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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Pope Benedict Prepares to Resign; Winter Storms Hit Midwest, Interview with Rep. Steve Israel

Aired February 27, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, the pope's final audience. The leader of the Catholic Church addresses at least 50,000 followers in St. Peter's Square, a day before he officially resigns. We'll take a look at this historic moment and what it means for the Catholic Church. CNNs Christiane Amanpour will join us live from Rome.

Then, that brutal winter storm is still going strong. Thousands of people waking up to a snowy mess and canceled flights, and they're bracing for more ice and more snow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two days away from $85 billion in forced spending cuts, and both sides just playing the blame game. Is there still time to stop pointing fingers and find a solution?

Then, from basketball bad boy to American diplomat. What on earth is Dennis Rodman -- yes, Dennis Rodman, what is he doing in North Korea?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And the pope's resignation certainly not without controversy. Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and money laundering have long surrounded the Vatican. So, what kind of financial legacy will the pope leave?

O'BRIEN: This morning, we are talking to New York congressman, Steve Israel. Illinois congressman, Aaron Schock is our guest. We'll have an exclusive interview with John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who's going to prison for leaking information that led to an outcry about waterboarding.

And we'll talk to Mark O'Mara, George Zimmerman's defense attorney. It's Wednesday, February 27th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, Pope Benedict and his final public farewell. The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, making his last public appearance earlier this morning in St. Peter's square, telling tens of thousands of followers his decision to step down comes with a deep peace of mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI (via translator): I have taken this step in full awareness of the gravity and seriousness, but also with a profound serenity in my soul.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: Our chief international correspondent is Christiane Amanpour and she is live for us in Rome this morning. Christiane, good morning.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. Right now pilgrims are still streaming out of St. Peter's square behind me, where they gathered several hours ago for the final public audience by Pope Benedict XVI.

He did something rather unprecedented for these what are weekly audiences. He toured around the square in his Pope mobile and those tens of thousands of people inside the square got a first-hand look at him. There was lots of waving, lots of cheering, and he delivered his blessing and talked about what it meant to take the step. You just heard him say he understood the enormity of this, the gravity of it, and the novelty of it, because this is indeed unprecedented. It's been more than 600 years since a Pope stepped down, and then it wasn't voluntary. More than 700 years since a Pope stepped down voluntarily.

Now, he did refer to his health. This is what he said regarding why he took this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENEDICT (via translator): In the last month, I felt that my strength has diminished and I have requested god with assistance in my prayer to illuminate me with his light to make me come to the right decision, not for my own good but for the good of the church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Now there is so much spotlight on this transition, and that's because the Pope is such a massive global figure. He's the only faith leader with such a huge flock, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. No other faith leader in the world has a flock of that size. And what a Pope does, where he goes, the pronouncements and statements and religious statements that they give out are viewed not just by Catholics but others around the world as well.

And to that end, this church rocked by scandals. You mentioned the financial mismanagement allegations thereof, and we've also talked about the scandals of the sex abuse scandals in the priesthood. Those will have to be dealt with in terms of finally being put to rest, accounted for, and full transparency by the next Pope, and that's what we're waiting to see when the next Pope will be elected, when the Conclave will be announced. We won't know that until Monday at the very earliest.

And in the meantime this is the Pope's second to last day. Tomorrow 5:00 p.m. Rome time, he will leave St. Peter's in a helicopter to a temporary residence, and at 8:00 p.m. night, Rome time, his papacy officially ends.

O'BRIEN: And something like 50,000 people packing St. Peter's square, but many more millions watching what is happening today and tomorrow. Thank you to Christiane Amanpour in Rome. And let's get to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He is there as well talking to folks who had the opportunity to be right in the audience and hear the Pope speak. Good morning, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Many people coming here, in fact the Italian authorities laid on extra busses and trains to make it possible for the people who wanted to attend this last general audience of the Pope here in St. Peter's Square.

