Jews and others.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now live with that -- Brian, share with our viewers what happens next.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, almost from the moment that he assumed his papacy, Benedict has tried to establish dialogue with members of other religions. That dialogue continues tonight. But almost from that very moment that he assumed that papacy, those efforts at that dialogue have been severely tested.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): As he tries to shore up his theological flank in the United States, Pope Benedict XVI is himself at a crossroads, analysts say, with other faiths. One calls this trip "a mission of reconciliation." His starting point, a meeting with leaders of five other religions in Washington. Observers say the pope has some repair work to do with Muslims over the very public conversion to Catholicism of a prominent Muslim commentator during Easter and the continued fallout from a lecture he gave in Germany in September 2006, where he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor.


POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator): He said, I quote, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman."


TODD: Observers say the pope was trying to illustrate that with faith must come reason and that he believed the comment was taken out of context.

ALLEN: The pope is well aware you can come up with equivalent examples out of Christianity, out of Hinduism, out of Judaism, out of any religion. And so, in his own mind, this was not intended as a provocation toward Islam.

TODD: But the reference led to the killing of a nun in Somalia and Christian churches being firebombed in the Middle East. Jewish leaders are likely to address with Benedict his decision to reauthorize a prayer for the conversion of Jews in his Good Friday services and for a speech he gave in May of 2006 at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

DAVID GIBSON, AUTHOR, "THE RULE OF BENEDICT": And he really spoke in kind of theological terms about how the Nazis were a kind of pagan campaign against all believers and against God. He barely mentioned the Holocaust. That was a kind of last minute insertion. That left Jewish leaders a bit, you know, perturbed.

TODD: And even the pope's latest effort at reconciliation has its own controversy. Left out of the Washington interfaith meeting, Sikh leaders, who represent the world's fifth largest religion -- 25 million strong. They were invited by the Vatican, but their insistence on wearing Kirpans, ceremonial daggers that are important symbols of their faith, was a deal breaker. The U.S. Secret Service drawing the line at bringing weapons anywhere near the pope.


TODD: Now, a Sikh leader that we spoke to says his delegation is still very disappointed in that decision. He says that the Secret Service was not so much concerned about a member of their delegation harming the pope, but was worried about someone else grabbing a dagger. A Secret Service spokesman would not comment on those details. He did say that in the negotiations with the Sikhs, that his agency tried to be as flexible as possible. And both sides did offer compromises to the situation, John, but they just couldn't come to an agreement.

KING: Brian Todd, we'll let you continue your reporting on that.

It's a fascinating day on the campus there, Brian. Thank you very much.

And that interfaith meeting Brian was just talking about is scheduled to start in about 90 minutes at Catholic University. The people will meet with leaders of other faiths and accept gifts representing each -- a silver Menorah from Jews, a Quran from Muslims, a bronze bell from Buddhists, an incense burner from Hindus and a metal cube representing the principle of Chinism (ph), an Indian faith dating back from the sixth century which preaches knowledge, faith and respect.

But the main event today, an outdoor mass that drew 46,000 of the faithful to Nationals Park, the new baseball stadium right here in Washington, D.C. The crowd cheered the pope's arrival. He waved in return and eventually made his way to an alter set up in center field to begin the two hour service.

The pope used his sermon to once again address the damaging priest sex abuse scandal, calling for healing and reconciliation.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: It is in the context of this hope, born of God's love and fidelity, that I acknowledge the pain which the church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving, personal attention.


KING: No small undertaking for a crowd this size. On hand to help the pontiff, 1,300 priests, 250 bishops, 20 cardinals, plus a choir 570 strong. Quite a scene there.

And Jack Cafferty is now in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, amazing to watch all this unfold. It is a dramatic production and it's also a hugely important spiritual event.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Every time this man travels, it's like the Earth stops turning on its axis until he conducts his business. And I'm not sure exactly why that is, but I think on some level I'm sort of glad that's the way it is.

It looks like Hillary Clinton and John McCain have found a common enemy in Barack Obama. As "The Financial Times" puts it -- quoting here: "The 2008 presidential race has now boiled down to a fight of two against one" -- meaning McCain and Clinton versus Obama.

