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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Pope Benedict's Final Day; Fiscal War of Words; Fiscal War of Words; Catholic Church in Transition

Aired February 28, 2013 - 04:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A day of reflection and hope for Catholics around the world. Pope Benedict XVI preparing to meet this morning with the cardinals who will choose his successor before officially stepping down.

Good morning to you and welcome to a special edition of EARLY START, I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, February 28th, It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. And welcome to CNN's live coverage of the Pope's last day on the throne of St. Peter.

SAMBOLIN: So just 10 hours from now Pope Benedict XVI becomes Pope emeritus and starts a new chapter of his life. Retirement but he's not riding off into the sunset or by helicopter just yet. At 5:00 a.m. Eastern, just an hour from now, the Pope meets with the cardinals who will pick his replacement.

Over 100 of them are expected to be at hand and the pontiff will spend a minute or two with each and every one of them.

BERMAN: That should be fascinating. Then Cardinal Angelo Sodano is scheduled to deliver a brief speech. He is the dean of the College of Cardinals. And finally Pope Benedict XVI himself is expected to make a few final spontaneous remarks before leaving his residence one last time. He leaves finally at about 10:45 Eastern Time this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And this truly is a historic day, not only for a Vatican that finds itself at a crossroads but for 1.2 billion Catholics who are waiting a new spiritual leader and a new direction.

CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is live from Rome this morning.

Good morning to you, Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida and John. It really is incredible as we sit here with St. Peter's behind us. I can't help but thinking what must be going through Pope Benedict's mind right now. Yes, he's made that incredible decision. We've talked about it. We've reported all the formality, the celebration.

Yesterday his final audience, we've heard him speak even yesterday in a very, very, personal way about the decision he took, about the gravity of it, the novelty of it, about the joys he had in shepherding the Roman Catholic Church over the past eight years and indeed about the sorrow and the challenges he faced and the church faced as well. But after all of that he's human. What must he be thinking to be the first Pope in more than 600 years to step down? The first Pope in more than 700 years to voluntarily step down. It is an amazing instance.

We're joined here by John Allen, who's our senior Vatican analyst and Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter Online.

And what do you think is going and what will his meetings with the cardinals be like this morning?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, you know, Benedict XVI was of course himself a member of the College of Cardinals for 20 plus years. And he feels a real kind of brotherly bond with these guys. I mean, if you like, these are his boys. And I think, therefore, this is going to be very intimate, emotional sort of farewell. Because remember when he said he's going to be hidden from the world in many ways, he's going to be hidden from this group, too.

I mean, the last thing he wants is the impression that he's scheming behind the scenes, either to control who they elect as the next Pope or whatever the next Pope does.

AMANPOUR: And to that end, John and Zoraida, of course, we know that at about -- at about 4:00 a.m. Eastern he's going to be -- or rather at about 5:00 p.m. local, you get a little bit confused with all these different time zones. 5:00 p.m. local he's actually going to be leaving St. Peter's by helicopter and that will be not just the physical removal of himself from St. Peter's and from all the business of the Vatican and choosing the next Pope and being away from the conclave but to get away also while his permanent residence is going to be ready, which again will be here in the Vatican.

But in about an hour from now, as you said and as we've just been saying, there will be this meeting. I mean, 100 plus cardinals shuffling up to meet the Pope.

What is it going to be like visually? What's it going to be like for them as they talk to him? Any policy pronouncements at this last minute or is it just friendly sort of memory lane as you were saying?

ALLEN: No. This is not common time in parliament. They're not going to be debating policy issues this morning. What will happen, of course, the Dean of the College who was John -- who was Benedict's first secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will give a sort of tribute to the Pope, what I would expect to be fairly emotional. Benedict will not have a prepared a text. Apparently he's been making some notes but he's going to speak off the cuff.

His final farewell to this group that has meant so much to him over the years. And then we will see each cardinal processing up and having a moment of face time with the holy father. And I think the drama really is not going to be so much in anything that is said this morning, but what it's going to be instead is these normally aloof, reserved princes of the church. I would imagine most of them are going to be feeling some pretty raw emotions. You're going to be seeing hearts on the sleeve in a rare -- in a way you rarely do from this group.

AMANPOUR: And John and Zoraida, we're going to be talking later. I'm going to be interviewing Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. And there are obviously several American cardinals here who will be voting.

I spoke to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington. Now he's the retired archbishop of the Washington, D.C. diocese. He doesn't feel that it's time yet for an American Pope, but nonetheless, the American cardinals are important. Cardinal Dolan is important.

And one might say that while all these challenges are out there for the Roman Catholic Church, by a wide margin, American Catholics approve of Pope Benedict -- Pope Benedict XVI and of what he's been doing as Pope. They have various issues with perhaps how he handled the full sex abuse scandal amongst priests.

