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The Cardinals Prepare for Procession; Gilberto Valle, Guilty; Obama to Meet with Democratic Leaders

Aired March 12, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": A few final prayers, and then it is off to Sistine Chapel for the 115 princes of the church, one of whom will emerge from the conclave as the brand-new pope.

And if they are keeping to their schedule and they very much are most likely keeping to their schedule, the cardinal-electors of the Roman Catholic Church are in the Pauline Chapel right now, preparing for a very short walk to the Sistine Chapel in what could be the biggest decision of their lives.

They and a few thousand fellow clergy and well-wishers began this day with this, a mass in St. Peter's Basilica, and though it was designated, quote, "mass of the election of a Roman pontiff," they did not forget the pope who just stepped down.


CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO, DEAN OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS (via translator): Such an interior attitude is ours today as we wish to offer ourselves with Christ to the father who is in heaven to thank him for the loving assistance that he always reserves for the holy church and, in particular, for the brilliant pontificate that he granted to us through the life and the work of the 265th successor of Peter, the beloved and venerable Pontiff Benedict the XVI to whom we renew in this moment all of our gratitude.


BANFIELD: The very next big event comes 30 minutes from now, give or take. The cardinals will line up from least senior to most senior, and then they will all process into the Sistine Chapel to take their vows of secrecy and fidelity.

And, at that point, everyone else is kicked out, the doors are officially locked and the conclave begins.

My colleague Chris Cuomo is as close to that process as anyone can get. He joins me now live.

Chris, it's unlikely, but technically, we could have a pope by today. So officially, when does "chimney-watch" begin?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It begins as soon as the door closes and the votes begin, no question about that. There is a very heavy expectation that tonight's vote is more of just a familiarity, an introduction to it, and it will become much more in earnest tomorrow when they'll start doing two votes in the morning session, two votes in the afternoon session.

And that basically gives you two opportunities for certain "chimney- smoke-smoke-watch" because they burn ballots after every second vote, so there are two times a day, assuming they don't elect a pope, that we'll be looking for smoke. And, obviously, the anticipation is when that white smoke, "fumata bianca," comes.

It's interesting, the Italian newspapers today, they said it in one line, (INAUDIBLE), "it is time to choose," and that is what the conclave is all about. And we'll be waiting for the live pictures to start of, as the cardinals go from the Pauline Chapel -- and obviously, the two patron saints of Rome, St. Peter and St. Paul, so they start in the Pauline Chapel.

They go down the Hall of Blessings into that Sistine Chapel, and that's where the work of this conclave will begin.

And this has been a very energetic follow-up to this. What we saw was in these 10 general congregations, and what we heard from the cardinals, was that the foreign cardinals, those who don't work in the Curia, they're not part of the Vatican, specifically, wanted time to talk, big issues on the table, fiduciary responsibility, money issues, how we deal with the sex abuse scandal as a church, big ones.

They wanted to hold off on setting a date for the conclave till they were ready and now we are told the cardinals are ready, so the voting will begin.

The difficult question, of course, is how do you pick a pope when you're really sworn to not be ambitious, when you're not supposed to seek to be the leader? How do you do that?

Let's go to Miguel Marquez. He's been monitoring this. He's been dealing with the "temporale" (ph), as they say in Italian, these cells of storm that have been coming. He's done beautiful work this morning dealing with the weather and now how to pick a pope.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's one more thing on the plate today, rain, hail, sleet. We're getting through all of it today, it seems.

Look, this is the biggest decision that any of these cardinals will probably make. Everybody that we talked to across the board say the Catholic Church is in crisis. It needs a strong leader to reunify the church. The next pope, it is expected, will be the most vetted ever.


MARQUEZ: In the politics of becoming pope, there's never been a race quite like this -- the church's problems, enormous; the need for a powerful, unifying pope, never greater.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN IRWIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: We have to finish this. We have to get on with this.

If we don't do this, it's over. Blow the candles out.

MARQUEZ: The new pope will have to reinvigorate the church and bring its enormous bureaucracy, the Curia, into the modern world.

So, we're talking the nuts and bolts? We're talking the finances? We're talking being a good CEO? We're talking ...

IRWIN: The church does not run just on "hail Marys." We've got to make it work in terms of personnel and money and being effective.

And I think the question is how effective is the Curia in an Internet, 24/7 world.