Perhaps this shouldn't be that big a surprise, being that Obama is now the Democratic frontrunner. Clinton needs to knock him out win, big in Pennsylvania Tuesday in order to have a shot at the nomination. And McCain, unlike the Democrats, has the luxury of focusing on the general election.

Aides to the presumptive Republican nominee, McCain, say they prefer Clinton as an opponent because of her high negative ratings. Yesterday in "The Cafferty File," we told you about a poll that shows 58 percent of Americans say Hillary Clinton is not honest and trustworthy. That's a big number.

So what we're seeing now is both Clinton and McCain going after Obama with almost identical criticisms. For example, both have portrayed Obama as an elitist during the fallout from his "bitter" remarks. Clinton often targets McCain in her attacks. But for his part, McCain sticks almost entirely to criticizing Obama -- sometimes even as a response to a shot he's taken from Hillary Clinton.

The Republican National Committee also overwhelmingly targets Obama now, instead of Clinton, in its attacks. When Clinton was in the lead last year, she was all the RNC could talk about.

Former Democratic presidential candidate and Obama backer Gary Hart says Clinton broke the unwritten rule of politics by handing the Republicans ammunition to be used against Obama later on. And another Democratic adviser who's not backing either candidate yet says that Clinton might be hurting herself among Democratic voters by her willingness to team up with McCain. He says "One plus one equals zero if your ally is a Republican."

Here's the question: Why do both Hillary Clinton and John McCain target Barack Obama with virtually the same criticisms?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- John.

KING: Jack, we'll look for those questions there.

And as we wait for the answers to come in, we're going back to Catholic University. You see Pope Benedict XVI here. He has come into the room here. This is Catholic University.

Let's listen for just a moment.

He's entering the room here. There's quite a greeting in the room, part of his visit.

I want to bring in Vatican analyst Delia Gallagher. She is on the campus.

Delia, as we watch this meeting unfold here, obviously, now that we know about this meeting that the pope has had with these five victims of sex abuse, it will add a new wrinkle to the discussions about the success of his visit, whether he's beginning to heal the wounds within the Catholic Church here in the United States.

You're observations at this moment.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think you're absolutely right. The fact of the meeting this afternoon with some of the victims of sex abuse carries that conversation just a little bit further. As we've been saying for the last few days, the pope has himself focused on that issue from the moment even before he touched down, and every day since, he has brought up the issue of sex abuse.

At the same time, right now we have this much-awaited meeting, really, with Catholic educators. As you know, in this country Catholic universities, Catholic grade schools and Catholic high schools are a source of education for over three million American students. And within the Catholic world, there's a lot of tension and a lot of controversy about some of the ways that universities handle their Catholicism and their identity. So this is what people are looking for today in this talk from the pope.

Right now, you're hearing Reverend O'Connell, the president of Catholic University, giving the opening address. And then we'll be waiting to hear what the pope says -- John.

KING: You make a fascinating point. You're standing on a college campus. This pope's predecessor, John Paul II, when he traveled the world, one of the most fascinating images was how young people were so enthralled by him. Even in his final days, when he was failing and more frail, young people were clearly the energy at his events. And he took energy from them.

How about this pope, Benedict, and his relationship with younger Catholics around the world?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's very interesting to me, because in listening to his talks, he has been quite, quite, quite serious about trying to bring in young people and saying to the bishops yesterday and saying to the people this morning that, really, this is where the future is and this is what we need to be concerned about -- and, indeed, to the whole country.

And, frankly, behind me there are a lot of young people who have come all the way from the West Coast to greet the pope. So I think -- and we'll see this in the long-term -- that this pope will have that same kind of John Paul II effect, as it were.

KING: Delia Gallagher on the campus of Catholic University.

We'll check in with you on a bit as this meeting with Catholic educators unfolds.

Delia, thank you very much.

And we should also note, we're standing by for Wolf Blitzer to rejoin us. He's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In just a few moments, he'll be back to share his impressions with us. Plus, the trouble with the priesthood and why the church is losing thousands of religious leaders.