They think by a margin of 58 percent that perhaps the next Pope should encourage priests to be able to be married. But in general, American Catholics are fairly evenly divided as to whether to keep the church in its traditional and very conservative roots or to move the church in a new direction.

SAMBOLIN: It will be interesting to --

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Yes, it's absolutely right. I mean, I think one of the striking things about that poll -- that Pew Forum study is that 74 percent of American Catholics approve of Benedict XVI but only 51 percent want to maintain his traditional policies which suggest there's almost a quarter of the American Catholic population.

AMANPOUR: Yes.

ALLEN: That may not necessarily agree with the papacy but they like the Pope.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. So with all of that, back to you. And we'll have a full day here of, again, these last day, these last 10 hours of the papal transition.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Christiane Amanpour.

Of course Americans will be -- well represented in Rome during the conclave and before a lot of American cardinals. And one of the most interesting things I feel today as the Pope meets individually with each cardinal is one way or another he will be face to face with the next Pope. We don't know who that is yet, but there will be a picture, there'll be a moment he will share with the person who will ultimately replace him.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and the big question is, will he have that last-minute influence, as he does meet individually, with -- with each one? It will be really interesting to watch.

BERMAN: Here's a quick look at a step-by-step roll of what today is going to look like.

Pope Benedict's historic, unprecedented final days as holy father, 5:00 a.m. Eastern, the Pope meets with the cardinals who are already in Rome. He's expected to greet each cardinal. He'll make a few brief comments, nothing prepared. At 10:45 Eastern the Pope departs the courtyard of San Di Maso before the heliport. At 11:15 his chopper will take off. Fifteen minutes later, it's just a short trip, he will land in Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home. A place that's been the summer retreat for Popes for close to 400 years. He'll greet the crowd there from his window at 11:30 Eastern. And then these will be his last words spoken as Pope in public.

Later, 2:00 Eastern, 8:00 p.m. local time there in Italy, the Pope will no longer be Pope. He will be Pope emeritus. The Swiss Guards, they will leave their post. The doors of the palazzo will close and really --

SAMBOLIN: Do you believe it?

BERMAN: A chapter in history will be over. It is an historic day. We cannot stay -- say that enough here. And you will want to stay with CNN all day for extensive coverage of this. No one has seen this before.

SAMBOLIN: No, absolutely. I was just going to say, we've never had -- the Roman Catholic Church has never said there is no Pope, right, other than if the Pope dies and then the conclave meets. But this, unprecedented. So it will be interesting and fascinating to watch all morning long.

So the Pope's new temporary home, picturesque Castel Gandolfo, located about 15 miles southeast of Rome. The small fortress castle has been a retreat for Popes for centuries. And our Becky Anderson is there.

Becky, will the Pope arrive by helicopter later today and will he remain there for about two months? Tell us about the history of the place as well.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, there couldn't be a more wonderful setting to start your life of quiet contemplation. Castel Gandolfo just behind me. You're right in saying that for some 400 years now, this has been the summer residence for a succession of Popes, seeking sort of solace from that stifling Roman heat.

It's very quiet. It's a very, very peaceful town. There are about 7,000 or 8,000 people who work here. Many are employed by the papacy. But it hasn't always been quiet. Many people who lived here during the Second World War actually sought refuge at the Castel during the Allied bombing.

I'm told that the papal bedroom actually turned into a maternity room where some 50 babies were delivered during that time. It sits on about 135 acres. There are beautiful ornamental gardens, there's a small farm. John Paul II actually took wonderful walks here. Benedict XVI, I'm told, is a much, much more private man, expected to spend a long time in his rooms here. He'll be here for about two months while they restore his home at the Vatican where he will eventually spend the rest of his life. Guys?

SAMBOLIN: All right, Becky Anderson, thank you very much. We'll check back in with you.

And here to help us walk through today in the coming events is Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat of Divine Worship.

MSGR. RICK HILGARTNER, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Thank you for being with us this morning. So I just kind of wanted to walk through what is going to happen today when the Pope meets with the cardinals. Could you walk us through that?

HILGARTNER: Sure. That's really an informal kind of farewell. Probably -- as John Allen, said earlier, probably the most personal and poignant piece of the farewell. Yesterday the very public farewell took place in St. Peter's Square with upwards of 50,000 or more people giving that very public witness. But this will be a moment with his closest collaborators over the years.

The Pope's personal collaborators really are the bishops throughout the world and in a particular way it's the cardinals standing at the heart of those, many of the cardinals are the people who work day to day in the Vatican who actually work with the Pope on a regular basis, who see him week in, week out.

The rest of the cardinals spread throughout the world, but really still the closest collaborators of the Pope. So this will be a really personal thing. He knows them all by name. And -- so it will, I think we're going to see kind of a real -- kind of a departure of a friend.