MARQUEZ: From the time a cardinal becomes a cardinal, the race for pope is on. They are judged on their intellectual, religious and spiritual heft, even their ability to communicate in Italian.

Politicking done, support secured in formal settings and often in out of the way and unlikely venues.

This is Venerina Restaurant. It's just around the corner from the Vatican. Cardinals come here in the ones and twos. They have lunch, dinner, sometimes a little wine. It's in places like this that a lot of the heavy lifting is done.

Venerina Labbate has served meals to connected and powerful Vatican insiders for 21 years.

Dozens of cardinals have been here the last couple of weeks, she says. When you're at the table, you decide things.

Deciding, important for many reasons, as one cardinal jokingly told her during his last meal here, when the conclave is under way, he eats bread and water until a new pope is named.


CUOMO: So, Miguel, let me ask you, when we think about the conclave, we say, well, it's secretive. They're not allowed to talk. But as you pointed out in your piece, during meal time, talking about some serious power lunches, is that how it works?

MARQUEZ: Well, this is exactly it. There's the voting which takes place which is very formulaic and very strict.

But during meal times and it does sound a bit like they're on lockdown there -- this woman at Venerina Labbate actually joked with one of them and said that he felt like he was in prison while he was in the conclave.

But during those meal times, that's when a lot of those alliances will be formed, that's when they'll decide which way the vote will go, and that will then inform the next round of voting.


CUOMO: Sorry, Miguel. Thank you very much. I'll be back to you in a little bit.

Let me bring in Father Edward Beck now, Catholic priest, CNN contributor.

It's very interesting. Back in the day, the conclave locked because there was a little bit of suffering involved to speed these guys up, right? Bread and water.

You told me they put them in a building and tore the roof off because they were pushing them.

REVEREND EDWARD BECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In Viterbo, south of Rome, the conclave actually lasted three years, and they were being influenced by outside sources, (INAUDIBLE) papal states or political influences, and they couldn't decide because they were getting paid off, some of them, et cetera.

And, so, the townsfolk actually locked them into the palace in Viterbo, and when they still couldn't decide, they took the roof off, so they would be exposed to the elements. By the way three cardinals died of exposure during that conclave because of that.

And, finally, when that conclave was over in 1271, the pope that was elected, Gregory the X called a council and said from now on you will be locked in for conclave, you will get one meal a day and, if you still can't decide on one meal a day, we'll reduce it to bread and water.

CUOMO: So, it's always been about "get this done." There's an urgency. And while it has changed over the years, you're saying not too long they still had to sleep in the Pauline Chapel on cots and share a bathroom, right?

BECK: Well, in the chapel, but in the Apostolic Palace where the Pauline Chapel is, they used to sleep on cots. They used to use common bathrooms. The old cardinals would have to wait on line in the middle of the night. They didn't like it at all.

But, you know, we should remember something. This Pauline Chapel that we're going to see where the procession is going to lead from, Michelangelo was commissioned to do the frescoes in this chapel, too, and, if we get to see them, there's one of the conversion of St. Paul and the other is the crucifixion of St. Peter.

Now, if you look behind us, you're looking at St. Peter's Dome. St. Peter was crucified upside down just to the left of where we're looking. So, the first pope was crucified here.

We will see the fresco in this chapel of that crucifixion. They will walk from that chapel, singing "veni Creator Spiritus," "come Holy Spirit." That's what they will pray for the procession that will lead them to the Sistine Chapel.

CUOMO: So, obviously, they're looking for inspiration. They're remembering how important it is, who was the first pope, and now, what we wait to see, Ashleigh, is who will be the 266th pope of the Catholic Church.

BANFIELD: Really like that process, Chris, locking them in until they make that decision. I think the members of Congress could learn from that sort of thing.

Chris Cuomo, thank you. I know that you're going to stick with us throughout the hour. We do have some other top stories, so take a break for a moment, Chris, if you will.

I want to get us caught up on top stories. Here they are.

Five American service members died in Afghanistan when their helicopter crashed during a rainstorm. It happened in southern Kandahar province. U.S. officials say there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.

A proposed law to require gun ownership has misfired in the tiny town of Byron, Maine. Even the person who proposed the measure voted against that measure.

She said she wants to rewrite the proposed ordinance and then reintroduce that measure, so stay tuned.

