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Breaking: Pope to Resign; Huge Twister Caught on Tape; Digging Out, Digging In

Aired February 11, 2013 - 06:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Path of destruction. A powerful tornado strikes Mississippi and they are still assessing the damage there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Bracing for more. People still digging out from the northeast blizzard. They face another potential winter threat today.

SAMBOLIN: Stranded at sea. Thousands of cruise ship passengers are right now waiting for help after a fire leaves them adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.

BERMAN: And nothing but fun. The Indy band grabs two trophies including Song of the Year at the Grammys.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's Monday, February 11th. It is 6:0 a.m. in the East.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: And we do have breaking news this morning. Shocking news, really. Pope Benedict XVI is resigning. Now, a spokesman will not reveal why. There's been reports fatigue and possible declining health over the past year. But, again, no reason has been given. He became Pope in 2005. You will remember, he had been Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal, a major figure at the Vatican for years before he became Pope Benedict. German-born, been Pope now for nearly eight years.

You know, nearly eight years, and this is just a major, major bit of news this morning coming out of the Vatican. Again, CNN confirming that the Pope will step down on February 28th, which is just a little over two weeks from today.

SAMBOLIN: And no clear reason. So we're trying to get more details to share those with you, but this is shocking. This is shocking, absolutely shocking. We'll continue to follow the developments for you, folks.

It's 6:00. The painstaking cleanup getting under way this morning after a violent tornado ripped through Southern Mississippi on Sunday tearing apart homes, businesses and even causing damage to a university campus. At least a dozen people were injured. A storm chaser, look at this, captured this terrifying sight. It is a funnel cloud on the move -- about 100 miles south of Jackson, Mississippi. According to the National Weather Service, this tornado was believed to have reached three quarters of a mile in diameter.

Hattiesburg took the brunt of a series of reported twisters that pounded that region on Sunday causing Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency there.

So let's go to Victor Blackwell now. He is there live in Hattiesburg. Victor is actually working on a story for us and will get more details. I have to tell you, I was reading this morning because it's Mardi Gras right now. There are a lot of kids not on campus.

So at the end of the day, maybe they weren't subject to more injuries or perhaps even deaths. There is a 100-year-old building on campus that actually was destroyed. Victor Blackwell -- yes, we're having problems with Victor. We'll continue to effort that and get him to you as soon as we possibly can.

It is 1 minute past the hour. In about 30 minutes, we'll be talking to Lamar County School District Superintendent Ben Burnett. Oakwood High School, a school in his district was practically leveled in Sunday's tornado. We'll see how students and the parents there are dealing this morning with the lost of their school.

BERMAN: So the historic blizzard has moved on, but danger not over yet. Just as the north east begins to dig out, parts of the region bracing for the threat of freezing rain. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy warning about road conditions saying, the snow piles may freeze and become the equivalent of a jersey barrier.

Those are those concrete walls that line highways usually and getting around won't be tough only in Connecticut. Crews work through the night to clear a stretch of New York's Long Island Expressway and have city-bound lanes open for this morning's rush hour. That is some good news.

The LIE is the main way into the city from Long Island. We are all over the big dig out. Indra Petersons is in Boston. Alison Kosik is on Long Island and George Howell is in Hamden, Connecticut. We're going to begin in Boston where the big concerns, of course, include power outages and how to get around. Let's start with Indra Petersons who is there. Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. The story here today is trying to get back to normal. You mentioned power outages. We still have 120,000 people in the state of Massachusetts without power this morning, not to mention the huge heaps of snow all over the city.

So today schools are still closed. A snow emergency is still in effect as the city tries to get back to normal. They are focusing more on the residential streets. But you mentioned, we're going to be having some more problems. Yesterday, we had the sun, today, temperatures are expected to rise to 45 degrees. A lot of the snow could get melt and even get caught in some of the drains, and there are flooding concerns. But ahead of that thought, we know -- take a look at the streets look good now, but unfortunately we know snow just a few hours away, potential for some freezing rain and eventually all of that will turn back into rain.

All this meaning more concerns for the city. The good news, Logan fully operational, but of course, with the potential for freezing rain, snow and the other weather concerns across the country, delays not out of the question.

BERMAN: All right, Indra Petersons in Boston, thanks very much. We will be back to the blizzard in a second, but first, want to talk a little bit more about the report out of Vatican.

SAMBOLIN: Breaking news, that's right. Pope Benedict XVI is set to resign in February and we're going to get more information from John Allen now. He is on the phone. John, what can you tell us?

Are you there? John, can you hear us? We're having some problems with the connection there, but we'll head back to him. We do know that the Vatican is saying that Pope is set to resign in February. They're not sharing any details why, but we do know that there have been reports -- I believe he's 85 years old and he's been in declining health.