BERMAN: And for this Pope, especially, he in a way is a creature of the cardinals. He was dean of the College of Cardinals. He must feel a particularly close kinship with them. He's been part of this for so many decades.

HILGARTNER: Absolutely. He had himself had been named a cardinal by Pope John Paul. But the other piece of this now is that he's named virtually half of the College of Cardinals himself.

SAMBOLIN: Right.

HILGARTNER: So in addition to the fact that they're close collaborators and many of them are personal friends, his own influence over the College of Cardinals will be very clear today, even if he's not doing any campaigning or politicking in any real way. It's still the kind of kinship that's there is very evident.

SAMBOLIN: John Allen just a little while ago called it a brotherly bond. These are his boys. And as we do talk about that influence, and a lot of people are wondering, will he have any influence who -- over who the next Pope will be? Perhaps more so than we think. Perhaps he's the one -- elevated one of those to cardinal, right?

What do you think is going to happen, if you could take that insider view? Do you think he will have that influence?

HILGARTNER: Certainly. I think because of this unprecedented -- the unprecedented nature of the transition with his resignation rather than the death of the Pope, there will clearly be, even if it's not intended and even if he doesn't intend it, there will certainly be an eye on him as the cardinals go into the conclave in the coming days. He himself in his resignation has indicated in a very general sense that he thinks there are significant issues facing the church and feels the need to turn leadership over to someone who can -- with more stamina, with more strength -- handle those kinds of things. So he really sets the tone simply in saying that there are significant things for the church to deal with.

SAMBOLIN: You mentioned age. And this was the oldest Pope ever elected at the age of 78. Do you think now that the cardinals will be looking at a younger candidate, perhaps?

HILGARTNER: Well, Pope John Paul was 58 when he was elected. And that would have been fairly young by modern standards and his pontificate lasted more than 27 years. So it's difficult to know whether they would go that young and look at the possibility of a pontificate that lasts that long. The other question now is suddenly that -- has Pope Benedict started a new precedent that says that no matter how old you are when you're elected there's the possibility that you could step down at some point when you feel you can no longer handle the office.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Monsignor, we'd like to keep you around all morning long if you don't mind.

HILGARTNER: Happy to be here.

SAMBOLIN: We really appreciate it. Thank you.

BERMAN: Fantastic. So interesting.

And coming up at 10:00 Eastern Time right here on CNN, a special on the Pope's last day, anchored by Erin Burnett and Chris Cuomo right here in New York. Christiane Amanpour will stay in Rome. This will be simulcast on CNNi.

This is history. You will want to stay with us all day.

And still ahead, we will be back to you. We'll take you back to Rome for live coverage of Pope Benedict's final hours on the throne of St. Peter. He is expected to greet the cardinals at the top of the hour. SAMBOLIN: And meantime here at home, counting down to those forced spending cuts. It appears just about everyone in Washington believes that this ax will drop.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past -- past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. This is a special edition of EARLY START. The clock keeps ticking towards massive across-the-board spending cuts and no one in Washington seems in any rush to stop it.

We now know that President Obama and congressional leaders will meet tomorrow at the White House, but at this point it looks like nothing can prevent the fiscal hammer from coming down in about 40 hours or so.

And as CNN's Brianna Keilar tells us it has the White House at odds with prominent journalists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a week of touting the dire consequences around the forced spending cuts would have, President Obama softened his tone Wednesday night in a speech to top business executives.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not a cliff, but it is a tumble downward. You know, it's conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, the first three weeks, the first month, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of this sequester. But this is going to be a big hit on the economy.

KEILAR: Republicans have said these predictions are nothing but scare tactics.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: It's time they get off the campaign trail and started working with us to govern or change.

KEILAR: The president reiterated the charge of partisanship ahead of an 11th hour meeting on Friday with congressional leaders.

OBAMA: The issue is political. And the question is whether or not we are going to see a willingness on the part of all parties to compromise in a meaningful way.

KEILAR: All the while, the Obama White House is engaged in a war of words with legendary "Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward over the origin of the forced spending cuts. In a controversial op-ed last week, Woodward wrote, "The final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester."

Woodward criticized the president's handling of negotiations, writing, "So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goalposts." On CNN's "SITUATION ROOM" Wednesday, Woodward claimed he received a veiled threat in an e-mail from a senior White House aide.

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: It was said very clearly you will regret doing this.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Who sent that e-mail to you?

WOODWARD: Well, I'm not going to say.

BLITZER: Was it a senior person at the White House?

WOODWARD: A very senior person. And just as -- I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters you're going to regret doing something that you believe in.

KEILAR: Brianna Keilar, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Brianna.

The White House has now responded to Bob Woodward's charge saying, quote, "No threat was intended and that the e-mail suggested Mr. Woodward would regret the observation he made regarding the sequester because that observation was inaccurate, nothing more."