Dennis Rodman has an apparent infatuation with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and it's getting stranger. CNN affiliate KXJB is reporting that he plans to return to North Korea, this time for a vacation with President Kim in August.

Dennis Rodman became the first American to meet with that president during a visit there last month.

James Holmes, the accused gunman in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting must enter a plea in that case today, and it's a plea that could have an impact on prosecutors, whether they choose the death penalty or not.

We are also just minutes away from the start of the conclave, as Catholic cardinals prepare to select a new pope.


BANFIELD: It is a damp day at the Vatican, where the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church are just minutes away now from beginning the papal conclave.

We're going to bring you their official procession into the Sistine Chapel. It's coming up live at the bottom of the hour.

In the meantime, the man charged in the massacre of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater is in court this hour. James Holmes is also charged with wounding 58 other people. It all happened in Aurora last July. His attorneys have suggested, in some of the court documents that they've been filing that they may be entering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Jim Spellman has been in the courtroom.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, nearly eight months after the tragic Aurora theater shooting, James Holmes is expected to plea to 166 counts, murder, attempted murder and a few other charges. He's expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

If he does that, the judge will immediately order him to be examined by state medical examiners to judge his psychiatric state.

They can also do what's called a narco-analytic examination, essentially give him "truth serum," in a barbiturate that will put him into a near sleep-like-state where he then can be questioned. They could also do a polygraph if they like. We do expect to see James Holmes on video today from court. It's the first time we will see him since last summer. His orange hair long gone. He shaved that. Has brown hair now. But that dazed look has remained in all the hearings over the last eight months. Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Jim Spellman, thanks very much for that.

In about an hour, President Obama has plans to head to a rainy Capitol Hill. And he's hoping to jump-start some budget talks and have some face-to-face meetings as well.

In the meantime, we're also keeping our eyes on another rainy place. It's St. Peter's Square. Where any minute now, the cardinals of the Catholic church will begin their meeting in the Sistine Chapel to elect a brand-new pope.


BANFIELD: The conclave to choose a new pope starts just moments from now. Only God knows when it will end. Stay with CNN for live coverage of the cardinals procession to the famed Sistine Chapel. That's where they make the decision. It all starts at the bottom of the hour.

And we now have a verdict in a case we've been covering, the so-called cannibal cop trial in New York City. A police officer named Gilberto Valle, was accused of planning to kidnap, kill, and cannibalize women including his own wife. CNN's legal analysts Sunny Hostin has been following the case. She's live at the courthouse. So I know there are numbers - a different number of charges. What have they go so far? Give me the verdict that you know so far?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, we have the verdict. He has been found guilty of both counts, Ashleigh. I've got to say, shock in the courtroom. Guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, of women, also of guilty of wrongfully accessing a federal database. I can tell you that the entire defense team was clearly shocked. They all slumped forward at the same time. The defendant completely grief- stricken, his mother in the courtroom, kept on shaking her head no. His father almost folded on to himself in a state of disbelief. The courtroom was absolutely packed. But I will say that most courtroom observers that have been following this case day in and day out with me were very, very surprised at this verdict.

BANFIELD: So, Sunny, when you break those charges down, the conspiracy itself was about rape and kidnap and murder. And so, a guilt verdict, with all of that, notwithstanding the accessing of the police database, that guilty verdict, this is a potential life sentence, isn't it?

HOSTIN: That's right. He is facing life in prison on the first count on that conspiracy count. The second count exposes him up to five years in prison. Now, this is a former New York City police officer with no criminal history. And, so, in federal court, I suspect that he won't get life in prison. But you just don't know. These are very serious charges. And he was convicted on not one but both counts, just this morning.

BANFIELD: And we all know those federal sentences are pretty true to the number, too. You don't get a whole bunch of time off for good behavior. And there are coconspirators as well that have yet to be tried. Sunny Hostin, thank you for that. That breaking news, Gilberto Valle found guilty of that cannibal cop, those charges that were so remarkable in that New York courtroom. Sentencing obviously to come in the future.

