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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Pope's Last Day Under Way; Farewell Pope Benedict XVI; Watching History Unfold; Pope's Final Hours; Fiscal War of Words

Aired February 28, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- there is a lot else that will go on today. The pope, as we say, at this moment meeting many, many of the cardinals. Many of them have gathered in Rome. Some are still arriving for the expected conclave that will happen probably a week, week and a half from now.

We don't know the exact start date. The pope has been meeting and greeting each one of them, sharing a moment. Earlier in the day, about 45 minutes ago, he did deliver some brief remarks to them. Let's take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator): Personally, I would like to say that I will continue to serve you in prayer, in particular in the coming days, so that you may be touched by the Holy Spirit in the election of a new pope and hope that the Lord will show you the right way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And prior to that, we're looking at that, Cardinal Sedano actually spoke to the pope. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Today, joining you to express once again their deep affection and to express to you the gratitude for your selfless apostolic service for the good of the Church of Christ and the whole of mankind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And we have with us this morning, Father Edward Beck and Monsignor Hilgarten, they've been with us all morning long. We really appreciate it. Father Beck, I wanted to start with Cardinal Sedano because he is really mired in controversy. Can you talk a little bit about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He kind of defended Father Maciel, who was the head of the Legion of Christ, notorious for having abuse of young men and fathering a child. He was the head of that religious order.

Cardinal Sedano supposedly received some financial gifts from the Legion of Christ and so people thought it was a quid pro quo that he was in fact not going after Maciel because he had received this money.

Also when he addressed the pope in Easter of 2010 along with the other cardinals present, he referred to the sex abuse scandal as petty gossip so seeming to dismiss the severity of the claims and that did not win him high marks around the world for sure.

BERMAN: What you're looking at right now is several of the archbishops who work in the Vatican, who served the pope. They are saying their goodbyes to Pope Benedict XVI before he departs in a few hours for Castel Gandolfo.

One of the things that the pope said to the gathering in that room, he thanked them for being with him for the marvelous moments, but also times when the world was covered by dark clouds.

There is a lot of symbolism today intended and unintended. I was just listening to what you were saying about Cardinal Sedano thinking that there's a lot of history, a lot of poignant good and bad, in that room today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's helpful to point out he is the dean of the College of Cardinals, but he's also over 80 so he can't vote. He will actually have someone else acting in his stay, Cardinal Giovanni Bautista Ray who would be the next in line who is eligible to vote who will preside over the conclave.

So Cardinal Sedano may help lead the congregations. They aren't public but the general congregations. But once they go into conclave, Cardinal Sedano is not one of the ones who can go in.

BERMAN: Pope Benedict XVI did speak about the conclave today in his final remarks. He said he hoped that the cardinals are touched by the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope and then again in words with so much significant, he promised his obedience to the next pope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did. And he also, in referencing what happened yesterday at St. Peter's Square, those crowds. He said this is evidence that the church is a living body, alive. We need to be in the world but not of it.

Now some may say that Pope Benedict was not enough in the world and need to be more in it and maybe even a little more of it. But his point is that if you're too much a part of it, it can corrupt you. So you have to be engage, but you can't let it totally consume you.

SAMBOLIN: Let's talk about the conclave. I think we have a graphic that we can put up for folks here that tells us how it works, who actually gets to vote. So you must be under 80 by the date of the vacancy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, all right, 115 cardinals are eligible to vote. The average age there is 72 years old. About 45 percent work or have worked in the roman curia. More than 50 percent are European. Nearly half of those are Italian. About 34 percent come from Asia, Africa, Latin America, 9.4 percent are from the United States and Canada a little less with 3 percent.

So when you look at the makeup and the demographics there, what does that tell you? Perhaps what the key issues they're going to be discussing in the conclave. You mentioned earlier, Monsignor, that the way that we look at this as Americans is very different than Catholics across the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some issues that will resonate more with the American church, others that might resonate with the European church and still others with the church in Asia, South America, Africa it looks like.

One of the things that Pope Benedict said this morning, he spoke of the College of Cardinals as an orchestra, unity and diversity that work together to bring about a harmony, certainly speaking from his heart as a musician, a classical pianist and his love of music.

