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Pope Benedict XVI Resigned; What the Pope's Resignation Means for Catholics; Should Obama Use Executive Orders to Circumvent Congress?; Drone Controversy; Remembering Whitney Houston

Aired February 11, 2013 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of NEWSROOM. I'm Carol Costello. A special announcement that Pope Benedict will resign. A quick check of other top stories. A main road connecting Long Island to New York City reopened just in time for the morning's rush hour. The Long Island expressway had been shut down so crews could clear snow and ice nearly eight inches deep. But getting to the highway is presenting its own challenge. Some surface streets still have not been plowed.

More now on the major news from the Vatican, that Pope Benedict is resigning at the end of the month. The 85-year-old pontiff is citing his advanced age. He's held that position since 2005 and is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years. Let's head to New York and check in with Chris Cuomo. Hi Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Carol, and just to give context to the intrigue here, when Pope Benedict was selected, it was assumed he'd be a short-timer. They were hoping he'd get 10 years. He wound up doing just about eight. Maybe there shouldn't be as much cause for surprise, but to be sure, Pope Benedict XVI's sudden resignation brings to an end his long career of service in the church, doesn't come without striking moments. CNN's Elizabeth Corridan explains.

ELIZABETH CORRIDAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in April of 2005. The college of cardinals did not pick an unknown quantity. He was considered one of the Catholic church's finest minds. He was the professor watching the back of his star-like predecessor John Paul II, whom he served as a trusted adviser and friend. Many expected the severe German cardinal would bring his strict style to the papacy, and in some ways, he has.

He reaffirmed the church's strong opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and euthanasia. In his first major ruling as pope, he imposed restrictions on homosexuals becoming priests. In the year following his election, during a trip to Germany, Pope Benedict made perhaps the most controversial remarks of his papacy Addressing a group of scholars, he quoted a Byzantine emperor, asserting the Prophet Muhammad brought, quote, "things only evil and inhuman." The comment sparked outrage and protests in many Muslim countries. The pope tried to defuse the anger by clarifying the quote did not express his personal views but stopped short at an outright apology. His first trip to a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey, provided him with an opportunity to mend fences. From the moment he touched down, his desire to defuse tensions was evident. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI: Many come to know one another better, strengthening the bonds of affection between us and our common wish to live together in harmony, peace, and mature trust.


CORRIDAN: The crisis exposed the fragile relationship between Christians and Muslims in a post-9/11 world. Another problem facing the church, a clergy sex abuse scandal. In 2008 during a trip to the United States, Pope Benedict met with sex abuse victims. He would later ask the public for forgiveness.


BENEDICT: We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again.


CORRIDAN: While Pope Benedict XVI has faced many of the same issues as his predecessors, he also brought modern elements to the papacy. Inking a recording deal, celebrating mass in Cuba's Revolution Square, and even establishing a Twitter account, all while staying true to the centuries-old tenets of the Catholic faith and guiding the church in the 21st century. I'm Elizabeth Corridan reporting.

COSTELLO: But it does make you wonder, Chris, what's a retired pope to do? What do retired popes do?

CUOMO: It is unprecedented. We haven't seen it in so many years, since Gregory XII. He suggests, Pope Benedict, it will be a life of quiet prayer. There's so much unsettled in the church right now and there is such a division between the need to reclaim orthodoxy and the need to be progressive. Here in America, we know growing up here that there's all this talk about the need for progress -- married priests, different ideas about birthrights -- but that doesn't necessarily reflect the entire world, the population of Catholics. He's going to be, I think, done when this resignation is complete. The church will look for a new pope that is entirely the sum total of their focus, but maybe the message won't be that different.

COSTELLO: You know, it's interesting because I would suspect progressive Catholics of this country are celebrating at the news that Pope Benedict will resign. Conservative and moderate Catholics in America are probably a little confused right now. There's got to be something done about the diminishing number of Catholics here in the United States, and it will be interesting to see if that will factor into the decision in who's the next pope.