BERMAN: It is unusual for Popes to resign. I don't think it has happened in 600 years.

SAMBOLIN: It's incredible. I think we have John Allen back. So let's go to him and see what he can tell us about this. John, are you there?


SAMBOLIN: Wonderful. What can you tell us about this? We were shocked to hear the Vatican confirm that the Pope is, indeed, set to resign in February. What do you know?

ALLEN: Yes. This is indeed a stunning announcement and one that -- that -- to some extent has come out of the clear blue sky and the Vatican in this particular case, holds this very close to the vest. There will be a briefing from the Vatican in 20 minutes.

A statement from the Pope is apparently going to be presented, which among other things, his intention to resign on February 28th. This is, of course -- not quite unprecedented, but extremely rare. The last Pope resigned in 1415, and that was under pressure. The last Pope that freely resigned, you have to go back to 1294.

He laid the ground work for this a couple of years ago. He indicated that a Pope could well resign if he felt his forces were lagging and he could no longer perform his functions adequately.

There was no indication at that time that Benedict XVI attended to imply that to himself, but we now know that was in a sense anticipation of the decision -- the shocking decision that the Vatican is going to be announced today.

SAMBOLIN: Do we have any indication? Are you hearing any reasons why, other than, you know, a lot has been said about his declining health, his voice hoarse, anything about that?

ALLEN: Well, there is no indication of an immediate health crisis, but we do know his energies have been gradually lagging for some time. He'll be 84 in April, and his calendar has been increasingly restricted. They have been cutting back the number of public appointments he is taking and hesitating to schedule international trips, precisely out of his capacity to carry them out.

So in that sense there, have been indications that the Pope himself felt that his forces were beginning diminish, but as I say, there has been no hospitalization, no dramatic public collapse, nothing that would indicate that the moment was coming.

This resignation, which, again, should take effect on February 28th, will trigger what the Vatican calls a period, which basically means that the preparations will now begun for a conclave of events, where the cardinals will gather to elect the next Pope.

And of course, in tandem with that, beginning in full force today, the speculation about who might be Benedict XVII will, of course, begin.

BERMAN: And really that speculation will be rampant as it always is. John, the process is the same process as when the Pope dies. They bring the cardinals in after calling the conclave and elect the new hope. Do you suspect this will have a different feeling? This hasn't happened in hundreds and hundreds of years and we have a former living Pope, which is something that obviously no alive have eve .

ALLEN: That is the novelty, normally what happens when there is a pal transition, it's because the Pope died. The kickoff events are the nine days of mourning, the official nine days of mourning, and there is a funeral mass. And that is not merely in terms of symbolism we won't see this time, but to some extent the politics.

Let's remember the cardinal who presided over the funeral mass of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and over the function of the Vatican, he did such a masterful job that many people believed it propelled him to election as Benedict XVI.

There won't be those massive public events ahead of the conclave, the public performance during that period becomes much less important than the behind the scenes conversation that will go on as the cardinals of the world begin to gather here in Rome.

BERMAN: And of course, there will be speculation about who the current Pope favors to be his successor I imagine.

ALLEN: Yes, Benedict made it clear when he talked about papal resignation in the past, he does not believe it would be appropriate, but people will try to read the tea leaves in terms of what Benedict is thinking about this process may be. It should be said, one of the questions over the years, about a resigned Pope, precisely this, the potential in the church, where one faction to the church loyal to the new Pope and one faction loyal to the old Pope.

So the extent to which once the successor is named, how Benedict can both symbolically and substantively express the passing of the torch so to speak, that he is no longer in charge, a new Pope on the job.

SAMBOLIN: And whether or not there will be some change in the Catholic Church because of a new leader. Now, Benedict XVI, has not been around that long quite frankly so when you look at all of the folks that were being looked at for that position in the past, any names that you think come to the forefront?

ALLEN: Well, I suppose if you did a survey of dinner tables in Rome, where, of course this is always a popular conversation topic, probably the most frequent name you would hear tipped as the possible candidate to be Pope would be the current cardinal of Milan, an Italian by the name of Angela Scola, who comes out of the same theological school of the current Pope, Pope Benedict.

He is considered like Benedict a very serious intellectual, but also a media savvy figure with a strong, popular touch, but in addition someone over the years who has developed a specialty of outreach and dialog with the Islamic world through a foundation he created first in Venice, which has gone global.

And the first Christian/Muslim relations are among the top-shelve priorities, and whoever takes over as leader of the Catholic Church. That would be one name you are likely to hear a great deal about in the days to come, but an old saying in Rome, he who goes into a conclave as a papal front-runner comes out as a cardinal.