But when we look at the whole College of Cardinals gathering, there really is such diversity in cultures and languages, one of the challenges, many of the cardinals are linguists but some of them aren't. At times, they may struggle to find common language, literally common language among them.

SAMBOLIN: As pope don't you have to be a linguist? I mean, it seems like a requirement of the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It certainly would be. I mean, one would expect that when the he comes out to the balcony of St. Peter's to give the blessing. That he would at least be proficient enough in Latin to offer the blessing, but presumably proficient enough in Italian to address the crowd gathered there. There was the great moment when Pope John Paul was elected and he came out and apologized and asked the church to bear with him as he learned their language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And let's say just because their average age is 72 and they're mostly European. That does not mean they can't do something dramatic. We do believe that the Holy Spirit is somehow involved in this. I found this quote of Benedict, by the way, on the roll of the Holy Spirit in the election. He said the spirit picks out the pope, but does not take control of the affair. Rather like a good educator leaves us much space, much freedom without abandoning us.

BERMAN: It looks like Pope Benedict XVI is getting ready to depart at the Vatican right now. Let's go back at this moment to Christiane Amanpour who is in Rome -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, indeed this wraps up more than an hour of Pope Benedict XVI meeting with all the cardinals, archbishops and other members of the Vatican staff and the hierarchy who are there.

We saw that it was a very deliberate process. It was somewhat emotional as these elderly cardinals, so many of whom have been elevated to their position by Benedict XVI or by Pope John Paul II before him very closely tied to this pope, have had their moment of face time with him for the last time as he's pope. I'm here with John Allen, who is our senior Vatican analyst and reporter for the "Catholic National Reporter." What struck you, John, about the procession and about the individuals? Who stood out for you?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, it was obvious that all cardinals are created equal. Some more equal than others. There are some with whom Benedict has been more closer over the years. For example, you saw an enormously warm embrace with Cardinal Meisner of Germany who is one of Benedict's closest friends. In fact, throughout his papacy, they have had an appointment at least once a week on the phone in part to talk policy and in part just to chat.

AMANPOUR: One of the things I thought was so interesting was after Cardinal Sedano gave the speech, gave the thank you, then the pope talked. Amongst his comments was and amongst you will be the next pope, to whom I offer my unconditional obedience and devotion.

ALLEN: Yes, that's right. And you notice he also issued a sort of gentle plea there for harmony among the cardinals. He understands that this is a strong-willed group of guys, many of whom have different ideas within limits about where the church ought to go. And he knows that whenever there is a transition and they have to pick a new leader, there is always the possibility of gridlock and so forth. I think he's gently trying to invite them to stay together.

AMANPOUR: He likened it a little to an orchestra that needs to play together in order to have harmony. When you say differences within limits about where the church needs to go, give us a sense of where some are saying it needs to go versus where others are saying.

ALLEN: Well, basically I think the cardinals have a three-item shopping list in terms of what they're looking for in the next pope. One is they want a pope with global vision. As you know well, two- thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world live outside that west. That share will be three-quarters by midcentury.

I think they want someone who can embrace that burgeoning Catholic footprint. Secondly, they want somebody who is going to be -- the technical Catholic word for it is an evangelizer.

The secular equivalent would be a salesman, somebody who can move the Catholic product in a very competitive religious marketplace and make it attractive and third, of course, a governor.

AMANPOUR: The evangelist and salesman extraordinaire would have been Benedict's predecessors, John Paul.

ALLEN: I think somewhere in a dictionary under the word evangelist is a picture of John Paul II. In that third point I just mentioned, governor is important too because I think there's a sense -- the basic diagnosis among many cardinals about Benedict's papacy is he was a magnificent teaching pope, but a mixed bag as a business manager.

Now the problem, Christiane, you asked where the fault lines are. The problem is, first of all, you're never going to find any one guy who perfectly incarnates all these three things so which is the most important. What do we absolutely have to have and what can we settle for less than the idea.

AMANPOUR: In terms of management and governability of the Vatican and all the church's affairs, there have been financial scandals and the sex abuse scandal we have talked about for so long because it is so such an important piece of unfinished business.

