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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Pope Benedict's Last Day; Clock Ticking Toward Deep Cuts

Aired February 28, 2013 - 06:30   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Really nice to have you with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is 30 minutes after the hour on this historic day.

Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's live coverage as the pope's final hours as spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

SAMBOLIN: Pope Benedict XVI will become pope emeritus in just over seven hours when his resignation officially takes effect. And just this past hour, he addressed the 100 or so cardinals in attendance and gave each of them some face time and some ring time. This group will face the daunting task of choosing his successor.

The pontiff looking back on his eight years on St. Peter's throne.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): Your advice and presence has been very helpful to me in my ministry. During eight years, we have lived with faith, marvelous moments in the history of the church and also times when the world is covered by dark clouds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The pope spoke to the cardinals for about 10 minutes. He told them he will pray for them as they embark on their next mission selecting his successor.

(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)

SAMBOLIN: And moments before the pope met with the cardinals, the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, delivered a few remarks, thanking the pontiff for all of his sacrifices during his eight-year reign as head of the Roman Catholic Church.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO, DEAN OF COLLEGE OF CARDINALS (through translator): Today, I'm 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)

BERMAN: The scope of today's events simply epic. You know, no person alive has ever witnessed anything like this, a sitting pope stepping down. Benedict's departure, of course, comes at a time when the church is embroiled in a fair amount of turmoil, really. It's 1.2 billion followers searching for something of a new guide post, a new direction.

We're going to go to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She is live in Rome this morning -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John and Zoraida. Indeed, we have been watching this last bit of face time with the cardinals and in a few hours, the pope will then leave St. Peter's, leave the Vatican, and head of to his semi-permanent retirement home, his temporary one up at Castel Gandolfo. And a few hours after that, he will end his papacy. At 8:00 p.m. local, 2:00 p.m. Eastern, the end of the papacy of Benedict XVI will take place.

And then we have the sede vacante, that is empty seat, that is the period of interregnum, so to speak, between this outgoing pope and the next one. And that is what everybody is looking for.

As you correctly say, while there's a lot of joy, a lot of outpouring of affection for Benedict XVI there has also been turmoil in the Catholic Church, most particularly about the priest sexual abuse scandal and a leading cardinal has said that as the conclave convenes, foremost amongst many of the cardinal electorate will be the sex abuse scandal and how to choose a pope who will be able to move this church to a final conclusion to that, to a final implementation of the zero tolerance that Benedict XVI instituted and who will be really to lead this 1.2 billion flock into the future -- John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Christiane.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, here's a look step by step at Pope Benedict XVI's historic, unprecedented final day as the Holy Father. This past hour, he gave each cardinal, about 100 of them in attendance, a little brief face time.

At 10:45 Eastern, the pop departs the courtyard of San Damaso for the heliport. At 11:15 his helicopter takes off.

BERMAN: And 15 minutes later, the short trip. He will land at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home. Familiar for him, this is the summer retreat for popes for close to 400 years.

He will greet the crowd there from his window at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time. This will be a very significant moment. We expect these will be the last words he will speak in public as pope.

Then at 2:00 Eastern, which is 8:00 p.m. in Italy, the pope will no longer be pope. What will happen, the Swiss guards who guard and attend him, they will leave their posts. The doors of palazzo will close, symbolic. A chapter in history will then be over.

SAMBOLIN: And back with us to discuss all things papal, we have Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, secretariat of Divine Worship and CNN contributor.

And also, Father Edward Beck.

Thank you so much for being with us.

I want to clear something up, because earlier I said that they were kissing the pope's ring and maybe the successor would be -- one of them would be wearing that ring. They do not wear the ring because this ring is destroyed, is it not?

MSGR. RICK HILGARTNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it is. The ring is actually tied -- it has Benedict's name on it. Today, it's a symbolic sign of his office and his authority, but certainly in times past, the ring would have actually been used to seal papal decrees or statements and it would have been the wax seal. And so, it was important at the death of a pope that the ring be destroyed. So there is actually still going to be a ritual, I don't think it's going to be public.