Also, is corporate greed to blame for America's economic woes? Find out why some say CEOs are killing our economy.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



A dramatic day in Washington, D.C. Pope Benedict XVI on the campus of Catholic University here in Washington, D.C. at the moment, speaking to Catholic educators. We'll show you live pictures of that.

But, also, our Wolf Blitzer, as promised, just out of a meeting with the pontiff. Wolf also on the campus of Catholic University. He rejoins us now -- Wolf, share with us the details and your impressions of the meeting.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I've got to tell you, John, it was very, very thrilling. It was very exciting. There was a small group of us of about 10 invited guests. We were taken to a room on the campus here just outside where the pontiff is speaking right now. And we were basically put in a line and Pope Benedict walked into the room. And then he individually went up to all of us. He greeted us. He couldn't have been more gracious. He smiled. He asked each of us a little question.

I must say, when he came to me, I didn't want to open my mouth, I didn't want to say anything, which is contrary to what I normally would be doing. I was sort of in awe when you're standing right next to the Holy Father. So I just sort of stood there. And Father David O'Connell, the president of Catholic University, introduced me and said, this is Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

And the pope said oh, CNN. CNN. We watch. And then Father O'Connell said you've seen him, probably. And the pope said yes, of course, of course. And he was very gracious.

And then he surprised me and the other guests who had been invited. He took out this little gift basket and he handed me this gift, which I wasn't sure what it was until after he left. Then I opened it up. And I can show our viewers. I don't know if you can see that.

That's a gold medal of -- showing Pope Benedict XVI here. That's obviously a very, very moving gift. And then on the other side, I'll show you the other side -- it shows both Washington, the nation's capital, and it also shows the United Nations -- the two cities, Washington and New York, that he'll be visiting.

So this, John, as you can imagine, is a gift that I will always cherish, always have. I can assure you, you're never going to see it on eBay or anything like that. This is something very, very special. And all 10 of us who were in that meeting with the pope, we each received this gold medal. And I must say, it was a surprise, but obviously something I'll always, always appreciate.

KING: And, Wolf, just -- you speak to presidents. You speak to prime ministers. I had the great privilege and honor of an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican a couple of years back, when I was traveling with Vice President Cheney and he visited with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

It is a special moment for anyone of any faith. The pope has a dignity and an aura to him. Just, you mentioned how it played out in the room. How does it feel?

BLITZER: Well, it was exciting and thrilling for me. But as thrilling as it was, for so many of the others -- and, as I said, there were, I think, 10 guests invited -- distinguished academicians from the university here, friends of the university -- the Catholics who were in that room, I think they were pretty much overwhelmed by this great honor of actually seeing the pope and then bending down. And the Catholics kissed his ring and I spoke with some of them afterwards.

And, you know, it's a thrilling moment for all of them. It was a thrilling moment for all of us. It was -- no matter what religion you are, to just be in his presence, knowing the history, knowing the tradition, knowing what this represents.

So it was just one of those moments -- certainly, I've always felt blessed as a reporter having a front row seat to history. And like you, I've met world leaders. But this is special. This is quite unique.

Our good friend and colleague from NBC News, the Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, was in there. He was one of the invited guests, as well. And I stood next to him. And, you know, we were both originally from Buffalo, New York. So here we have two Buffalo boys meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and it's -- you know, if you would have, you know, said to Tim Russert when he was a little boy growing up on the South Side of Buffalo and I was a little boy growing up on the North Side of Buffalo, you know, some day we'll meet on the campus of Catholic University and we'll shake hands with Pope Benedict XVI, you know, that would have been something that none of us could have ever imagined. It shows you what a unique world this is and what great opportunities all of us have.

So I must say -- I don't often say it, but I truly feel blessed that I had this occasion, had this opportunity to do what I've just done.

KING: And am I to believe for a minute that Pope Benedict may be, then, the only man alive who could be in a room with Blitzer and Russert and not get asked a question?

BLITZER: You know, I didn't ask him a question and I listened carefully. Tim Russert, if you could believe it, was even more polite and even more stunned and silent than I was. So it was an excellent moment all around. And I think the two of us did not embarrass our profession -- our news business. We just stood there and we watched and -- you know, we did what were told.

KING: I know you have Delia Gallagher...

BLITZER: You know, John, I've got...