A senior Brazilian cardinal acknowledged that of course this is going to be on the minds of the cardinals as they elect the next pope that this business must be finished. Would you say that's accurate?

ALLEN: Absolutely. I mean, I, of course, have been talking to cardinals since this news broke. Certainly I think, again, there are different ideas and different visions. But one thing that they would be almost unanimously saying is that the next pope has to profile as a reformer on the sex abuse scandals.

That means two things. One, he's got to have clean hands himself. There can't be any suggestion of mismanagement or cover up in terms of his own biography and secondly, he has to have the skill set in their eyes to be the one to bring this work to completion.

They would all say that Benedict has been a great reformer, the first pope to meet with victims. In fact, you saw Cardinal Sean O'Malley greeting Pope Benedict. O'Malley had told me that he wanted to thank the pope for coming to the United States and for meeting with victims for the first time in the United States in April, 2008.

I'm sure that's what Cardinal O'Malley said to Benedict in that shot. However, I think there's a perception that there still is work left to be done, in particular the notion of accountability not just for priests who abuse but also for bishops who dropped the ball.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. And that will be something that many Catholics are looking forward to seeing, this business being finished once and for all and the stated policy of zero tolerance by Benedict to actually be zero tolerance, whether they did it or whether they hid it, so to speak.

Of course, we are all going to be here throughout the day. We're going back to you in New York. But the next event here is the departure of Benedict XVI from St. Peters to Castel Gandolfo.

And then several hours after that, after he makes his last appearance at the balcony, at the window in Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer home of the pope then three hours after that will be the end of his papacy.

SAMBOLIN: Truly a historic day, Christiane. We're going to head over to Jim Bittermann. He is at St. Peter's Square. I know you said yesterday was the day to be there, but I imagine a lot of people are showing up today as well.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Sure there are. In fact one of the things I always say in the news business is you should have been here yesterday. The fact is that yesterday was the big day here. There were tens of thousands of people out here for the pope's last meeting with the people.

Today, it's more intimate. He's with the cardinals, as we saw this morning, and he'll be having a lunch with the cardinals, very intimate lunch before he flies off to Castel Gandolfo.

But I just thought I'd bring into the picture here, a couple of folks who are in town who wanted to come down here, Sophie Halladay and Billy Lease are both from London. What brings you over here today, over to the Vatican today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're here to absorb all the atmosphere. Obviously the wonderful weather and hopefully catch a glimpse of the pope on his final farewell from the Vatican. I hear that he's going to be leaving in his helicopter so we'll be looking up into sky see if we can see a wave from the pope.

BITTERMANN: You're not disappointed at all that you won't be seeing him in person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we're not disappointed. I mean, we appreciate it that we saw him. It was very busy here yesterday and it's also quite noisy here today. But I think obviously he made his final address, but we're here just to appreciate the atmosphere and take it in, just knowing that he's in there is just enough to complete the kind of culture insight, I think.

BITTERMANN: It's a bit of history, no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I mean, we were discussing only yesterday that an occasion like this last happened 600 years ago. So we thought we might as well come because it could be another 600 before it happens.

BITTERMANN: May not have the chance the next time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

BITTERMAN: OK, thank you very much the two of you. That's sort of the scene here, Zoraida, John, a bit of tourism going on today. Some people down here may be hoping to catch a glimpse of the helicopter. We're not absolutely sure if you'll be able to see it from the square but I have a feeling the pope will have the pilot make a swing over the square before he departs for Casa Gandolfo.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I think everybody will hear it. We were just told all the bells will be ringing at the churches so it will be quite loud in the area. Jim Bittermann, thank you. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Of course, once he does leave St. Peter's, he heads toward Castel Gandolfo, which has been the summer retreat for popes for some 400 years. That will be his sort of temporary retirement home and our Becky Anderson reports from there.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Final preparations being made here at Castel Gandolfo for a very honored guest. Hours from now, Benedict XVI, his holiness, will chopper into this residence and from then on in start his life of quiet contemplation.

