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Pope Benedict XVI Announces His Resignation; Sen. McCain Talks about the Syrian Situation

Aired February 11, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And what a stunner: popes don't step down. They remain in office until they die. But not the current pope.

Indeed, for the first time in more than 700 years, a pontiff has decided to resign. The 85-year old, Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics back in 2005, caught even his closest aides off guard when he announced today that he had stepped down at the end of this month, February 28th.

He issued a statement saying that, "Both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

Among the legions of Roman Catholics around the world, the news was met with shock and sadness. Supporters, such as New York's cardinal, Timothy Dolan, rushed to praise him.


CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN, CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF N.Y.: I would have to say my affection for and my admiration for Pope Benedict XVI has skyrocketed. It was already high. But I love him so much.


AMANPOUR: So there Cardinal Dolan responding to what he called the pope's wisdom to know when to call it quits.

Catholicism is the largest single denomination in the United States, and although there's a constitutional separation between church and state here, consider this: six of the nine United States Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholics.

Now after the highly charismatic and dearly beloved and deeply conservative reign of Pope John Paul II, many Catholics were hoping for a more progressive successor when he died.

But Benedict, the German-born cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, made clear from the day that he assumed the papacy the church needed to get back to the fundamentals of his faith. And his tough stance on religious issues earned him the nickname, "God's Rottweiler."

On the other hand, he also became the first tweeting pope, and on an iPad, no less, with 1.5 million followers. With all the challenges facing the church, by far the worst crisis has been the decades-long scandal and cover-ups of priests sexually abusing young boys.

Even though Pope Benedict entered office pledging to clean up this horror, critics say the church has failed to fully hold the guilty accountable and properly atone. And cases continue to come to light.

The Vatican says there will be a new pope before Easter. And the betting has already begun. Will the next pontiff be the first to hail from outside Europe? At the top of the bookmakers' list today, this man, Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana.

In a moment, we'll hear some of the fierce criticism about Pope Benedict's short reign. And later in the program, U.S. Senator John McCain joins me on the dissent in the ranks of the Obama administration over whether or not to arm the rebels in Syria.

But first, to Raymond Flynn, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who personally knows Pope Benedict.

Ambassador Flynn, thank you so much for joining me. Let me ask you, today is World Day of the Sick. You knew Pope Benedict. Why do you think he's done this now?

RAYMOND FLYNN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN: Well, I think just before Lent began, it's a very important period of time in the Catholic Church, a time for reflection and hope. Moving forward, it's always been one of my favorite days of periods. Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, I've known him for many years.

I'm not surprised at this decision that he made today, because he's always placed the emphasis, the priority of the Catholic Church over any kind of ambition. And I think he really has recognized and sees as Cardinal Dolan said that this is an opportunity to move the church forward for a more energetic person in good health. He's admitted the last three or four months that he is in declining health.

That's why I think he is, in fact, decided to step down in the best interest of the Catholic Church, Catholics and the world society for that matter.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador, we mentioned before we came to you that there has been a lot of betting already about who will be the next pontiff and will it be somebody for the first time outside of Europe. Now we know that the church congregation is growing fastest in places like Africa and South Asia. Where do you think the next pope will come from? Where do you think it should come from?

FLYNN: Well, I've always -- I've seen a diversity of the Catholic Church growing rather exponentially. I saw that when I traveled with John Paul II in Africa, Nigeria and Latin, Central America and Mexico. It's not like the United States, there is -- there's a level of enthusiasm, excitement, not only among Catholics but also religious people, joining the Catholic profession.

So you know, I think that's the future of the Catholic Church, is in those areas where the population is skyrocketing, where there's a great hope and opportunity for our leadership in the Catholic Church.

So you know, I know there's this traditional wisdom that it comes from the institutional church in Italy. But John Paul II certainly broke that down, what, after 453 years, he was elected pope; I think you're going to see some real significant changes in the conclave, in the College of Cardinals. I think it's going to reflect the real growing diversity of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

AMANPOUR: Well, and what about the way the Catholic Church has to minister and has to reach out? As we said, you know, he's obviously had a lot of successes. But there's obviously been this ongoing terrible wound in the church that has not yet been bound. And that is the sex abuse scandal.

Give me your impressions of how deeply -- well, how this needs to be fixed; how the next pope can do it, and what would the success of Pope Benedict as pope?