KING: I know you have Delia Gallagher...

BLITZER: Yes, I've got (INAUDIBLE) right here.

KING: As I go back to you, while you were in the room, Wolf, while you were in the room, we had breaking news on our air about this meeting that the pope did have with five victims of sex abuse here. And so as I go back to the conversation you will have with Delia, and I will turn back over to THE SITUATION ROOM to its anchor and host.

While you're in the room, this dramatic story unfolds to us here. And so I'd like, as you continue the conversation, the pope is a spiritual leader and a world leader. He's also, in many ways, a political figure who is on a delicate journey to this country right now, because of the wounds in the Catholic Church. And I'd love to listen to the discussion as you two now take over.

BLITZER: You know, Delia, this is a pretty dramatic moment. But the pope did have this meeting. And for our viewers who are just tuning in here in the United States and around the world, give us some context. You cover the Vatican on a day to day basis.

GALLAGHER: This was a big deal. I think that it has surprised everybody, including those of us in the Vatican press corps, that Pope Benedict has wanted so much to address this issue of sex abuse. You know, it's been a long time now in the church in the United States that they've had to deal with the suffering, really, caused by this and for the victims, feeling that there was a certain silence comes from the Vatican.

And so, from the beginning, from the beginning, Pope Benedict decided he was going to address that. And I think this meeting was sort of another step in that, really -- not even the end of it, but just another step to show his intention to really address this in a very serious way and also in a personal way. Because these are people who have been hurt in such a way -- and he said it himself -- that, really, there are no words that he could say to try and heal that.

So I think this personal context for him was something pretty important and a very big deal, yes.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Delia, because we have a lot more to talk about.

Much more of our coverage coming up from the campus of the Catholic University of America. We're also going to be taking a close look at the shortage of priests right now as Pope Benedict the XVI continues his visit to the United States.

Much more of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But I want to also thank John King for doing an excellent job, as he always does, in filling in for me while I had the privilege, the pleasure, to actually go and shake the pontiff's hand.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, marriage controversy -- why are some U.S. sailors marrying Russian women, sometimes within hours of meeting them? Here's a hint -- it's definitely not love at first sight.

Also, terror in the cockpit -- could a commercial jetliner lose all four engines at 30,000 feet? It's not as uncommon as you might think.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some 1,300 priests took part in the papal mass at Nationals Park earlier today. That's the new baseball stadium here in Washington but those numbers belie a stark reality facing the U.S. Catholic Church, a severe and growing shortage of priests that's leaving thousands of pulpits empty.

CNN's Jason Carroll is working that part of the story.

Jason, how bad is this shortage of priests?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a very grave concern in many parishes across the country. There are a number of people within the church who are hoping that Pope Benedict can somehow inspire more young men to join the priesthood.


CARROLL: Evidence of a dire priest shortage in the United States is clear at New York St. Joseph's seminary. Ten years ago, these pews were filled with seminary students. Not anymore. The rector partly blames the shortage on a shift in values.

BISHOP GERALD WALSH, ST. JOSEPH'S CHURCH: Success is measured today by how much money do you have, how many people do you control, what do you own.

CARROLL: Another major cause, the priest sexual abuse scandal. It deeply wounded the Catholic Church, testing the faith of young men considering the priesthood.

But not these three...

BRIAN GRAEBE, SEMINARY STUDENT: You look at a scandal like this and a crisis and there are two things that can happen. You can either stick your head in the sand and walk away and you know wipe your hands of it. Or say all right. Now it's time for good men to step forward and say we need to take back this faith.

CARROLL: Consider this. In 1965, just 549 parishes in the United States were without a resident priest. Today there are more than 3,000. So the church is importing priests from overseas.

REV. ERNESTO TIBAY, PRIEST FROM THE PHILIPPINES: The church here realizes the need of people like us coming from foreign countries to serve.

CARROLL: Foreign born priests now make up 16 percent of those serving U.S. churches. Church reformists say one solution to the priest shortage is to change the vow of celibacy.

JOAN KOECHLER, FORMER NUN: I did fall in love with Joe. And I remember I came to a point of saying, do I go forward with this?