I want to take you to Washington now, and the president's road trip just down the road, actually, just the down-the-road kind of trip to Capitol Hill. This may not be a big journey but it's a big political journey. On the agenda nothing less than the budget, gun control, and immigration. CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joining me now. Who is on the list for meetings today and how much do we expect is going to get covered because that's a huge agenda?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, it's huge. On the list today, a group of people with whom he's most familiar with because he used to be a part of it, Senate Democrats, he's going to attend their lunch today. Ashleigh, a lot of the focus has been the fact that he's coming to Capitol Hill tomorrow and the next day to meet with Republicans but he's got mending of fences to do within his own party. Primarily because it's not just Republicans who feel that he has not reached out, it's people in his own party, again, even former members of his own Senate Democratic caucus who think he would benefit more from having more of a dialogue with his own Democrats. His agenda would do better here so that, I'm guessing, I'm not sure if it will be out in the open that discussion. But it will be a subtext in the discussion he will have with Senate Democrats at the lunch today.

BANFIELD: I mentioned budget, gun control and immigration. I just want to focus on the budget for a moment. You know when your e-mail piles in so fast that you can't read some of the oldest before the newest. That happened with Paul Ryan's budget. I noticed the reaction to Paul Ryan's budget plan before I even noticed that he had come out with the budget plan. What are the high-lights and low- lights?

BASH: Right, he just within the last half hour was standing up here within members of the committee, the Republicans, introducing his budget. The idea is he says he's going to balance the budget within ten years. What is controversial is the fact -- how he does it.

Several reasons. Number one is, he uses about $600 billion in tax increases, Ashleigh, that he and his fellow Republicans mostly oppose. But they had to agree to deal with the fiscal cliff at the end of the year. He incorporates that into the balancing the budget. I asked him he thought that was disingenuous, he argued no, because it's the law of the land.

The other quick thing, it's very controversial, is that he has a basis in here, that Obamacare, the president's health care law will be repealed. And he uses money from that to balance the budget. Well, the president is going to be president for the next four years. And there's virtually no way that Obamacare is going to be repealed in the next four years. So that also something that is questionable.

But, look, these budgets, rather, are political documents. They state their priorities. And he even said, look, am I supposed to give up on my priorities and give up on our principles just because perhaps the last election didn't go our way. We're going to see something similar from Senate Democrats later this week when they unveil their budget which will be the first time they do that in four years.

BANFIELD: Hey, Dana, I don't know if you heard our friend Chris Cuomo reporting they used to pick a pope by locking him in the Sistine Chapel with bread and water. This would be a great idea, I mentioned, for Congress to come up with a budget, what do you think, I'm crazy?

BASH: No (INAUDIBLE) Something along those lines.

BANFIELD: Dana Bash, thank you for that.

Also on the president's agenda today is a meeting with the new defense secretary Chuck Hagel who is just back from a visit to Afghanistan. And A lot went on. There's a lot of talk about that, we'll get to that.

But also, speaking of talk, I want to let you know that on Monday, there he is our new buddy Jake Tapper, weekday afternoons, he's got a brand new program beginning, 4:00 eastern. Highly recommend you take a look.

Okay, lots to talk about in Rome as well. We're going to take you back there live for one more visit because it's just -- no, we're just down to almost the five-minute countdown for that conclave to begin.


CUOMO: Welcome back, everyone, I'm Chris Cuomo. I want to welcome our viewers in America and all around the world. We are in Rome. Over my shoulder, the famous St. Peter's Square inside, we are waiting for the 115 cardinals who will pick the 266th pope to begin their procession from the Pauline Chapel into the Sistine Chapel. Of course, that's where the conclave will take place. Very expectant here. Waiting for the live pictures to comer, we'll take you through it. A lot of detail in this procession and everything that goes along with the rituals of conclave. And luckily for me, I'm joined by CNN's Jim Bittermann. Very few people understand it as well as you do. When they make this procession, there's a lot of detail. It's done in a very certain way. What do we know?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fact that the procession is organized along some very strict line. Basically, the youngest cardinal goes first, and the oldest cardinal goes last and in this case that'll be, the youngest James Harvey, an American, 63, and the oldest is Giovanni Battista Re, 79. Basically, it's a formal way of sending the message out, that they are going into something. Progressing towards something, a very serious duty. That's why the procession is so organized. It'll be almost regal I think in nature as they walk very slowly between the two chapels.

CUOMO: They go down the hall of blessings. They're chanting certain things and they sing. Interestingly, when they get in the Sistine Chapel, and they have to take the oath, they flip the order, right? They go in youngest to oldest, but they take the oath in terms of precedence so the oldest goes first, is that how it works?

BITTERMAN: Yep. And the oath is important too.