You can't necessarily take to the bank that the names you hear mentioned in public are the ones being seriously considered by the cardinals once they are behind locked doors in the Sistine Chapel, swearing their oaths in Latin and casting their ballots.

BERMAN: Let's talk more about Pope Benedict XVI, when we talk about his legacy. What will be talking about when we look back?

ALLEN: Well, I suppose the headline probably will be a great intellectual who consolidated and continued the legacy of John Paul II. A kind of boulder more confident Catholic Church, more willing to engage in public debates, but part of Benedict's legacy will inevitably be the scandals on his watch.

Particularly the exploding sex abuse scandals across the catholic world, not just in the west and the United States, but other parts of the world, and also the -- the massive Vatican leak scandal that rocked this place in the last couple of years, which led to sort of internal meltdown in terms of the aberrations of the place.

So on the one hand, a strong, confident leader, who presided, whether it's his fault or force of circumstance, over some of the most serious scandals ever to rock the Vatican, an important and some ways mixed legacy.

BERMAN: John, you mentioned -- according to you and people who watch this very, very closely. Much more closely than the rest of us really, he been giving some signs, signals, laying the ground work for the possibility of resignation.

And he had some health issues as well and that could come as news to some people. We've seen a Pope. Most people who have seen a Pope become infirm and struggle with health issues for decades so the idea of resigning seems foreign to them.

SAMBOLIN: Even Pope John Paul.

BERMAN: That's what I'm saying, I mean, Pope John Paul II --

ALLEN: Yes, of course. I mean, The long twilight of John Paul, of course, his struggle with age and with Parkinson's disease, lingering effect of the 1981 assassination attempt are all played out in full public view.

And John Paul decided to use his illness and decline in a way as a teaching moment, that -- to show the world you can still be of value, still play an important role while being ill, suffering, and so on.

That was John Paul's particular way of handling the twilight of his life. Benedict XVI, while I think certainly admiring and treasuring the John Paul II has decided that isn't necessary have to be the path that every Pope takes.

I think it's probably also fair to say that some of the difficulties the Vatican faced in recent years, perceptions of internal disarray relating to the leaked crisis. The damage imposed upon the public image of the church by the sex abuse scandals and so on.

It's clear that that has taken a toll on Benedict XVI. He has struggled with that personally and it may well be that the people who have seen the cumulative effect of that, that the church needs a new lease on life and a fresh burst of energy, and at in this stage, he's simply not prepared to deliver.

BERMAN: Again, John Allen, our senior Vatican analyst, thank you so much for this.

And we just did get a statement from the Pope, from the Vatican, where the Pope said, "I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to my advanced age are no longer suited to adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I'm well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering." However, in today's world he essentially says you need the strength, which he does not have right now to go on.

SAMBOLIN: It's certainly a brutal schedule they keep. So, you know, you can understand that, but just really bizarre. As we were talking about Pope John Paul and how he struggled through so much illness. So, you know, a lot of questions here and hopefully we're going to get more answers for you.

Our thanks to John Allen for weighing in this morning so quickly.

Fifteen minutes past the hour. One minute, you're relaxing aboard a cruise ship, and next, you are waiting for help after a fire knocks out one of the ship's engines. That's the ordeal right now for thousands of passengers. They adrift at sea.

We have a live report, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We have major breaking news to tell you about.

Pope Benedict XVI is resigning and we're just getting in a statement he made to his cardinals this morning at the Vatican. It says, "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

His last day will be February 28th, and there have been reports of his fatigue and possibly declining health. This is over the past year. He is 85 years old. He will be 86 in April. The last Pope to resign was in 1415. That was 600 years ago.

BERMAN: It's such a long time ago obviously, and so many questions right now. I believe we have someone on the phone.

Raymond Arroyo, who was with the Eternal Word Television Network, covering faith and religion in this country right now.

Mr. Arroyo, can you tell us what you think the significance of this announcement is? It really comes as a shock to us this morning.

RAYMOND ARROYO, ETERNAL WORD TELEVISION NETWORK (via telephone): Look, it's shocking to me, and I have covered this Pope, his entire pontificate, but when he was in congregation for the doctrine of faith, the previous office he held as Cardinal Ratzinger. In fact, I had the only English interview conducted with this Pope at length shortly before his election.

And it's curious as I watch this unfold because at that time, Cardinal Ratzinger wanted to retire in 'the 1990, in '93, again in '96, up until to '99. He declined each time, he stopped himself and didn't retire, because of the example of the previous Pope he told me in an interview.