CARROLL: Thirty years ago Joan Koechler married Joe. She gave up being a nun; he a priest. Both say they miss being able to serve.

JOE KOECHLER, FORMER PRIEST: I still think I have the vocation. I still think I have something to offer. And I wish I could do it. Do I think it will happen in my lifetime? I do not.


CARROLL: And he's probably right. Pope Benedict is a traditionalist not open to the idea of reforming the church in the way of having married priests. Clearly, though, Wolf, the church is going to have to come up with some new way of inspiring young men to join the priesthood -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jason. Stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

John Allen, our Vatican analyst, has been reporting on this breaking news, really an historic moment.

Update our viewers, John, first of all, the pope has now met with some who say they were sexually abused by priests. Tell us what happened.

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, we had been hearing rumors about the possibility of such a meeting for some time. It became official this afternoon just shortly ago. The Vatican issued a statement indicating that at 4:15 this afternoon at the pope's embassy on Massachusetts Avenue here in Washington, Benedict XVI met with a small group of victims of sexual abuse. They were accompanied by Cardinal Shawn O'Malley of Boston. We know that at least some of the people in that group are actually from Boston.

You'll recall, Wolf, that when talk of the pope's trip to the states first began to circulate, some had suggested he go to Boston. In the end, he didn't do that. But today he at least met with some of the people who had been most scarred by the crisis that first erupted in Boston.

The statement indicated the pope listened to these victims, heard their stories, assured them of his cam passion and prayed with them.

BLITZER: And do we know how many victims were there?

ALLEN: Wolf, our understanding is that there were five in the group. We know that some of these victims are not interested in going public. But we do know also that at least a couple of them do intend to make themselves available to the media later on. And we certainly hope to have them here on CNN at the earliest opportunity.

We know that these victims are not affiliated with any formal victims movement. We do have an early statement from the largest movement of victims in this country, an organized group called the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests who said they see this as a positive first step in a very long road but are still interested in actions rather than words.

BLITZER: So he obviously had this meeting at the embassy about an hour -- a little more than an hour or so ago before arriving here on the campus of Catholic University, a closed-door, private meeting with these five victims of sexual abuse by priests over the years.

This is precisely what some of these groups had been asking for as you point out; they've been calling on the pope and over these past couple days it's been extraordinary. On the flight over he said he -- the Catholic Church was deeply ashamed of this scandal. He reiterated that yesterday in the meeting he had and the speech he gave with the bishops. And today he's taking it one step further.

Is it a surprise how far he's going on this issue given where he's -- given where he was only a few years ago?

ALLEN: Wolf, it's no surprise that he's talking about it. Vatican officials had told us in the lead up to this trip that he would engage it and do so repeatedly. I think the surprise has been the forcefulness and clarity of the language in the first place. Secondly, of course ,this utterly unexpected meeting this afternoon.

We should emphasize, Wolf, that when you cover the Vatican, which has a history of more than 2,000 years, you don't get to use the world unprecedented very often. This truly is. No pope has ever before met with a group of sexual abuse victims, which has been a source of frustration.

If you want to ask why did the pope decide to do this, and ultimately of course this was his call, he obviously understands the depth and enormity of the crisis and wanted to send a signal to that effect.

BLITZER: Obviously an unprecedented meeting indeed. John, thank you very much for letting us know about it. We'll have more on this story coming up. More on the pope's visit here at Catholic University as well.

Also, an alleged marriage scam involving American sailors and women from eastern Europe. Now there's a huge crackdown with dozens of arrests. We're going to show you what's going on. Plus, a flying threat so serious the government has to scramble to issue new rules. It's something you may have never even heard of. You're going to find out what could cause all of a plane's engines to simply stall.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the campus of the Catholic University of America here in the nation's capital in Washington, D.C. Pope Benedict XVI speaking to Catholic University educators right now. We're watching. We're monitoring it.

There's other news we're following as well including this upcoming exclusive report involving a stunning crackdown on an alleged marriage scam involving American sailors. A scam that's raising serious national security concerns.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been working this story. She's got exclusive details for us.

Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we can tell you investigators say this is a scam involving green cards and greed, young eastern European women hooking up with willing members of the U.S. Navy.