It's a very solemn occasion. I was here when Pope John Paul II died in 2005, and it was completely different atmosphere. On this occasion, it was very much an opportunity for people, the faithful, to come and contemplate the legacy of Pope Benedict. Many appreciated him as a teacher, a thinker, an intellectual, somebody who had the courage to confront many of the issues that have plagued the church over the last decade or so, the question of, for instance, pedophilia and the priesthood and other things. Very much what we heard from people here is they appreciated him as someone who faced and grappled with serious issues and appreciated the fact that he had the courage to step down at this point in his life.

O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman for us this morning. Thank you for the update. You can hear them breaking down from the mass said a little bit this morning.

Here is what will happen now on from here. Pope Benedict XVI has amended the Conclave law. That means that cardinals will not have to wait 15 days until after the papacy is vacant to being the Conclave, and 115 Cardinals are eligible to take part, which includes only cardinals who are under the age of 80. Cardinals will get four ballots a day. The ballots get counted twice daily. And dark smoke from a small chimney will signal there is no consensus, and white smoke signals there is another Pope, and sometimes someone who gets a two-thirds majority, that means that has cleared the path for that person to become the next Pope. We'll obviously watch what happens the rest of the day and tomorrow as people watch the final days of this Pope, Pope Benedict XVI as he gets ready to officially resign.

Other big story we're following, severe weather which is causing severe headaches in the Texas panhandle to the great lakes. Millions affected by this fierce winter storm. Chicago O'Hare International Airport forced to cancel hundreds of flights on Tuesday, they got more than four inches in Chicago. We've got this story covered for you this morning. Ted Rowlands is live in Chicago. Jennifer Delgado is tracking the storm closely from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Ted, how does it look?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the snow turned to freezing rain in the last few minutes here, which is perfect timing for the morning commute and should be a complete nightmare for people coming in and out of the city this morning. And it's been a difficult week. This is the second storm this hit places like Kansas City and Chicago. You mentioned flights. More than 700 flights were canceled between O'Hare and midway. You've got stranded passengers, but they will try to work into the system today, it is going to be a very, very busy day at O'Hare and on the roads here as this storm continues to pelt the Midwest, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: What a big, hot mess for people there. O'Hare has already been a challenge at times. Thank you for that.

Let's get right to Jennifer Delgado at the CNN Weather Center. We talked about you tracking the storm a lot the last couple of weeks. Talk about this one.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We are talking about some big snow totals out there. Kansas City picked up nearly 10 inches of snowfall. Since then, things have quieted down, but we're still tracking snow on the radar. You can see for areas for Wisconsin over toward parts of Kansas, Kansas City, picking up light snow. Overall today, anywhere you are seeing up to the north and Midwest, potentially one to two more inches of snowfall.

The northeast is different. We have snow mixing in for areas. You can see for New York and rain for regions like New York City as well as into Boston. That's when it will be just rain.

But some big snow heading to parts of New England, eight to 12 inches for parts of Vermont and regions in the northeast like Maine. But all of this is still causing travel delays out there look at this, Soledad. We're talking about a ground stop for Detroit and New York, A ground stop until 7:30. And this is due to winds as well as low ceilings. It's messy out there, Chicago O'Hare, big delays.

O'BRIEN: There's almost nothing worse than hearing the words "ground stop."

DELGADO: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, appreciate it, Jennifer.

Let's get right to John Berman with a look at other stories making news.

BERMAN: Thank you, Soledad. This just in to CNN, a deadly shooting at a wood products factory in Switzerland. Police say several people killed and others wounded. Rescuers say four critically wounded people were air lifted to the hospital. Local media reports the factory employees 410 people and that this factory had to cut production recently due to a reduction in the wood harvest. When we get more information, including a clearer casualty count, we will bring them to you.

And in California, a state already reeling from the deaths of two police officers at the hands of Christopher Dorner earlier this month, we learned overnight the two officers in the Santa Cruz police department were killed yesterday in the line of duty while responding to a report of possible domestic violence. The department has never lost an officer on patrol until now. The gunman was later killed in a shootout with police.