CUOMO: You ask such an interesting question. You really have your finger right on it because, when you make this decision about how do we move forward, it assumes that these are almost political questions, but they're not. They're religious, and there's so much adherence to the code, that the religion is what it is, and you live by those rules because that's what the faith is about, and it gets very deep and confusing. What is faith? What is the church? What should be the right rules? And maybe the expedience of the moment, if we just adjust to the times, you lose some sense of what the faith is at its core. That's certainly the orthodox position. On the other hand, you've got lots of Catholics from my generation who want to see it be more inclusive and inviting, and they would hope for that from the pope. I think that there will be --

COSTELLO: Especially when it comes to women and contraception. I mean I was talking to Sister Mary Ann Walsh from the U.S. conference of bishops, which is of course conservative, but she sort of pooh-poohed that, but it is very important to Catholic women. Almost 98 percent of Catholic women have taken birth control at some point in their lives.

CUOMO: Listen. We're dealing with a church where there are no women priests. There are no women in real positions of power, not to denigrate in any way the nuns and the amazing influence they had on many lives, including mine as a Catholic student.

But this pope himself, very interesting, called "the rottweiler of God," so strict to orthodoxy, he got into a point of confusion, right, because when he was talking about Africa, the first time that they talked about contraception, he said, it's only making the problem worse, and everyone went crazy that they didn't like it. Then later on, when asked a question about whether or not if a prostitute had a condom on when she was doing her job, would that make her a sinner? And he said maybe not because you could say that using the contraception was her putting herself in a position of moral responsibility. Even this pope got caught up in that. It's very difficult when you look at practicalities and religion. Very often they're at odds.

COSTELLO: We'll be talking about this all day. Chris Cuomo, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

CUOMO: Pleasure, Carol. Great to be here with you.

COSTELLO: Nice to have you here. We're going to get our political buzz panel to weigh in on the resignation of the pope, that's coming your way next.


Political buzz. Your look at the top political topics of the day. Three topice, 30 seconds on the clock. Playing with us today, Will Cain, CNN contributor and analyst for "the Blaze". And L.Z. Granderson, also a CNN contributor and senior writer for ESPN. Welcome gentlemen. Welcome gentlemen.


L.Z. GRANDERSON: Morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: A lot of weighty subjects today, I hope you're ready. I hope your brains are in gear. Immigration reform, tackling the deficit, gun control -- all part of President Obama's ambitious second term agenda. And now there are reports the president is considering what has become a familiar tool to push his agenda through a divided Congress, basically Mr. Obama is going to ignore Congress and enact a series of executive actions. Question for you this morning, are executive actions the only way to get things done in Washington these days? L.Z.?

GRANDERSON: That's a Band-Aid. If you want something long term, you have to work with Congress because we need legislative change because essentially what you're saying is that the next president can come in and just reverse things, and then we have a back and forth sort of way of governing, and that's not really productive. We need Congress to make decisions. This is a Band-Aid. I understand his frustrations, but he's got to go and find a way to work with Congress because that's the only way to having long-term solutions.


CAIN: If they're the only way to get things done in Congress, then we need to add an adjective, which is they're the only inappropriate way to get things done in Congress. The entire system was set up to make it very, very difficult to get things done. Why? Because a law is 51 percent dictating to 49 percent the way it will be. Between three branches of government, two legislative branches, and veto power, it was designed to be difficult. Executive actions were designed to be very limited in use. Let's hope this isn't the future of government.

COSTELLO: Second topic. The Obama administration under scrutiny for using drones to kill U.S. citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism, sparking criticism from both sides of the aisle. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul telling this to CNN's Candy Crowley.


SEN. RAND PAUL, (R ) KENTUCKY: I think you should be tried for treason. If you're an American citizen and you go overseas and take up arms, I'm probably for executing you, but I would want to hear the evidence. I would want to have a judge and a jury. It can be fairly swift, but there needs to be a trial for treason. The president, a politician, Republican or Democrat, should never get to decide someone's death by flipping through some flash cards and saying, do you want to kill him? I don't know. Let's go ahead and kill him.


COSTELLO: Former defense secretary Bob Gates calls himself a, quote, "big advocate of drones" but agrees there is a valid argument about checking presidential power. So the question for you this morning, should someone else besides the Obama administration decide when to use drones to kill? Will?