FEYERICK: These unhappy Russian brides are accused of marrying U.S. sailors. Not for love, but rather to stay in the United States.

More than 30 alleged bogus husbands and wives were arrested Wednesday, all charged with marriage fraud. Investigators say the sailors were in on the scam which ultimately cost the Navy about half a million dollars.

SAMUEL WORTH, NAVY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATOR: What we see are small pockets of sailors from various commands involved in these conspiracies.

FEYERICK: The sailors based at the Norfolk Naval Station allegedly met the women at bars or restaurants in nearby Virginia Beach or were set up by Navy buddies. In some cases, documents show the couples married within hours of meeting.

DEPUTY CHIEF J.A. CERVERA, VIRGINIA BEACH POLICE: It's unknown if the women actually targeted the sailors. They did meet them and they befriended them. And from there a contract, I guess, a verbal contract was made between the women and men for the fraudulent marriages.

FEYERICK: As pay off, the sailors are accused of getting thousands of dollars in housing allowances they weren't entitled to. The women, mostly from Russia and the Ukraine, who had arrived on work or student visas, got fast tracked to citizen ship. Some of them received military identification from the defense department, exposing a vulnerability to national security says Norfolk's MCIS chief, Samuel Worth.

WORTH: In these cases, we just don't know where these foreign nationals are coming from, what their intentions are.

FEYERICK: Five of the accused sailors served on this ship. Those on active duty were taken from the ships to face charges in Virginia.

WORTH: There's an impact to mission readiness, operational readiness. Those sailors have to be replaced. Their replacements have to be trained.


FEYERICK: Now, the sailors and their brides haven't yet entered pleas. The attorneys we've contacted haven't returned calls. A Navy spokeswoman told CNN that sailors are expected to act in an ethical and responsible manner and that the sailors involved in this represent a very small percentage of sailors in the U.S. Navy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deb, is this happening on one base or elsewhere as well?

FEYERICK: Well, it's interesting. This was considered the largest sweep of its kind. It took place at the Norfolk Naval Station. However, investigators are telling us they really believe this is something going on at other naval bases across the country and they're really trying to put a stop to this because of course there is a vulnerability. There's no evidence the women were doing anything in terms of national security but the possibility is there and that's a huge concern.

BLITZER: Huge, huge indeed. Thanks for bringing this exclusive report to us. Debra Feyerick reporting.

Coming up, picture this. You're flying along at 30,000 feet. Suddenly the plane's engines stop working. How could a commercial jet liner lose all four engines at 30,000 feet? It's not as uncommon as you might think. Our Miles O'Brien has some details. He's standing by.

And we also have the picture of my meeting with the pope. The pictures are now in. We'll tell you what happened when I had the privilege, the honor, to see Pope Benedict XVI here on the campus of Catholic University.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's a danger most fliers have never considered. The threat is serious enough that the FAA is now putting out new guidelines for preventing it. That would be ice causing a plane's engines to stall potentially all engines.

Let's go to our chief technology correspondent, Miles O'Brien. He's joining us live.

Miles, how worried should we be?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CHIEF TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's a rare problem but a very scary one. Ice is a familiar danger for pilots who fly in the clouds to guard against. What's perplexing about this problem is it's happening while planes are in the clear. So what's a flight crew to do?

For some answers, I took a seat in a sophisticated air bus simulator.


O'BRIEN: Airline pilots often describe their jobs as long hours of tedium punctuated by brief moments of stark terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll kill the master. Looks like we've lost them all.

O'BRIEN: Losing all your engines certainly fits that bill. That is precisely what has happened to us, at 30,000 feet off Los Angeles in an air bus a-340. Well, actually, we were only 12 feet off the ground in an amazingly realistic $15 million simulator built by the wizards at CAE in Montreal. We had these seasoned airline pilots show us how they were grapple with this seemingly dire cockpit crisis because it is happening in the real world too frequently for comfort.

JOHN WILEY, AVIATION ANALYST: We don't have emergencies anymore. We have non-normals. So, yes, all four engines going out would be a very much non-normal.

