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Breaking: Pope to Resign; Violent Tornado Sweeps Mississippi; Carnival Cruise Ship Stranded; President to Award Medal of Honor Today

Aired February 11, 2013 - 06:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Historic breaking news this morning. For the first time in 600 years, a pope is retiring -- Pope Benedict XVI.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is 31 minutes after the hour right now.

And this is something that none of us -- that none of us have heard before. A Pope announces he is resigning. Pope Benedict this morning announcing to his cardinals that he is resigning due to his age and declining health.

We want to bring in Eric Marrapodi. He is one of the writers behind our "Belief Blog" right now. Eric, this is just such major news. Surprising to so many of us.

Talk to me about Pope Benedict's health and his concerns about his health. Something he's talked about over time.

ERIC MARRAPODI, CNN BELIEF BLOG (via telephone): You know, it's funny. Normally, when we face a situation like this, it's under much graver circumstances. Keep in mind, when Pope John Paul died, he was in and out of the hospital. There was not something sudden about it.

And, you know, reporting next week, talking about transition, because the Pope was 85, and for no other reason than he's of an age where something horrible could happen at any moment. The fact that he has resigned, something so unbelievably unprecedented, indicates to me that there must be something incredibly serious with his health.

All indications that I had over the last two years is that the pope is very cautious about his health. I've heard any time he has -- as much as a tickle in his throat, they bring in a specialist to take care of him.

As you guys mentioned earlier today, he did not keep up a rigorous travel schedule like predecessors, he was somebody who stayed at the Vatican, who stayed at the papal retreat in the summer months. I mean, he was not somebody on the road, hitting the pavement, pumping fists, doing mass. I mean, this was not just part of his routine because of his advanced age.

So the fact that he's stepping down indicates to me -- there is something -- something pretty wrong here.

BERMAN: Let me read you what he said again. He said -- he talked about his health and said, "It has deteriorated to the extent that I recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me." He calls it his incapacity. So interesting.

MARRAPODI: Yes, it's fascinating. And keep in mind, when you are the Pope, there is an enormous amount of administrative responsibilities on top of the spiritual responsibilities. You're the head of an organization of a billion people. So, there's an awful lot that goes into those responsibilities. You are also on the world stage, so you are consistently meeting with world leaders from across the spectrum.

So, you have these incredible responsibilities both as a spiritual head, as head of a tiny small state and as the organizational head of a billion people. So those responsibilities can weigh on a man incredibly hard and we saw that with Pope John Paul and how -- once he had Parkinson's how quickly he deteriorated because of that.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we have to mention also, the fact he's had major crises while he's been Pope and how the stress of that could affect his health.

You know what I didn't know that I just read. That when he was elected, it was the age of 78 and actually made him the oldest person to have been elected since 1730.

MARRAPODI: Yes. I mean, without being -- without being crass, and I heard some folks saying this on the air earlier, he has been Pope longer than a lot expected him in that 2005 conclave. I don't think a lot of cardinals expected him to be alive this long. He was -- there was talk about him being a transitional Pope to the next leader, someone to ride things out until they could sort things out and move on to someone who is -- the stronger, more impactful leader and who was supposed to sort of bide his time.

And he -- as you mentioned -- took over a time of great crisis for the church, and particularly the sex abuse scandal, and he has put in a number of reforms and done things, but he's certainly faced an incredible amount of criticism for some of the work here, particularly in the United States and in places like Ireland, where the sex abuse scandal is still sort of raging on.

BERMAN: Eric Marrapodi, who is the co-editor of the CNN "Belief Blog", which is such an important resource at times like this -- Eric Marrapodi of the "Belief Blog", thank you for joining us this morning with some great information.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to head over to London, standing by is Nic Robertson. And, Nic, we're simply shocked by this. The statement from the Pope that he is resigning on February 28th because of his declining health. What can you tell us about that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is saying he needs to be in a good physical state and also a good mental state and he's recognized that he's not really up to the task at the moment, which throws open the question, we have seen many popes, John Paul in particular most recently, go through his final years as Pope, in quite physical decrepitude. And this really begs the question at the moment, is Pope Benedict XVI, is it mental frailty leading him to make this decision other than physical frailty?

And certainly, we'll be looking to hear, watch the Vatican spokesman says shortly, or as he's expected to say shortly that may throw or shed a little more light on the nature of this decision. Is it really a matter of physical health or mental health?