But there will be a moment when the camerlengo of the Catholic Church, person who oversees the day-to-day operations after 2:00 p.m. Eastern today will oversee the destruction of the ring. They will slice it and then smash it. The remains of it will be saved and be buried ultimately with Pope Benedict.

SAMBOLIN: And what about anything else, the vestments. Does everything get retired when a pope either dies, which was what we typically witness, or as he retires?

EDWARD BECK, CATHOLIC PRIEST: He's going to give up some of his garb. He's going to get to wear the white tunic. He's going to give up the mossita (ph), the cape, the red cape. He has to give up the red shoes.

BERMAN: So much focus on the shoes.

BECK: So much on those red shoes. He's going to wear more comfortable Mexican brown shoes that he got when he was in Mexico that he finds very comfortable. By the way, that's probably good that he'll give up the mossita. There was some controversy. It was made with ermine and some animal rights groups were protesting the fact that he had ermine on his hat and his cape. So, he won't have that controversy at least. BERMAN: Let's talk about what will happen the next few days. We discussed the conclave at length. That's when they gather to elect the next pope.

But before that starts, this is a period of politicking not just among the cardinals who will vote but the more senior cardinals, the older cardinals who will not get that chance.

HILGARTNER: Correct. Tomorrow, the camerlengo and the dean of the College of Cardinals will convoke the cardinals and so, will announce the start of the general congregations and ultimately the conclave.

So it's anticipated that tomorrow there will at least be an announcement of the start of the meetings, if not actual meetings taking place. And then once the first day of all the cardinals gathered in congregation, the first decision they'll make is the start of the conclave.

And that's been an issue -- a question that's been somewhat unanswered but clarified earlier this week when Pope Benedict issued a motu proprio, an instruction that gave the cardinals the authority to move up the start of the conclave from the minimum of 15 days, because the normal presumption is that the period of sede vacante which begins today begins with preparation for the burial of the pope and a funeral followed by a period of nine days of mourning.

Well, that part doesn't have to happen. So that could be accelerated but they will begin with some time of those meetings, the congregations, and what we don't know yet is how long they anticipate scheduling those meetings before they actually go into the conclave in the chapel.

BECK: And let's make no mistake. While there's no overt politicking, these guys live together, they eat together, they imbibe together. There is definitely off the record conversation about what they were thinking and feeling about these potential candidates.

BERMAN: Not unimportant discussions either because they have to choose the next pope. This is the first time many of them have been together in months, years perhaps, and it's a chance for them to talk about the future.

BECK: Most definitely. And that really, the off-the-record stuff is probably the most influential of all.

SAMBOLIN: There's 117 eligible to be there. 115 will actually be voting. One of them is ill, the other surrounded with controversy -- Cardinal O'Brien, I believe it is -- surrounded with controversy.

As they are headed into this conclave, there is a lot of controversy surrounding a lot of the folks that are sitting there making this decision. How does that get handled?

BECK: I think people look at it that you separate the two. They're still cardinals. It is their right to vote for the new pope. No one going in there is a saint. Everybody has baggage of some kind or another.

It's a sinful church, a sinful institution. And --

SAMBOLIN: But when you talk about the sex abuse scandal and the children involved, it kind of elevates to something even more sinful.

BECK: It does elevate it, but remember there's a minority of those even in that room who have egregiously erred in this issue. So, you have to look at it in the context of the greater whole and that it's a minority of people that we're talking about.

BERMAN: Father Edward Beck, Monsignor Rick Hilgartner, thank you so much for being with us here on this historic morning. We will speak to you again in just a moment.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

So, we're just now learning about Pope Benedict XVI's final acts as pope. He continued receiving resignations and nominating bishops even on his last day of office. Today, he accepted the resignation of the bishop of Yamaria (ph), Argentina, and nominated his replacement.

He also nominated a monsignor to be an auxiliary bishop in Vietnam -- apparently, his final official act as pope.

I see some surprised looks around here. Were you guys not aware of that?

HILGARTNER: I haven't seen the Vatican News Service this morning.

SAMBOLIN: OK.

HILGARTNER: Caught me off guard.