O'BRIEN: The problem is ice, invisible high altitude ice crystals that get sucked into engines, clogging the air flow and causing them to stall, a flame out. The National Transportation Safety Board has tallied 36 such incidents in recent years where one or more engines quit out of the blue. Fortunately they all ended with happy landings usually after a successful mid-air restart.

TOM HAUETER, NTSB: We at the safety board don't like margins this close. We like to put more buffer into it. We like to keep those engines running all the time.

O'BRIEN: As a result, the FAA has issued a series of bulletins and directives affecting several airplane and engine models. In essence, the new rules require flight crews to turn on anti-icing equipment near thunderstorms even if they're not in the clouds. It's where those elusive ice crystals form.

Engine manufactures do a lot of testing to ensure engines will run in all kinds of harsh conditions. General Electric says it has a software fix which may reduce the ice risk. Pratt and Whitney says it's working collaboratively with the FAA in an industry working group to solve the problem. Meanwhile, flight crews honing their skills in simulators like this are thinking about what they would do if they flamed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty, forty, thirty.

O'BRIEN: In our case, all four engines were spinning once again in about ten minutes. And we were on the ground in less than a half an hour.

PETER WADDELL, PILOT, CAE: The idea that everything goes -- drops immediately and two minutes later you're on the ground is not true at all.


O'BRIEN: In fact, Wolf, an airliner at 36,000 feet will glide for about 12 minutes and about 100 miles before reaching the ground, hopefully at an airport.

Recently the crew of a corporate jet was unable to relight engines after one of these events, had to glide in for a dead stick emergency landing at an airport.

And Wolf, this problem may be much larger than the numbers indicated. In many cases, flight crews may not report less serious flame out situations.

BLITZER: Miles, is there some kind of new weather phenomenon causing this or are airliners operating differently?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. Many of these instances are over the Pacific where there tend to be these big warm thunderstorms, convective activity as they call it. There's reason to believe there may be more of this activity because of climate change.

Another reason though might be just simply the fact that there are more airline flights in the pacific near this hazardous weather these days.

BLITZER: Miles O'Brien doing some excellent reporting for us. Thank you, Miles, very much.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right. Before we get to that, I just got back from the photo mat. I took my roll of film down there. I want to show you this picture. Put it up Howie. Let's take a look. Looky there. Tell me about the expression on your face, Wolf.

BLITZER: It was an expression. I guess I was sort of thrilled. I didn't know what to do. I met about a half an hour or so ago with Pope Benedict XVI. You see Father David O'Connell, the president of Catholic University in the middle there right behind us. I shook his hand. I didn't say anything. Father O'Connell said, this is Wolf Blitzer of CNN, and the pope was very happy to see me. He told me he watches CNN. Oh, Mr. CNN, he said, very important.

CAFFERTY: That's great.

BLITZER: It's not every day you get to see the pope, Jack. So it was pretty thrilling. What can I say?

CAFFERTY: I mean absolutely no disrespect by this question. But you talk for a living and you talk more than anybody on network television for a living. Why didn't you say anything?

BLITZER: I didn't know what to say. I was sort of stuck there. Because if you say something inappropriate, who knows what the consequences could be. He did give me this gold medal. Did you see that gold medal?

CAFFERTY: I did. Do you still have it in your pocket? I bet you do.

BLITZER: I have. I'm not losing this. Let me show it to our viewers once again. You might want to check it out.

CAFFERTY: While you're getting it out can be do you have a sense --

BLITZER: There it is right there, Jack. Do you see snit?

CAFFERTY: Do you get a sense that he -- how acutely aware is he of how uncomfortable you are?

BLITZER: I don't think -- he was smiling. He was happy. He was just happy to meet these people inside that room. I don't think he felt that we were all that uncomfortable. We weren't uncomfortable. We were just in awe. We were just so excited.

CAFFERTY: I heard you talking to John King that one of the other people in the room with you was Tim Russert. You guys are both from Buffalo, New York. I mean how small a world is that?

BLITZER: I was saying to Tim as we were standing there waiting for the pontiff's arrival, I said, you know, can you believe it? Two of us -- two Buffalonians (ph), grew up in Buffalo, here we are about ready to see the pope and meet with the pope. As excited as I was, I think he was even more excited.