But, of course, this has come as a huge shock, but the church is very well-versed in how to move to the next step. There is time now to prepare the 28th of February for the 120 cardinal who's are all under the age of 80 years who will be allowed to make the decision on who that next pope will be. There is time for them to come and gather.

So, the church is well-versed in how to deal with this sort of eventuality, albeit, we haven't seen anything quite like this for hundreds and hundreds of years.

BERMAN: You say they have time to prepare. They never usually have this kin of time to prepare. Usually what happens, a Pope dies and they have to call a conclave.

Right now, they know the Pope is stepping down on February 28th, there's actually a time period for them to get their act together here.

ROBINSON: And we also have to know that the Pope -- the Vatican is such a well-organized institution, that they will have known that they were going to make this decision. They have already, if you will, gamed out, made the decision on when the key events would be taking place.

So, they know that this has been -- they know internally that this is going to happen. Of course, there have been no leaks about this. It's very clear this information has been tightly held, but normally when the Pope dies, there would normally be those nine days of mourning before the cardinals would begin to sit together and make a decision on who the next Pope would be.

So they have really double that time almost right now to move ahead. So, this is an advantage for the church.

BERMAN: As we say, unusual. This has not happened for 600 years.

SAMBOLIN: Nic, do you think Pope Benedict XVI will weigh in on who his successor will be? ROBERTSON: Well, the only indication given so far in the brief statement we've had is that after he resigns, he said he will move into a period of prayer. So it's really unchartered territory. Can he have a voice and say -- I mean, certainly among the cardinals, he will have cardinals who will have been close to him in particular, who he will have imparted his ideas about the future, and they will certainly know who perhaps amongst cardinals embodies those ideas.

So I think perhaps he will not be -- we don't know. It's unlikely it appears at this stage he would physically be allowed to be present with the cardinals on making that final decision. But he would have already prepared that ground, so to speak, in discussions with other cardinals. But, of course, as we've said here already on this program, he was viewed perhaps as being very old when he went into the job, perhaps just an interim to get through the period of all the abuse scandals, perhaps it's viewed that he has now done that.

And there are many within the Catholic faith who feel the church has turned quite conservative or looks toward a more conservative future and hope a younger person can take over leadership and perhaps have a church that appeals more to younger people, which, of course, in developed countries, is something that the church feels very, very keenly at the moment.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and has struggled with.

You mentioned something earlier, that I think is really key and critical here, his state of mind, because in the statement it says, "The strength of my 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."

So, I know it's just speculation on my part, but it's so unprecedented to walk away from being Pope that you have to wonder whether there is frailty of mind involved.

ROBERTSON: And he has well has said -- or his spokesman has said that he is aware of the gravity of the situation which again tends to sort of tip an indication here. Hence that -- having to say the Pope is aware of the gravity. Well, one would expect him to be. No one has done this in hundreds of years.

BERMAN: All right.

ROBERTSON: So that sort of indicates perhaps failing mental health to a degree.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson in London, thank you so much.

We're going to take a pause from you right now because the Vatican is holding its news conference right now, explaining the Pope's resignation. We get simultaneous English translation. So let's listen.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A call for the cardinals who are in Rome and who can participate. We have a wide range of a number of cardinals. You have seen that there were many cardinals in the room surrounding the Holy Pope. The Pope has chosen this location and specifically the cardinals are schooled, where we are all gathered together in Rome in order to make an announcement, which is extremely important.

The test to the announcement, I think it's not available. The Pope has read the test in Latin, and on the occasion of consistent celebration and we have translated it from Latin into several languages so that there is a translation as to the statement made by the Pope and as for people to understand what he has said.

It's a brief declaration that the Pope has made about 15 minutes, and we've listened to the pope's announcement for a great deal attention. And we -- we think that as soon as we have more information available and we will make it available to you. As to their meaning, perhaps it's necessary for me to read this statement very clear. Clearly, the word -- we have to see it word by word to understand the true meaning of the statement.

He says that he has repeatedly examined his conscience. That it's a deep and profound personal decision that he's taken before God, and in a mission he was called to carry out. He said, "I'm certain that my forces and my old age are not --


SAMBOLIN: We are listening to a press conference. This is live, and it is to discuss the fact that the Pope has decided he is going to resign on February 28th. Completely unprecedented and there has been a lot of dialog about this.

We are listening right now as a spokesperson was saying that what he said this was a deep and profound personal decision that he has taken before God.