CAIN: Here's the deal, Carol. It is extremely offensive to think about American citizens being deprived of life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness, emphasis on life there, without any due process. That's the due process clause of the constitution. The problem is it's weighed against the power in article II for the president to conduct war. Here's the deal. If you're interested in anything beyond just President Obama is bad, if you're interested in the principle, you have to look at the concept of the war on terror and how it was chartered because that is what gives President Obama the power. It's an ill-defined war with a never ending proposition and a vague enemy. We have to address it. There's the heart of the problem.


GRANDERSON: That buzzer scared me. I thought I was on the Grammy stage. Here's the thing with me. What is truly the pragmatic alternative? If you think you have Americans who are plotting harm on U.S. soil, I understand wanting due process, but this isn't about sending a police force into a town and arresting someone. You're talking about a mission that's going to take millions of dollars. Where is this money coming from? We're strapped for cash as it is. We've been strapped for cash for over a decade. Where is all the extra funds coming from to do all these trials, to extract people out of different countries so we can have this due process? I think President Obama is choosing the lesser of two evils, one I think is more pragmatic. Is it ideal? No. It is what it is.

CAIN: Financial argument against due process, wow.

COSTELLO: Final question, third question. We talked a lot about Pope Benedict's resignation this morning. The pontiff saying advanced age is forcing him to step down. The question for you, what is significance of the pope's resignation beyond Catholicism? L.Z.?

GRANDERSON: I tell you, I was checking Facebook, and I can't find anyone of my thousands of my thousands of friends who are mourning this occasion. In fact, I found several people, particularly those involved with the LGBT movement who are hopeful that maybe now they'll get a pope who doesn't necessarily say disparaging things about his LGBT children. Beyond that, you definitely have the conversation about the uses of contraception, particularly condoms. This anti- condom rhetoric from the pope.

COSTELLO: Ignore the buzzer. Go ahead.

GRANDERSON: Thank you very much. And you've got to remember 30 percent of Congress is Catholic. And so while the general population doesn't necessarily care, I'm sure those Catholics in Washington do care. And so what comes next is very important for the policies that are being set here, particularly with regards to abortion and LGBT rights.

COSTELLO: Will, you can ignore the buzzer too. What do you say?

CAIN: I don't need all that time. You know, what's the significance of the resignation of the pope beyond Catholicism, you ask? I'll offer you this. I'm not Catholic. I can't - it's better that I speak not directly to the influence on Catholicism anyway. Here's the deal. I think what it reflects is the deckling influence of institutions. You're looking at the Catholic church, which you can't avoid the conclusion that over the seven years of Pope Benedict's influence, that it's been enveloped in controversy. Whether or not you're talking about business succumbing to upstarts in garages or the ability of the Catholic church to dictate the beliefs of people that are now tailoring religion to their own personal views. Whether or not that's good or bad, that's what's happening. It shows the declining influence of institutions in our world and the empowerment of kind of personalized individualism.

COSTELLO: Fascinating. Thank you so much for being with us. Will Cain, L.Z.. Granderson.

CAIN: You bet.

GRANDERSON: Thank you.

COSTELLO: It's hard to forget the legacy Whitney Houston left behind.


WHITNEY HOUSTON, VOCALIST:I should stay. I would only get in the way.


COSTELLO: One year ago today, Whitney Houston drowned in a hotel room in a bathtub. Even know, some of our best friends are pausing to remember what Houston meant to them.


COSTELLO: The 49 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories. Catholics around the world are waking up to news that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down at the end of the month. The 85-year- old pontiff surprised the world this morning by citing his advanced age as his reason for resigning. The Vatican spokesman said it was a carefully thought out decision and not impulsive. The pope's resignation will be the first of its kind in nearly 600 years.

The city of Los Angeles hopes a $1 million reward will help police catch a fugitive ex-cop. Christopher Dorner is accused of killing a police officer and two others in a revenge plot targeting the LAPD - his old department. Investigators have scaled back their search in a mountain resort community. Some officials think Dorner may have left the state.

A former member of President Obama's cabinet wants more oversight into a controversial program using drones to kill Al Qaida operatives. Former defense secretary Robert Gates made the argument to CNN's "State of the Union."