CAFFERTY: That's exciting stuff. It's written all over your face. Howie, can you put that picture up full screen again? You can just see it in your face. You are -- you are visibly moved by what's going on in that moment in your life. That's a great picture.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: All right, on to more mundane things. That would be "The Cafferty File."

The question this hour is: Why do both Hillary Clinton and John McCain target Barack Obama with virtually the same criticism? It's almost like a tag team match if you're watching these days.

Dan in New York writes: "Jack, both Hillary and John are backed by the same power elite. The one that has been running this country since the mid 20th century, the one that allows America the illusion it has a choice in its leaders when in point of fact it's a group of elites that decides who will be presented to the voters. The job of the candidates is to make it look good. Then along comes Barack Obama. What will these people do if somebody not in their pocket gets a nomination?"

Nick in Illinois: "Every time Obama gets asked a question controversial or not on the agenda, he calls that question the way of old Washington politics or not what the election should be about. That's what bothers independents and people trying to understand some of the controversy surrounding him. Obama discards and makes trivial what he doesn't find important and that attitude is what lead him to make the elitist gaffe."

Louise in Virginia: "The McHillary team put their heads together because neither with handle Obama alone. It's obvious from the polls they can't handle him together. By the way, that debate last night exposed a sorry excuse for journalism. My neighbors are losing their children in Iraq, their houses, can't afford gas. We're not interested in gossip mongering and he said, she said."

Jim writes: "Jack, it's very easy to understand why they are both going after Obama. He's challenging the status quo. If he should win the presidency, both Senators McCain and Clinton stand to lose. By my way of thinking, if the powers that be are against Obama, I'm that much more for him."

And finally, Dee in Michigan weighs in: "With because of the enemy of my enemy is now my friend philosophy, stay tuned for the McCain/Clinton GOP ticket."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for your e-mail there along with hundreds of others we post every day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you very much.

Right behind me you might be able to see Pope Benedict XVI. He's now been moved from one location on the campus to another. He's reaching out within the hour to leaders of other faiths. He's going to be meeting with them. You're going to find out what he has said that has some Muslims, some Jews, some other religious leaders upset. We're going to update you on what's going on here at the campus of Catholic University.

Also, debate fallout in Pennsylvania. We're live on the campaign trail as well. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they had their debate last night. Now what?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk to Lou Dobbs.

Lou, we're on the campus of Catholic University. Pope Benedict XVI is here getting ready for his next address to leaders of other faiths. What do you make of this visit?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": You know, I don't know what to make of it to be honest with you, Wolf. Every time we have a pope visit the United States the country gets very religious. There's a religiosity that takes over.

People start talking in hush tones. And not being Catholic myself, you know, I think it's a wonderful event but I'm just not sure what the import or impact is for those of us who are not Catholic and who want to watch something else on cable television.

BLITZER: It's an historic moment. It's not every day that a pope visits the United States and gets this kind of tumultuous reception as he's been getting every step of the way.

DOBBS: Right. And that's great for the Catholics. It's also, you know, my viewers, my listeners, are coming to me saying, whether they're Catholic or not, they're saying here's a guy talking finally about a sex scandal that has gripped this church for years and years. And there hasn't been sufficient response.

Dealing with the fact that this pope has entered the United States talking politics, domestic politics, U.S. politics and talking about illegal immigration, and many people are offended by it. And even some going so far as to suggest the Catholic Church should be taxed if the pope is going to act like a head of state instead of the leader of a church.

BLITZER: What would you want to see happen here? How would you want a visiting pope to be received by the U.S. government?

DOBBS: Well, I think the U.S. government -- I think it's lovely that President Bush and Laura, the first lady, met him. You know I was sort of surprised it's the first time the president has ever bothered to go down to Andrews Air Force Base and greet a guest of any kind, let alone a pope, but you know it's a nice state affair.

I think the president has done precisely as he should. I'm not so sure about the handshake and the speech line. That kind of was a little it seemed to me informal, if you will, but I think that's just fine. I think that he should greet the pope just as he does the leaders of any faith or religion who visit the United States. That's all good.

BLITZER: Lou, you got a show coming up in one hour. We'll be checking back with you then. Thanks very much.

DOBBS: You bet.