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First Pope Vote Expected Today

Aired March 12, 2013 - 11:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: 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? Youngest to oldest, and then the oldest goes first, is that how it works?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's important, too. Basically, they're showing they're not going to disclose any of the things that take place within the Sistine Chapel during the debates and voting. Just to -- just to put the right spring on that, the fact that over the years, basically, it's all leaked out afterwards, anyway. We do find out how they vote. It just takes a while. They won't immediately come out after the pope is elected to immediately say here's the way it went. But we do find out later on.

CUOMO: Do you think that the new rule that came down during Pope Benedict that the penalty is an uncertain, if you leak about the secrecy, there's excommunication. do you think that will tighten it up?

BITTERMANN: No, I think.


-- as reporters, I think there's a need for some cardinals to express themselves afterwards because they either didn't get what they wanted or they did get what they wanted. And they'll want to show themselves to have been on side or whatever. But inside, letting people know that they were inside and how it went. And it will be important, I think, too, for the Catholic Church. Because, you know, you want to know how the different issues were debated and how the different issues were reflected in the votes that were taken. And I think that will be important for parishioners for the average guy on the street to know there's some consideration being taken to some of the problems that the church has. And wait that that consideration was taken seriously within the voting.

CUOMO: We're watching pictures now. We're getting a feed from Vatican TV. We are watching what will lead to this procession. Right now the cardinals are obviously in prayer. This is the first part of the procession into the conclave where, eventually, they will start to walk down the Hall of Blessings.

And interestingly, I'm here with Jim Bittermann. You pointed to something that will be an important distinction. You were at the last conclave. Now, we enter into another today. What do you think the differences are between the two?

BITTERMANN: Well, I think there's quite a few, actually. For one thing, we have a living pope in Pope Benedict XVI. That will have an influence in the way the voting goes. Basically, he's not in the Vatican. He's a long way from the Vatican. Here's the procession beginning.

CUOMO: Right. Let's cut in here for a second just to listen as the cardinals leave the Pauline Chapel, on the way to the Sistine Chapel with the Swiss Guards protecting.


CUOMO: What we're watching now, this is the last step before the conclave begins. This is the procession through the Hall of Blessings. A lot of famous frescoes there from Michelangelo, the crucifixion of St. Peter. And what we're hearing is basically a chant. The cardinals are saying out the name of a particular saint. And then they are all saying in unison "pray for us."

And when they're done, with the chanting, Jim, they go into a hymn for the Holy Spirit, right?

BITTERMANN: Exactly. You know, I think one of the things to me that's interesting about this, as this day has gone on for the mass this morning, the mass to elect the pope this morning, right on through to the procession now. And through when the doors are closed, you see an increasing gravity on the faces of the cardinals. They understand they're about to take steps to finding the next pope. The enormity is coming home to them that perhaps wasn't before this. The one of the things that wasn't, in camera, you saw the cardinals one by one, outside the Basilica where they would pray on their own. It was touching. Clearly, moved by this moment, because it's the most important thing they're going to do.

CUOMO: In terms of saying the gravity of it, solemnity of it, in terms of the last conclave, because you were there covering it, do you denote a distinction?

BITTERMANN: As I said before, we've got a loving pope. Even know Pope Benedict XVI is not in the Vatican, he's certainly in the Vatican in spirit because a lot of these cardinals were named by Pope Benedict XVI so they carry on his ideas. Something else, basically, it's more secular than the previous conclaves. You hear the cardinals say, yes week going to wait for the Holy Spirit to help us decide how to vote. Even before this began, there was a lot of talk about issues, have been voting blocs and who was going vote for whom. Almost in a political way. A much more worldly approach, I think, in this conclave than in previous conclaves.

CUOMO: As we listen again, what you're seeing, watching, you're seeing 115 cardinals going to elect a new pope, going through the Hall of Blessings. The beautiful frescoes done by Michelangelo. They're saying in unison. Take a listen.

(SINGING) CUOMO: All right, now you as we see. The cardinals have all just about entered the Sistine Chapel. This is a rare glimpse at the room where the voting will actually take place. We can't know what goes on. Once the voting begins. But this is where it will happen.

I want to bring in John Allen, our senior Vatican analyst. And we have Father Edward Beck, passionate priest, CNN contributor.

John, give me an idea of what we're seeing in this room. What's on those tables? What's going to go on in here now?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, what each of the cardinals will have on his table is a small book. You'll see the small book with the binding that has the prayers. This is one part political convention and one part going to church. So there will be prayers said for once this procession is finished, there's invocation of the Holy Spirit. The cardinals as a group in unison will say an oath, vowing to protect the secrecy of the conclave. Then each cardinal, one by one, will process up and put his book hand on the book of the Gospels and swear to that secrecy. That is the first order of business when that extra omnes moment comes. When everyone else has to leave the Sistine Chapel and the doors are closed. We say technically, they don't have to take a vote.

CUOMO: They could vote or not vote?

ALLEN: They could. But the universal expectation, Chris, they will decide to take a vote. In the wide open field, I think they're all anxious to see where the leading candidates stand.

CUOMO: Right now, after they finish what they're doing right now, chanting the saints' names and all saying "pray for us" together, they're going to sing a hymn, right, Father Beck. What's the hymn? What's the significance?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, PASSIONATE PRIEST: It's called veni creator, which means come Holy Spirit. The spirit moves among them to elect who god wants them to elect. They're praying that prayer to the Holy Spirit to come and be among them.