So to watch this is really -- I have to say, I'm taken attack by it as a journalist and personally knowing that background and also knowing his vision of wanting to reform the church and realizing he is side by side with John Paul during his very long, as you remember, convalescence. I mean, this was a Pope that died before the world, taught the world how to die.

So, it comes as a real shock to many not only Catholics around the world. I think, you know, people of other faiths as well. And we'll see what happens. In a moment, we're expecting the press conference. That will certainly give us more light.

But no one was anticipating this. I spoke to a cardinal this morning, they had no early word on this until -- you know, until just today.

SAMBOLIN: You just mentioned really --

ARROYO: And no one thought he was particularly feeble or in terrible health, but I mean, obviously, he was getting older. He was nowhere near the point that John Paul was at this point of debilitation.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we have a statement from the Pope, and he says that his health has deteriorated "to the extent that I have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me." And you just made really important point and that is that we did see Pope John Paul die. He died slowly before all of us.

And so, this monumental decision that he's making, you spent time with him. Do we think there is more to this declining health?

ARROYO: Well, there could be. There could be. Now, I mean -- you know, I don't think there is any secret. Pope Benedict has always -- even Cardinal Ratzinger, very precious about his health. He a few health crises now and then, and he's bounced back pretty quickly from all of them.

But he's very intent to his health and to preserving his strength, which is why he did not maintain the public schedule that John Paul did for instance. You know there was one public audience per week. Other than that he really -- did his administrative work, played his piano, you know, prayed in the garden. He had a very routine schedule that he abided by, which is why I find this additionally shocking. I know there was an intention to preserve his strength so that he could continue this office.

You know, the interesting thing, as I listen to this statement, John Paul said at the time, when they asked him, you should resign, even some cardinals were calling for his resignation, and he said a father does not leave the family. So it will be interesting to see how Pope Benedict explains this to the flock at large, but obviously, one has to say he -- this is -- I'm sure a decision not made lightly.

My sense is that the health crisis must be pretty serious --


ARROYO: -- if he is going to this drastic measure of resigning, and it's certainly going to be a dramatic event and moment that we will all be privy to and to watch unfold --


SAMBOLIN: The Catholic Church --

ARROYO: It feels like we just did this. SAMBOLIN: No doubt. And the Catholic Church still remaining in crisis declining membership, the sex abuse scandal that is ongoing, it's really an interesting time to step down.

ARROYO: Well, I would say this. I think that Benedict has made even -- even during this reign, a lot longer than a lot of the cardinal who's elected him thought. That should be said at the outset.

He has implemented an enormous number of reforms, including a reform of the mass that brought back some of the old liturgical practices that I think will continue deep into the next century if not beyond. So I think -- you just see the vocations, there are bright lights, certainly the sex abuse scandal continues, and the terrible revelations of that.

But much of that is in the past decade and if you look forward, you are seeing seminaries full again. You have bishops who are taking responsibility, the full weight of their office seriously and Benedict a big part of that what he called reform of the liturgy, as well the church at large.

BERMAN: Raymond, we're looking at live pictures right now of Vatican City, St. Peters Basilica right now. We're expecting a news conference from the Vatican not to long from now. We, of course, will bring whatever we can from there as soon as we get it.

But, Raymond, let me ask you this -- you said Pope John Paul II says a father never leaves his flock. One of the truly fascinating things about this move, Pope Benedict XVI stepping down, February 28th, is that there will be a living former Pope, which is something no one alive has ever seen. It hasn't really happened in 600 years, 800 years, depending on how you count. It's a really staggering historical reality.

ARROYO: Absolutely, and the other amazing part of this is just as we move ahead, and I hate to even to do that. But inevitably this will be a conclave we'll be facing. Pope Benedict will have an enormous influence, no doubt, on who his success sore will be.

And I can't imagine at this point that that isn't part of the thinking here, why he has his faculties and the ability to influence the future of the church, he wants to see that reform continue -- reform started by Pope John Paul II, what he called a new springtime of the church that would bring about a new evangelization, where people would become more vibrant in their faith, more committed to it, and take it out to the world.

And I think you're going to see some of that drama play out. We won't see much of it, but we'll certainly see the effects of Benedict's presence in the conclave. I mean, that -- it's astounding. I am --

SAMBOLIN: Almost speechless, right?

ARROYO: -- shock when I heard the news.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, so were we. Raymond, thank you so much for your time this morning. Eternal Word Television Network, spent some time with the Pope. Great perspective.

ARROYO: Thank you.

BERMAN: We have much more to talk about this morning, other news. But, of course, the big news that we just learned 20 minutes ago -- Pope Benedict XVI, stepping down, resigning, effective February 28th. We have much more for you on this story and much more.

Stay with us.