FLYNN: Well, one of the successes of Benedict XVI that I can personally attest to, because of the fact that I've been involved in the issue, in fact, attended an international world conference on adult stem cell around the issues of regenerative health. That was not a very front- page issue. But Benedict XVI really took the leadership position on that.

So I think he created an environment where people started talking about health care issues that really dealt with the core problems of poverty and problems that have not been addressed by society for the longest period of time. So I give him great credit for that. On the other hand, yes, you're right.

The sex abuse scandal continues to divide Catholics, not only in America but in Ireland and across the world. And I think that's why he also feels that it's time for a new, younger leader, who's in this technological age, era, who can really reach a massive numbers of people through the Internet, through media, through television.

And I think he recognizes -- and I think that'll be his great legacy, is that he, as Tim Dolan said, he knew enough to realize that it was time for new leadership in the Catholic Church, one that was going to reach out to a growing, diverse Catholic population worldwide.

AMANPOUR: He never really wanted to be pope, did he?

FLYNN: You know, that's a great question you ask. I was with him Palm Sunday before he became pope, when -- just when John Paul II, I was in Rome, and John Paul II was dying. You know, I've been in politics, Christiane, 50 years. I've worked with Kennedy and Humphrey and Bill Clinton and all these people.

You know, I think I can size up politics as well as anybody. I never would have believed that this was an ambition of Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Ratzinger, in those early days. But nonetheless, he was an intellect. He was well informed. He had a great deal of credibility on the issues, head of the doctrine of this -- doctrine of faith.

So I think the office came to him rather than him going to the papacy.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Ambassador Flynn, thank you so much for joining me.

FLYNN: Sure, Christiane, good to talk to you again.

AMANPOUR: And you, too.

And now we turn to John Allen, who's a senior Vatican analyst and who has been my copilot many, many times on these papal transitions.

Good to see you again, John. We just heard from Ambassador Flynn --



AMANPOUR: -- that Pope Benedict didn't want to be pope, but he was a big intellect. What would you say to the people who still don't believe that the great gaping wound of this sex abuse scandal is what colors the Catholic Church for too many adherents around the world?

What does he do to stop that?

ALLEN: Well, I think -- I think that's absolutely right.

There is no doubt that the child sex abuse scandals, which, to some extent, Benedict XVI inherited from John Paul II, have been the most significant blow to the public standing and moral authority of the Catholic Church in our lifetime, and then of course there are a number of critics of Benedict XVI out there, who would perhaps give him credit for some tentative, positive steps.

They would say, you know, the first pope to meet with sex abuse victims -- which he did in the United States for the first time in 2008 and did six times during the course of his papacy, the first pope to apologize, the first pope to make zero tolerance the official policy of the Catholic Church. They would say those were positive steps.

But at the end of the day, they would say much of it was too little too late. They would still say that many bishops who were involved in the cover-up of these crimes were not adequately held accountable. They would say that the church still has not completely come clean in terms of its willingness to release files and so on.

There is no doubt that criticism remains and will undoubtedly be part of the debate over Benedict's legacy, both in the short and the long terms, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So what, from your reporting today -- how startled was the Vatican? How are they handling it there?

ALLEN: Look, you want to know how startled they were? Let me tell you a story. I was set to have lunch today with a senior Vatican official, the guy who works about 200 yards down the corridor from the papal apartment. He was as shocked as I was when we started getting, you know, text messages and phone calls and so forth about this news breaking this morning.

Now, look, the editor of the Vatican newspaper has said today that this was a decision Benedict made almost a year ago, after he got back from a long and grueling trip to Mexico and Cuba last March.

But if that's the case, Christiane, I can tell you, he played these cards awfully close to the vest, because everyone here was stunned by the timing of the announcement. And I think people are still scrambling to figure out exactly what it means.

I mean, we know at one level what the process is. There will be a conclave and you and I have lived through a conclave before. We know about the pageantry and the intrigue and the sequencing. What we don't yet know, Christiane, and what no one here really has a clear answer to is what exactly is the role of a retired pope going to be?

We know that Benedict is going to live in a monastery on the Vatican grounds. But will he continue to publish? Will he continue to travel? Will he take part in public liturgical functions? What role will he have in continuing in some way to provide leadership for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world?