It's less than 30 minutes until Chuck Hagel is set to show up for his first day of work in the Pentagon. Hagel was finally confirmed as the new defense secretary by the full Senate last night by a 58-41 vote. And the president's choice for treasury secretary could be confirmed today, Jack Lew. Lew sailed through the Senate finance committee yesterday.

So a stunning omission from NATO, a really bad clerical error. It turns out a reported seven percent decline in violence in Afghanistan last year, turns out was inaccurate. Taliban attacks actually held steady in 2012. Meantime militants killed 17 people overnight, including 10 Afghan police officers while they slept.

So how is this for standing out in a crowd? Dennis Rodman is in North Korea of all places. He's there with three members of the famed Harlem Globetrotters to put on a show for fans while she film a TV documentary. Rodman, also known as "The Worm," is tweeting from inside North Korea and saying "Maybe I'll run into the Gangnam style dude while I'm here." Psy, he is South Korean, not North Korean.

O'BRIEN: That is the problem.

BERMAN: It's a little bit of a problem.

O'BRIEN: Because there's a big difference.

ROMANS: I haven't heard the nickname "The Worm" since about 1999.

BERMAN: Rodman, bad as I want to be.

O'BRIEN: Yet there he is tweeting from North Korea.

BERMAN: A diplomat.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we've got two days until $85 billion of forced budget cuts go into effect. Can Congress get past the finger pointing and come to an agreement, or is it already too late for compromise? We'll talk this morning with New York Congressman Steve Israel.

And we've got some business news to discuss, too.

ROMANS: Scandal surrounding the Vatican as the Pope prepares to step down, financial scandal. From accusations of corruption and monetary abuse, we'll look at the financial legacy awaiting the next pontiff. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Two days until massive forced spending cuts, and there's still a lot of finger pointing going on in Washington, D.C. The House speaker, John Boehner, had a very harsh message for the Senate, one that needs to be bleeped out first thing in the morning. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R ) HOUSE SPEAKER: We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and begins to do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I think he (ph) is echoing what Americans everywhere feel. Come on, people, on both sides of the aisle, get off your bleep and do something. Republicans and Democrats at the highest level speaking out about how the forced cuts are going to be bad for all of us and talking about of how they are blaming the other side. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, (R ) WYOMING: It seems to me, the president is running around the country, crying wolf, saying the sky is falling.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Republicans say they are kicking the can down the road. I don't think they are kicking the can down the road. I think they are nudging the potato across the table with their nose.

SEN. ROY BLUNT, (R ) MISSOURI: It's almost like the administration was given a homework assignment 18 months ago and showed up last week saying gee, we are not ready for this.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Congressman Steve Israel is a Democrat from New York, he's the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Nice to have you back with us as always.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D) NEW YORK: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: So, do you think it's realistic to get it done in two days?

ISRAEL: No, I don't think so. Unfortunately, the Republicans never should have sent us home last week on vacation. Look -

O'BRIEN: Only took three seconds to get to blaming the Republicans. Fine how it's going.

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: Well, the fact that of the matter is that if you want - you asked, can we get to a solution? You can't get a solution when you don't show up for work. And so there's got to be some accountability. Nobody wins the blame game on how we got into this mess. I and House Democrats are interested in who gets the credit for solving the problem. We have offered a variety of bipartisan ideas. We've already agreed to cut spending and have cut spending $2 trillion. We know we have to continue to cut spending. But there has to be some common-sense balance. There's got to be some compromise. We need revenues. The House Republicans are willing to hand pink slips to 750,000 people who will lose their jobs if this happens. Why are we handing pink slips to -

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Well, you're both handing pink - hold on, hold on. Hold on.

ISRAEL: - and continues to give subsidies to big oil companies.

O'BRIEN: Hold on. Okay, so the pink slips to the 750,000 people, that would be the calculation over 213 that's from the congressional budget office and that comes from. as you pointed out, both sides bringing themselves to this edge, this line. You both get equal blame. Do you worry that voters are kind of sick of both sides of the aisle in this? How many times have we had the conversation about the deadline, falling off the cliff, and 24 hours? I mean, come on.