BERMAN: All right, 20 minutes after the hour right now. Tens of millions of dollars, that's how much a proposed aid package to the Syrian opposition is said to be worth. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to announce the details today in Rome when he meets with them.

The administration has been considering providing nonlethal military equipment like night vision goggles and body armor as well as providing some military training. Unclear what ends up in the final deal.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So soon this will be scribbled on your money. That's a signature of new Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Lew getting a green light from the Senate yesterday, confirmed by a 71-26 vote. Lew previously served as the president's chief of staff and as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

One of Lew's first task may be changing his signature. The president even busted his chops about it when he nominated him.

BERMAN: That's the signature --

SAMBOLIN: That's really tough. It's like doodling.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Wall Street coming off a strong day. Positive remarks from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke along with good housing numbers lifted investors out of a slam from earlier this week. It was a short slump. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.8 percent to close the day at 13900 and the S&P 500 increased about 0.6 percent.

SAMBOLIN: All right. That meteor blast over Russia two weeks ago was so powerful it was heard around the world. But not by human ears. The 30-second sound wave was a low frequency that we can't hear but sensors from Greenland to Antarctica picked it up. Scientists figured the blast released the energy of 30 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs. Can you believe that? They now think the meteor was 56 feet across and was zooming toward earth at 40,000 miles per hour when it blew up.

BERMAN: You know the more we learn about this, the more epic and the more disturbing in some ways it is.

SAMBOLIN: I just wonder, I remember when we were talking to Bill Nye, the science guy, I was like, how did we not know that that was hurling towards Russia, right? Incredible. Incredible. He said, take it as a warning, folks.

BERMAN: I'm warned. I consider myself warned.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: All right, coming up in just over 30 minutes, Pope Benedict XVI's last hours in charge after today's historic and virtually unprecedented events at the Vatican.

What is next for the Catholic Church? We're going to ask a CNN contributor who's also a priest for his take. We'll also going to break down what to expect from the conclave.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to a special edition of EARLY START. We have live pictures from Rome as we mark a historic moment, Pope Benedict XVI just hours from retirement and minutes away from meeting with the cardinals who will choose his successor.

BERMAN: Today is such a significant day in the Catholic Church. At 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Pope Benedict XVI will be the first Pope in 600 years to walk away from the job.

To help us break down what will happen then in the days and weeks ahead, I want to talk to CNN contributor, Father Edward Beck.

Nice to see you, Father.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi. It's good to be here.

BERMAN: Can we talk about retirement for a Pope? Because it's -- it is virtually unprecedented unless you've been alive for 600 years, which no one has. What do you think happens for Pope Benedict XVI?

BECK: I would take him at his word that he's going to do a lot of reading, a lot of praying, a lot of studying. I don't think you'll see much of him. That residence that's being prepared for him has beautiful private gardens and I think he's going to retreat from the world as he has said he is going to.

BERMAN: He is a scholar.

BECK: Yes.

BERMAN: And he is an educator. He loves to research, he loves to write. We understand he's been working on an encyclical that had he stayed Pope, he would have certainly published. It would have read with great care.

Is this something you feel that he's likely to finish and likely to publish?

BECK: By the way, his encyclicals on faith, hope and love are extolled around the world for one of his greatest contributions. Now he will continue to write, I'm sure, but I would doubt you will see any of that published in his lifetime.

BERMAN: Because?

BECK: Because it will be seen as almost placing him against the present Pope. And what if he writes something that maybe the present Pope did not agree with, will there be some kind of a contest there? I think you will see him keep a very low profile, no publications but he will continue to write and maybe posthumously we will see some of those writings.

BERMAN: Now one of the things that most of us look forward to in retirement is doing those things we didn't get to do as much as we would have liked to while we were working. Do you think the Pope will engage in any hobbies?

BECK: Well, you know what I find interesting? He's going to be taking this helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo. Now the Catholic News Agency reports that he is a pilot. He has a small craft pilot's license and that previously he has flown the helicopter himself from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo.

Can you picture the image if we now see Pope Benedict piloting his own helicopter to Castel Gandolfo? Now I don't think that's going to happen but I find it a very interesting little tidbit about this Pope. It's not what you would imagine, this shy, meek man piloting a helicopter and yet reports say that that's exactly what he does.

BERMAN: All right. Fascinating. One of those things to ponder as we look forward to this unprecedented retirement.

Father Edward Beck, we'll be talking to you all morning. Nice to see you here -- Zoraida.

BECK: OK.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, you are about to witness history. Catholic cardinals from all over the world each getting a moment with Pope Benedict, a private moment, right before his retirement. We'll take you live to Rome for this unprecedented event. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: In just over nine hours, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer Pope. He is about to carry out his last charge.