Frankly, Christiane, these are completely uncharted waters. And when you're talking about an institution that has more than 200 -- or 2,000 years of history, you don't get a chance to be in uncharted waters very often.

AMANPOUR: You certainly don't. And what about this speculation about who might be the successor? Is, do you think, this time, somebody from Africa, somebody from South Asia?

ALLEN: Well, look, I think it's entirely possible, two-thirds of the Catholics in the world today live in the Southern Hemisphere. That share is going to be three-quarters by mid-century. I think in the abstract many cardinals would be attracted to the idea of electing a pope who can put a face and a voice on that burgeoning Catholic population outside the West.

The problem is, however, Christiane, when they go into the Sistine Chapel to vote, they're not electing a passport. They have to elect a flesh-and-blood individual. And so what's going to be most important to them is taking a look around and trying to ask who the best card in the deck is?

I mean, you and I both know that in 2005, Joseph Ratzinger was not elected because he was a German. In many ways, he was elected in spite of being a German and another European. I think this time it's the same dynamic; they want to find the holiest, smartest, savviest, most capable figure they can, regardless of where he happens to come from.

AMANPOUR: And I know you'll be watching and we'll be watching and we'll keep talking. John Allen, thank you; you'll be out there in rain and shine, I can see that rain on you. So thanks very much for joining me this evening on this incredible night.

And while the pope prepares to exit the stage in Rome, another church leader is enthroned in Damascus, Syria. On Sunday, during a brief lull in the violence there, John X was installed as patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.

The Christian minority makes up only 10 percent of Syria's population, and it's keenly aware of protecting its rights in the midst of the ongoing vicious civil war. And up next, how to end that war: is there a way? My guest, U.S. Senator John McCain believes the U.S. must step up, when we return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Divisions within the Obama administration over what to do about Syria revealed in a simple yet stunning revelation before heading out to the administration by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He was answering a specific question from Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: How many more have to die before you recommend military action? And did you support the recommendation by Secretary of State -- then Secretary of State Clinton and then head of CIA General Petraeus, that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Do you support that?


MCCAIN: You did support that?

PANETTA: We did.


AMANPOUR: With those simple words, Secretary Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, became the first senior officials to publicly admit that they, along with key leaders of the president's security team, wanted to arm and train Syrian rebels, but were rebuffed by the White House, especially during an election year.

Two years on, the vicious war has, at best, reached a military stalemate, and there's no meaningful sign that either side is ready for real negotiations, though both the opposition and the Assad regime have recently, for the first time, said that they'd be willing to talk. But there are a lot of conditions attached.

So with 60,000 dead and counting, and with Syria headed to a Somalia- style failed state, what would threaten the United States and its friends in the region? What is plan B? Senator McCain is on Capitol Hill.


AMANPOUR: Senator, thank you very much for joining me. Welcome back to the program.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Let me get straight to it. It was in response to your question that this amazing admission was made, that, in fact, the president's entire national security team had decided that the best option was to arm and train the Syrian rebels.

What do you make of the dissent, apparently, in the ranks of the administration? Do you think it is dissent?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's really experienced and knowledgeable people who gave their best advice to the President of the United States. And I grant that the President of the United States makes the final decision.

But literally to ignore the entire security team, including, by the way, the director of national intelligence, General Clamper, so it's hard for me to understand, Christiane, particularly with the situation on the ground, that continues to deteriorate.

AMANPOUR: So given the situation on the ground, and really, it is spilling out across the borders; Israel is now involved, Turkey is implicated. It is a proxy war. There are jihadis filling the vacuum, all these things that the administration said they didn't want to create has happened. Is that how you see it?

MCCAIN: Everything they argued would happen if we intervened, and now happened because we didn't intervene. And there's one other aspect. One of the things that I know that you know about because of your experiences, is the refugees. I had visited two refugee camps, one on the Turkish border and one on the Jordanian border.

And to see the plight of these people, you know, it breaks your heart. I think I'm pretty tough. I know you're pretty tough. But the fact is that when you see that, when you meet a group of young women who have been gang raped, when you see people, young people who have lost their parents, you know, all the terrible aspects of it.

And they are literally now over a million, I understand, who have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands in refugee camps on the Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish borders, which are putting a strain on those countries as well.

AMANPOUR: Well, you're absolutely right. And in fact, U.N. officials say those countries may end up slamming their doors to these refugees after a while. What do you think would have happened specifically if this arm and train program had been approved by the president? And had gone into effect, let's say, six months, nine months or a year ago?