ISRAEL: On one side, House Democrats, have already compromised. We've already passed $2 trillion in spending cuts. We have said openly we know that we have a huge debt problem, we want to reduce our debt. We'll support additional spending cuts and only one side, John Boehner, has said no, we will not compromise, we will not negotiate, you can go home, we are willing to allow this thing called sequestration to happen, even at the cost of 750,000 jobs. I will say it again, and I will say it publicly.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: And that 750,000 jobs over the year, right? Let's not act as if it's going to happen --

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: But if you are one of those jobs, you don't care whether it's tomorrow or imminent. It doesn't have to be this way. Rather than --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We do care if it's tomorrow. Because it's over the year. I get what you are saying, it's not going to happen the day we go into sequestration.

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: But it doesn't have to happen at all. All we need to do is compromise. We've got specific ideas on how we can avoid this cliff and all the other cliffs that they bring us to.

O'BRIEN: Why are we always getting up to the cliff? Really? Why is the entire structure of -- in this particular case, we've the fiscal cliff, we've had various reiterations. I think we've done the cliff, what would you say John, like three or four times over the last year on this show alone, which has only around for a year and a month. So there's a lot of cliffs we're coming to, and it seems like this is now the strategy in politics, right? You bring everybody up to the cliff and do some last-minute -- I know I do countdowns of them all the time. Why is that the way we negotiate today? ISRAEL: You just said it. This has happened over the past year and a half since your show has been on the air. What else happened? It's when the Tea Party Congress took over the House. There was a time when Republicans would negotiate, we'd work out differences and come to compromise. There was a time when John Boehner actually said it would be irresponsible for us to go over a debt cliff. He said that. What happened in the interim? You've got a group of extremists who believe compromise is a dirty word. You have a group of - the radicalization of a Republican Congress that is willing to cut the defense budget by $500 billion in order to cut spending with -- and protect tax -- to protect millionaires from getting tax increases.

O'BRIEN: Okay, so first I thought you were saying my show was to blame for going to the cliff. I followed you, I got you. A little early on, I thought that's where you were heading. Listen, Republicans will say they're working on this deal would allow the White House to pick the cuts, right? Instead of across the board cuts, the White House could pick which cuts. Why is that a bad idea?

ISRAEL: Come on, it's passing the blame and passing the buck.

O'BRIEN: Passing the burden of leadership. Some could put it that way.

ISRAEL: Why are these guys getting paid? You know, I know very few jobs that allow you to collect a taxpayer salary, blame everybody else for the decisions you make and refuse to make the hard decisions. That's a pretty good gig John Boehner has. We're going to come in, we're going to vote, we're going to go on recess, go on vacation, and when tough decisions have to be made, we'll blame the Senate for not acting and then blame the president for acting. That's a nice gig.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Steve Israel joining us this morning. He's the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Nice to have you with us. Thank you.

ISRAEL: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead next hour, we're going to get some Republican reaction on this same issue from Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock.

Up next, a provocative op-ed, raising questions of what you were just talking about a few minutes ago, Christine, the recent scandal surrounding the Catholic Church. The big one. Could the vow of celibacy be to blame? We'll explore that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business. Allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and money laundering. All things that Pope Benedict has dealt with. He's more than just a religious leader, he oversees the finances of the Holy Sea, the office of the pope and Vatican City the city state. So what kind of financial legacy is he leaving? Pope Benedict hired a Swiss financial crime fighter to raise standards, but many say the pope's efforts to take the Vatican's money out of the shadows felt short. Jeffrey Robinson the author of "The Laundry Man" spoke with Ali Velshi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY ROBINSON, AUTHOR: We know the Vatican bank has assets roughly about 7$7.5 billion. That's not the point. It's not how much money it holds, it's what does it do with the money? Because it's not accountable to anybody. The idea of having the most secretive bank in the world means you can do the most secretive things in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The most secretive bank in the world. We know are the church's public finances. $308 million in annual revenue. From the 5 million tourists each year, the museum fees, sale of mementos, also the real estate, all those churches, the land they sit on. The Catholic Church, did you know, is estimated to be the world's third biggest land owner - 177 million acres around the world. That's where the clarity ends.