We're trying to figure out more details as to the why. Why Pope Benedict XVI has decided to retire.

BERMAN: He made the announcement in front of a room of cardinals, the Pope did, that were gathered together. We are told the cardinals listened with great attention. I'm sure they did.

And all we have right now is a statement from the Pope. The key quote being, he talks about his health. He says, "It has deteriorated to the extent that I had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he said. Obviously, health issues behind the Pope's resignation.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Shocking historic breaking news to tell you about: Pope Benedict XVI is resigning. 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 strength due to an advance age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

His last day will be February 28th. Pope Benedict XVI is 85 years old, so he'll be 86 in April. This is why it's historic. The last Pope to resign was in 1415. That is 600 years ago.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We just listened to a live press conference from the Vatican in which we really didn't get any more answers about exactly why. What is this ill-health that the Pope has? So we're trying to get some more details on that.

It is 48 minutes past the hour. Homes and buildings simply shredded. Families and businesses in Southern Mississippi are still assessing the damage this morning after a powerful tornado ripped through the town of Hattiesburg.

A storm chaser shot this. Take a look at this. This is really dramatic video of the giant funnel cloud that was crossing the highway right there. The violent weather damaged parts of the University of Southern Mississippi, and it injured dozens of people as well.

BERMAN: Waiting and waiting for a tow. Bad news for passengers aboard Carnival's cruise ship Triumph. The liner is stranded in the Gulf of Mexico waiting for another ship to tow it to a Mexican port. A fire broke out in the ship's engine room on Sunday morning, leaving it real dead in the water. There are 4,200 passengers and crew on board. Thankfully, no injuries there reported.

SAMBOLIN: So, there was poke and there was fun, but not as much flesh this time at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards last night in L.A. British folk rock band Mumford & Sons took home as "Babel" got Album of the Year. Song of the Year went to "We Are Young" by the New York indie group Fun, who were also named Best New Artist.

Now, most everyone took CBS's quote "tone it down" wardrobe request seriously. Almost everyone.


JENNIFER LOPEZ, SINGER: As you can see, I read the memo.



SAMBOLIN: When you compare the two outfits, that is toned down. You remember CBS last week issued a memo asking the Grammy performers and presenters keep their breasts, buttocks, and private parts all covered up for everyone. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Coming up, a hero American soldier to be honored by the president today, and we will have more on the breaking news of the Pope's resignation. Stay with us.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We start with breaking news here. Something none of us has heard before, experienced before: the Pope is retiring. Pope Benedict XVI this morning announcing to his cardinals that he is resigning due to his age and declining health. He is 85 years old. He will be 86 in April. So, the last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory in 1415.

BERMAN: Stunning, historic event we're telling you about this morning. We'll bring you developments as they unfold this morning.

We do have some other news to tell you about right now. President Obama today will award the Medal of Honor to a hero in the war in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha helped rescue the injured and retrieve the dead during an ambush by hundreds of Taliban figters in Afghanistan, despite having a hole in his own arm from a rocket propelled grenade.

The attack on Compound Outpost Keating on October 2009 and killed eight American soldiers, making the deadliest day for the U.S. in the war that year. Romesha will be only the fourth living service member from Afghanistan and Iraq to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

SAMBOLIN: And tomorrow night, President Obama delivers the State of the Union address, the first of his second term. Administration officials say that jobs and the state of the economy will be featured prominently in his address before member s of Congress, and of course, you, the nation. They say the president will unveil programs to create more jobs, increase the wages of American workers, and to strengthen the overall economy.

BERMAN: Headed to Washington later today, we're going to be covering the State of the Union tomorrow morning and Wednesday from Washington. Stay with CNN for complete coverage of the president's speech and analysis from the best political team in the business. It all begins tomorrow night at seven o'clock eastern time.

SAMBOLIN: And Soledad O'Brien with more on the Pope's resignation just ahead on "STARTING POINT".

EARLY START right back after this quick break.


SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news that we've been telling you about. Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, resigning February 28th. He is citing ill-health. We're uncertain what that ill-health is. We're trying to get some more details on that --

BERMAN: There are still --

SAMBOLIN: -- but unprecedented.

BERMAN: Unprecedented. It hasn't happened in 600 years. Still so many questions. There are so much now that needs to happen with electing the new Pope. We will bring you all the information coming up on "STARTING POINT" just a few seconds from now.

That's EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.