MCCAIN: I always believed, Christiane, that we could provide weapons and training. But I also felt it was important to establish a safe zone. That didn't mean taking out all the air defense of the Syrians. It meant shooting down planes that came from Bashar al-Assad, to interrupt that, well, because they needed that. They needed a Benghazi to train and equip and organize and govern.

So I am confident that they would have succeeded by now and that's what I always believed and I still believe that.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it's too late? Do you think this can be started up again? Is there anything that the Congress, the Senate can do to make this happen or not? Does it not work like that?

MCCAIN: Christiane, I believe that it's really obvious that every time that the freedom fighters -- I like to call them -- gain some area of success, you see a counterpoint from Iran and/or Russia.

The front page of "The Washington Post" this morning shows that the Iranians are now establishing kind of a Hezbollah type militia type organization within Syria that even if Assad falls, they'll be able to stay there and cause significant troubles, difficulties, and carry out the Iranians' agenda. That's pretty disturbing. So I think it's not too late.

AMANPOUR: General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this weekend further elaborated when asked, and said that he had thought this was a good idea to prevent Somalia from -- rather to prevent Syria from becoming a Somalian-style failed state. And it will be good for the Syrians, but also for the United States.

Do you think Syria could be a Somalia in terms of failing as a state and threatening the U.S.?

MCCAIN: Well, I think eventually that it could, obviously, if it's taken over by these jihadists who are gaining more and more influence and power every day. And let's face it; they're probably the best fighters in many ways because they're not afraid to die. But, look, I'm not -- I think each one of these countries is somewhat different.

And to rubber stamp them as all the same is not true. But there are rather Somalia was important to America's national security interests. Syria is vital. You are looking at the greatest blow to Iran in 25 years according to General Mattes, the head of our central command, because it would cut off the connection with Hezbollah.

It would remove the client state from Iran and would have profound strategic consequences. That's one reason why the Russians are acting like they are and the Syrian and the Hezbollah is becoming more and more engaged.

AMANPOUR: We've just talked about Somalia. Let's go further afield in West Africa to Mali, where the U.S. is supporting, to an extent, the French, who are pushing back Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

What do you think the U.S. could and should do to further that? Especially now that it seems there's sort of a Tora Bora being created in the north of Mali, where they're difficult to get at?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I think that the United States is doing the right thing. It also indicates that these European countries and I thank the French for what they're doing, but they cannot do it without U.S. assistance, particularly on the logistic side. We found that out in Libya.

I think to train and equip a Northern African or an African force from Nigeria and maybe other countries is probably the best solution for this. Now that hasn't always had great success, as you know. African forces sometimes fail.

But I think that that should be our effort. I know the French don't want to stay forever. And certainly we don't want to be involved. But I think we've got a good chance of success here.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much, Senator McCain, for joining me.

MCCAIN: Thank you. It's a pleasure always.


AMANPOUR: And perhaps, indeed, Senator McCain was referring to the success and the example that the U.S. and African forces have had in Somalia.

And when we come back, St. Peter's Square has seen its share of saints and sinners. And some of them have even sat on St. Peter's throne, the good, the bad and the holy, when we return.




AMANPOUR: Finally tonight, as we said earlier, while it's rare for a pope to step down, it has happened, not always by choice. Over the centuries, the Vatican has been a nest of intrigue with more than its share of saints and scoundrels. A thousand years ago, another Pope Benedict, Benedict IX, was one of the most notorious, accused of rape and murder.

One historian called him "a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest." He was so despised that the church actually paid him to quit. Four hundred years later, Pope Gregory XII was pressured to resign, along with two pretenders to St. Peter's chair, who were after his job.

And though Vatican records are sealed on this subject, it is said that during World War II, the controversial Pope Pius XII had a letter of resignation prepared in case he was kidnapped by the Nazis. But there was one pope who did choose to give up his crown or, as it's called, his tiara.

In 1294, Celestine V called it quits after only five months. He preferred the simple life of a monk to the majesty of being pope. Perhaps Pope Benedict was inspired by his example. He visited Celestine's tomb in the Abruzzi region of Italy, just after a devastating earthquake. In fact, Benedict visited the tomb twice in two years. And now he's following in his footsteps.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, you can always reach us at our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.