Donations from parishioners, the exact amount, that's not released, private. There are collections taken up that don't go into the budget like the pope's charities and of course, how do you put a price on the Vatican's artwork, like the Sistine chapel, and all of the gold, and all of the precious metals owned within these church buildings. Now, Soledad, interesting earlier this year, you couldn't use an ATM card or credit card in the Vatican City, because basically international banking system said look, you're not complying with international banking rules and transparency. Not the case anymore, yes, absolutely just recently you have been able to use those things, but the Vatican.

O'BRIEN: But not because they changed the rules and opened up the bank.

ROMANS: Because they made a new deal with another vendor to be able to process transactions. It shows you however how the lack of transparency I would say within the finances of the church. Big, sprawling and old organization.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about our panel this morning Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, he's the executive director secretariat of define worship at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Chris Frates is back with us, he's a reporter at "National Journal." Former Florida congressman, Connie Mack, is back with us as well. Nice to have you all.

So there's a "New York Times" op-ed, which I think you guys have all had the opportunity to read, which is pretty controversial I think it's fair to say, it suggests that stopping sex scandals in the Catholic Church could come down to one thing: dropping the vow of celibacy. It's written by Frank Bruni and he says that the celibacy is a source of lies, double lives, hypocrisy in the church. He argues that celibacy is impractical against human nature and cruel. He writes this: "Let's give a moment's thought to loneliness and longing and this: the pledge of celibacy that the church requires of its servants is an often cruel and corrosive thing. It runs counter to human nature. It asks too much."

Good thing I have a monsignor here on the panel this morning. What do you think about his column this morning?

MONSIGNOR RICK HILGARTNER, US CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: That's a great start.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome.

HILGARTNER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you, sir. Welcome to the panel.

HILGARTNER: Celibacy always perceived as a sacrifice. It's always been perceived as something we give as priests as a way to offer ourselves and be more completely available to the one thing that we're committed to, and that's serving the church. And in some ways, it's no different than a married man or married woman giving themselves totally to another person, and limiting their sexual selves to that one person.

O'BRIEN: Do you buy his argument about isolation? I mean when he was giving his example, Cardinal O'Brien, we talked about how isolating it was. Using the example of a woman companion. I mean he talked about female companionship, that at some point people just get lonely. You know, do you think he's got a point in the loneliness?

HILGARTNER: For some. I certainly try to have a healthy kind of life- style that allows me to have healthy friendships and companionship with other priests and with people when I was in a parish. I don't work in one now. But in a parish, had healthy, strong relationships with families and parishioners and there are many ways to keep that as a healthy life-style. There are many ways and we've seen through the sex abuse scandal the ways in which that can reduce itself to something far less than healthy and to the point it's criminal.

O'BRIEN: He says it also makes the priesthood less attractive, which as always a struggle, right, to get more priests especially American priests to come into the priesthood. Contributes to the shortage of priests, influences how men who pursue ordination fare. And he does link it back to the sex scandal in a way. He says - he uses the word factored into in some way to the sex scandal. Do you think that's true?

HILGARTNER: The statistics that we see in the church in the United States show that the percentages aren't really pointing to that. We look at about one percent of the priests of the United States who were ever affected by that or ever kind of gave over to those kinds of inclinations and those statistics are no different than in larger population, in married people, in teachers and any other profession that's there. So we don't think that it's a question of celibacy being the contributing factor.

O'BRIEN: I am so glad to have you on the panel. We're talking a lot about religion. Later we're going to talk to Judas Smith, he's written this book "Jesus Is." I think this is a great book, so we've got right the monsignor to help be through the show this morning. Nice to have you, sir. We're going to keep talking about this of course.

Still ahead this morning, a former CIA officer headed to prison tomorrow for a 2.5 year sentence after he leaked information that led to the outcry about waterboarding. We'll have an exclusive interview with John Kiriakou that's coming up.

Then a disturbing new study suggests that an increase in breast cancer in young women exists. Do scientists have any explanation for why? We'll talk about why in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)