BERMAN: Working up until the very end.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding, up until the bitter end.

BERMAN: Coming up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, a CNN special on the pope's last day will be anchored by Erin Burnett and Chris Cuomo in New York. Christiane Amanpour will be in Rome. This will be simulcast on CNNI

SAMBOLIN: Forty minutes past the hour.

Is it racial entitlement or an American right? Are Southern states more racist when it comes to voting procedures? We'll have more on this battle that is currently being fought in the Supreme Court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: History being made today, not just because Soledad O'Brien is here to tell us what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Lots happening this morning and, in fact, we are witnessing history. It's the pope's last day as the head of the Catholic Church. In a little more than seven hours, he will officially be in retirement and, of course, now the focus is on the search for the successor.

Live in Rome for you, getting some insight from Monsignor Rick Hilgartner. He's the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, secretariat of Divine Worship.

Also Sister Simone Campbell is going to join us. She's the executive director of Network.

And Father Edward Beck will join us as well.

Then, a school forbids a first grader from using the girl's restroom because she was born a boy. Coy Mathis and her parents will join us to explain their fight that they're embroiled in with the school.

And, of course, this young lady won America's heart and mind at the Olympics, became an Internet sensation with not impressed face. Now, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney is leaping into acting. We'll talk about her new gig straight ahead.

BERMAN: It will be impressive, no doubt.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Soledad.

It is 45 minutes past the hour. It's the last day before those automatic spending cuts kick in. President Obama will meet with Congressional leaders at the White House tomorrow to search for a way out of this crazy fiscal mess. But a little too late. The president's warned of dire consequences but has now softened his tone a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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, the 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Republicans accuse the president of using scare tactics. Both sides remain far apart on critical tax and spending issues.

BERMAN: The Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a key provision of the measure does seem to be in jeopardy. If it's overturned, nine states, mostly in the south, would become free to change their voting procedures without permission from the federal government.

Civil rights activists fear that would mean tighter identification standards and more flexibility to move polling places and redraw legislative districts, a move that they say could hurt minority voting.

Another former member of the temptations has died. Richard Street sang with them for more than 20 years. His widow says Street had a clot in his lung. He was 70 years old. Singer, Damon Harris, died last week.

SAMBOLIN: I could sing along to most of their songs. Love them.

All right. Winter Storm that wreaked havoc across the plains and the Midwest is finally, finally coming to an end. But we're still talking about a bit more snow for some parts in New England. Jennifer Delgado is live at CNN Weather Center in Atlanta with more details for us. Good morning.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I think I've answered your prayers. You were hoping for this storm to come to an end and it finally has. But we are still squeezing out some snow flurries out there, and you can still see what's happening through parts of the Upper Midwest.

You can see Ohio Valley some light snow there. Overall, we're talking in most locations one inch, maybe two more inches of snowfall and the same for areas, including Maine as well as into regions like New Hampshire. Right now, we're looking at some rain out there coming down real lightly through Washington and the same through Maryland.

Dover, you're looking at some showers. For New York, really just dealing with some clouds and you'll keep the chance of some rain around until about three o'clock and then the clouds will finally clear out and you'll start to see the sunshine once again. Very late in the day. But, overall, high pressure is in control for areas, including the southwest, the west.

We'll see some rain, of course and some snow in those high elevations across parts of Washington. But high temperatures today in the 30s, the 40s and the 50s. And it's actually running about 10 degrees below average across parts of the Midwest, but our big story is going to be the cool down that's going to be coming this weekend. This is all courtesy of the jet stream.

It's going to be pulling that cold air from the north down towards the south. That includes Florida. Maybe you're going to be heading there this weekend for early spring break or something like that, but look at these temperatures. They're going to be running nearly 10 to 20 degrees below average as we go through the next couple days.

For Jacksonville, Friday (ph) high of 61. You should be at 71. And Sunday is going to be the coldest of the weekend.

SAMBOLIN: I predict you're going to get some hate mail.

DELGADO: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DELGADO: Frio, cold. Yes it is. SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Jennifer.