ROBERT GATES, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think this idea of being able to execute in effect an American citizen, no matter how awful, having some third party having a say in it or perhaps some informing the Congress or the intelligence committees or something like that. I think some check on the ability of a president to do this has merit as we look to the longer-term future. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Both Democrats and Republicans have been questioning the use of lethal drone attacks, which have also targeted American citizens overseas. President's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, has been a vocal advocate for using drones to target America's enemies.

People in Hattiesburg, Mississippi will be cleaning up today from a huge tornado that tore through the town. You see it here after one of our I-reporters captured it on tape. Today, schools remain closed including the University of Southern Mississippi. The storm left at least 16 people injured, two of the critically. About 4000 have no power this morning.

The doctor who operated on Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn says her surgery was a success and that he;s optimistic she'll make a full recovery. Vonn underwent surgery on her right knee after a crash last week at the world championships in Austria. The 28-year-old Vonn hopes to be back competing in time for next year's winter Olympics. NEWSROOM continues after this.


COSTELLO: Today will be a difficult one for friends and family of Whitney Houston. One year ago today, Houston died in a Los Angeles hotel. The six-time Grammy-winner drowned in her bathtub. Contributing to her death, cocaine and heart disease. One woman who will give pause today is Kim Burrell. The gospel singer was like a sister to Whitney Houston and she joins us now live from Houston, Texas. Good morning.

KIM BURRELL, GOSPEL SINGER: Good morning to you, thank you.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for being here. I know this is a painful topic for you. We appreciate your thoughts this morning. As you look back on the year, what goes through your mind about Whitney Houston?

BURRELL: Everything about her personality I think mostly what is missed about her. Her presence is very missed in my life and I just miss her greatly.

COSTELLO: The Grammys aired last night, and you couldn't help but think of Whitney Houston when you were watching that.

BURRELL: Of course, you know I was only able to catch a few minutes. I was in church quite long yesterday evening, but honestly I think I in some way avoided it because it just brought back way too many memories. Because I had premium seats to go last year, but of course I decided not to go because it was just too much to be in public with the grief that I was dealing with.

COSTELLO: And since this year has passed, we know that Whitney Houston's mother has written a book. Your feelings on that?

BURRELL: I'm happy that she's able to communicate to anyone, because I know that her heart has been far more overwhelmed than any of us, and she has not had any problems expressing that, at least on the public things that she's done. And I have not taken the opportunity to read the book. I do know that she did thank me in it, and I am very grateful because of that. Because she did share with me, when Whitney was still with us, how much she wanted me to take care of Whitney if she were to go before her. So it meant the world to me for her to consider me being in Whitney's life and in hers. And so, because I have not had an opportunity to read it, I'm just glad that she's able to have conversation about her daughter and be as public as she's being.

COSTELLO: What about Whitney Houston's daughter, Bobbi Kristina? She's been in the tabloids a lot of late. A lot of sensational things coming out about her. A lot of people wondering if she's OK.

BURRELL: You know, I have the utmost confidence in Bobbi Kristina because of what I know about her personally. She's very strong mentally. She's young. She's doing young rich kid things. For the lack of better description. That's the best I can give that, based on what it is I know about her, and I'm confident in knowing and believing that she's going to become what her mother really wished for her. And of course we heard Whitney talk about Bobbi Kristina often, especially in her younger and how she carried her around the world. And I think now, even Bobbi Kristina has expressed to me "I just didn't know mommy was as famous as she was until she died." And you know, Whitney was just mom. And I was able to share with them on the road and being in different countries and all that, but she was just mom and she didn't realize who she was.

And I watch Bobbi Kristina at the "Sparkle" premiere and how excited she was, and how amazed she was, and I remember after Whitney gave her performance, her singing performance in the movie you saw Bobbi Kristina stand up in that theater and clap for her mother - giving her mother an ovation. And so I just believe that she's very well connected to the spirit and to the confidence that her mother had in her and that she's going to survive all of this.

COSTELLO: I hope so. Kim Burrell, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

BURRELL: My pleasure. Thank you.

COSTELLO: You're welcome.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.