The window behind me is where we will see Benedict XVI make his final brief salute. We'll hear his last words and then at 8:00 local time, that door behind me will slam shut and the Swiss guards, the papal bodyguards for centuries will abandon their position. A very big day for the diocese here, some 7,000 people.

Expect bells, expect processional torches. This is a beautiful, beautiful setting as it is on Lake Albano, a very peaceful, peaceful place to start a new life.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Becky.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And coming up at 10:00 Eastern, a CNN special on the pope's last day. That's anchored by Erin Burnett and Chris Cuomo here in New York, and Christiane Amanpour who is live in Rome.

It will be simulcast on CNNi.

BERMAN: So much history.

Meanwhile, not history of a good time happening here in the U.S. -- counting down to those forced spending cuts. It appears just everyone in Washington believes that ax will drop.

SAMBOLIN: And a night of terror for a mother and a child in Florida. My goodness, take a look at this -- suddenly face-to-face with a gunman. It is all caught on camera. We're going to share this all with you.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to a special edition of EARLY START.

The clock keeps ticking toward massive across-the-board spending cuts and no one in Washington seems in any rush to stop this, John.

BERMAN: No.

SAMBOLIN: 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 that fiscal hammer from coming down.

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

(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. It's conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, first three weeks, first month, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the 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-KY), MINORITY LEADER: It's time they got off the campaign trail and started working with us to govern for a 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 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 goal posts."

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, WASHINGTON POST: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Who sent that e-mail to you?

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

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

WOODWARD: A very senior person. And just as a -- 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)

BERMAN: Bob Woodward, obviously, with a rich history of White Houses who were very unhappy with his reporting.

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

BERMAN: Other news now.

Brand new this morning, tens of millions of dollars, that is 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. He is in Rome. He will be meeting with the opposition there.

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

SAMBOLIN: And Jack Lew, President Obama's choice for treasury secretary, getting a green light from the Senate. He was 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 tasks may be changing his bizarre signature. Take a look at it there. It looks like a series of loops rather than letters and it could be the next thing on bills, large and small that you'll be looking at.

BERMAN: We got some business news now. The Dow is up -- going to open up today at a five-year high after a big rally yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: You're making predictions?

BERMAN: I am predicting, you heard it right here. The blue chip average soared 170 points Wednesday, closing at 14,075. That puts it just about 89 points away from its record high reached in October, 2007. Wall Street was pleased to hear the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke plans to stay the course and keep propping up the economy with stimulus. A strong housing report also helped out.

So far stock futures point to a flat open today. That's my latest prediction.

SAMBOLIN: There you go.

All right. Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

It was a terrifying night for a motel clerk in Florida and for her son. An armed robber smashes through a locked glass door, charges the counter. Keep on looking. Points a gun at the woman's head and forces her to give him money. Her young son was working on his homework, saw this entire thing unfolding.

Luckily no one was hurt. Police are hoping to identify the gunman even though, as you can see there, his face was covered.

BERMAN: The meteor blast over Russia two weeks ago was so powerful it was heard around the world, just not by human ears exactly. The 30- second sound wave was a very low frequency that we can't hear but sensors from Greenland to Antarctica picked it up. Scientists believe the blast released the energy of 30 Hiroshima size nuclear bombs. They now think the meteor was 26 feet across and was zooming toward Earth 40,000 miles per hour when it blew up.

SAMBOLIN: Kind of scary.

All right. A historic day. Pope Benedict XVI last day as leader of the Catholic Church worldwide, the Roman Catholic Church. We are following him through his final hours.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: The final blessing from Pope Benedict XVI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): May he bless all of you -- in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: A special moment for the cardinals there. The pope now in his historic final hours of his reign. Cardinals lining up to kiss the ring one last time, sharing a little last laughter. And one of them could be wearing that ring soon. Well, not that one specifically.

We are live in Vatican City to bring you history as the Holy Father bids farewell and flies into retirement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward telling CNN he was threatened by the White House over a piece he wrote on the origin of the forced spending cuts. The White House denies it. We will have a closer look at this war of words.

SAMBOLIN: And a battle from the 1960s being refought in 2013. Some Supreme Court justices wonder if a key part of the civil rights movement still applies today.