BERMAN: All right. So, it was a show-stopper at Madison Square Garden last night. We'll have the Bleacher Report coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-two minutes past the hour. Splendid shooting performance in the NBA record books ablaze last night. It's a mecca for basketball.

BERMAN: Jared Greenberg joins us now for this morning's Bleacher Report with what Stephen Curry, he had just a show last night at Madison Square Garden.

JARED GREENBERG, BLEACHER REPORT: He did a performance to remember or is it? The best individual performance of the season on basketball's biggest stage. It goes for naught. Steph Curry put on a show at Madison Square Garden scoring an NBA season high 54 points, including 11 three-pointers. That's tied for the second-most threes in a game in NBA history.

Curry scored the third most points ever by an opponent at the world's most famous. However, it wasn't enough. Curry's Warriors got upended by Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. One reason New York Was able to outlast Golden State, they were without their all-star big man, David Lee, who was suspended.

Lee and Pacers center, Roy Hibbert, got to know each other real well Tuesday in Indiana. The NBA and Hibbert's mom were both none too pleased. Guess which one is worse? Hibbert said his mom was a little upset she told her son that he should have walked away from this incident. The league's one-game suspension, well, that pales in comparison to a mother's guilt.

There are upsets and then there was this. A mind-blowing outcome. Penn State shocking the college basketball world winning its first conference game in more than a year. The Nittany Lions did it against the fourth-ranked team in the nation. The season of ridiculousness continues. And hey, students and alum, at least for today, willing to admit that they have a basketball team at Penn State.

Well, you know, two-week-old sausage is never a good thing, unless, unless, that particular sausage is part of a famous in-game race during Milwaukee Brewer games. Guido the Italian sausage, wearing number 3 here went missing during a beer tasting event and was seen in pictures bar hopping around town. The seven-foot sausage was dropped off at a nearby bar anonymously. A meaty story, to say the least.

BERMAN: I'm so glad he's back.

SAMBOLIN: Are you?

GREENBERG: And so were they in Milwaukee. Right now, on Bleacher Report, the staff reminds us that it's always football season. Log on and check out the post combine mock draft. Find out who your team is targeting on BleacherReport.com. And, everybody should be thankful that I stopped with just one cliche. No more sausage jokes. We're leaving it at that.

SAMBOLIN: That's probably a very good idea. Thank you very much.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Thank you for that. Great to see you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. EARLY START back after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. In just a few hours, Pope Benedict XVI will fly off into retirement literally. He will be on a helicopter and assume the title Pope Emeritus. In his last words as pope, Benedict XVI pledged his unconditional obedience to the future pope.

BERMAN: Coming up at 10 o'clock a.m. eastern time, a CNN special on the pope's last day. This will be anchored by Erin Burnett and Chris Cuomo in New York and Christiane Amanpour who is in Rome. This will be simulcast on CNNI.

SAMBOLIN: But before we go, I want to make sure that I say happy birthday to Teddy and Joseph, your six-year-old twins. It's their birthday today. So, happy birthday, daddy, to you, too.

BERMAN: It's a big day back home. Thanks for that.

SAMBOLIN: A big day in the Berman household. That is it for EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, the pope's final day as head of the Catholic Church. In just about seven hours, the office of the pope will be empty when Benedict XVI is officially in retirement. This morning, he blessed the cardinals who will pick his successor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI, CATHOLIC CHURCH: May he bless all of you in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy spirit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: We're live in Rome this morning with the historic moment and what it means for the church. We'll be talking with Monsignor Rick Hilgartner of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Sister Simone Campbell (ph) is going to join us. She's the executive director of Network. And Father Edward Beck is our guest.

And then, time is running out. Two proposals today meant to avoid drastic spending cuts, but they're both expected to fail. So, can we avoid tomorrow's deadline or is it a lost cause?

BERMAN: And did the White House threatened journalist, Bob Woodward, over his reporting on those spending cuts?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It said very clearly you will regret doing this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The growing controversy on how the Obama administration is responding this morning.

O'BRIEN: It's Thursday, February 28th, and "STARTING POINT" begins right now.