CUOMO: As we watch, the cardinals are each going up as they get into the Sistine Chapel. They're each putting their hand up on the altar in respect and deference in obviously to God. But then going and taking places on either side of the room.

Is this order, John, done specifically to their seeding as well?

ALLEN: Yes, this is a very carefully choreographed process.

There are three sort of groups within the College of Cardinals. There are the cardinal bishops and by law, there are only six of them. That would be the highest order of cardinals. They will be seated in terms of order of seniority. Cardinal priests and then cardinal deacons. So seating arrangements are determined by your order.

CUOMO: Do the Swiss Guards stay? Do they kind of keep everybody out and make sure this is a secure process?

ALLEN: The night that Benedict's papacy ended, formally at 8:00, one of the things that happened, the Swiss Guards left. Because of the job of the Swiss Guards is to protect the governing authorities of the Catholic Church, during the interregnum, they hold the authority of the Catholic Church in their hands.

CUOMO: And likely the next pope is in that room?

ALLEN: Their new boss is in that room.

CUOMO: In all likelihood. Doesn't have to be, but most certainly will be.

ALLEN: That's correct.

CUOMO: As they continue with what they're chanting before they begin with the hymn, in the room, I referred to the frescoes done by Michelangelo.

Father Beck, these men know the Sistine Chapel. They know the paintings and artwork that's in there. What do you think adds to the significance of what they said what's around them?

BECK: I heard cardinals previously said, when they go up there, they raise their ballot above their head and say I promise I'm voting for the person most worthy. The Last Judgment scene of Michelangelo is right above them. So they're not telling the truth or they are saying something they shouldn't, they have God's judgment right in front of them.

ALLEN: John Paul II, later on in this life, he was a poet as a young man. He wrote a poem about the conclave. He reflected on that image of the Last Judgment. He asked the cardinals to stand there for a moment and drink it in. Think about the awesomeness of what you're doing. What that fresco ought to remind you what's at stake is not just political process it's your ear certainly salvation.

CUOMO: Will we get to hear the hymn?


CUOMO: So we'll get to hear them. So that will be the last thing that we're exposed before they close the doors?

The last things you'll hear is the fateful Latin words which is "extra omnes" which is everybody get out. And then you'll see the doors shut and that will be it.

CUOMO: And the oath takes place after the doors are shut?

BECK: One more speech in meditation.

ALLEN: That's right, a cardinal from Malta, who was one of the church's great biblical scholars, by law, they have to listen to two meditations one came over from a priest that is the preacher of the papal household. Tonight, they will hear from Cardinal Breck. And then, they'll get down to business.

CUOMO: You know, it's funny, the extra omnes, everybody get out, it's almost fitting that the masters of ceremony, his name is Guido Marini. You almost want someone named Guido Marini who says, "Everybody get out."

ALLEN: The irony, he's not a cardinal himself so he has to get out.

CUOMO: that's right.

ALLEN: He's not a cardinal or pope.


ALLEN: You have to talk about the old Marini and the new Marini.

CUOMO: With the names. So it just adds to my point that is the kind of name.

ALLEN: We should listen to, the last, when he said, said it quietly as if it didn't matter. Some just shout, like "get out!" you have to see how this one says it.

CUOMO: There's still chanting in there. Obviously, there's a reason. They go through the long chanting of the saints. It's adding to the gravity and solemnity of what they're going to undertake. It's sort of a meditative process with the men inside the Sistine Chapel.

Outside the Sistine Chapel we have Miguel Marquez. And the mood inside is masked by a building expectation outside.

Miguel, what are you sensing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly excitement out here, Chris. The sense of history and what is happening. What you're seeing is being broadcast on giant monitors at the Basilica here. And I'm joined by three Americans here, Emma -- Emma, Elizabeth and Andy.

You guys are from Texas.


MARQUEZ: You happen to be here during a very historic time. What are your thoughts as you're watching this?

THOMPSON: I think, you know, we just can't believe that we're here like actually when it started happening. I mean, we've grown up hearing about this because we're all Catholics. So to be here in the Vatican especially at a time like this is awesome.

MARQUEZ: All Catholic, you go to church often?


MARQUEZ: How important is this decision?

THOMPSON: Extremely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely important.

MARQUEZ: Why? Why so important?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been in Catholic school for 14 years now. And we've been through two popes now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so it's just an opportunity of a lifetime and experience, especially after this last papacy.

MARQUEZ: There are the cardinals going into the Sistine Chapel to select the new pope.

What do you hope comes out of the decision?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope it's a pope that can be around for a while and someone who can relate to the Catholics to all over the world. Because there's so many Catholics from so many different countries. And I think it's so cool to be like part of that religion.

MARQUEZ: And being in Rome, lovely Italy, while this is going on, how -- what is your sense of excitement? Obviously, you're excited to come to Italy. But to have this happen while you're here?

THOMPSON: I just keep hoping to see smoke.


I keep looking around, you know. I keep thinking I see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Waiting for the bells.

THOMPSON: Yes, bells go off.

MARQUEZ: It's that big bell right up there. That's the one. That big bell on the left side of the Basilica that will chime in the new pope.

Thank you very much.


Have a great time on the rest of your Italian trip.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: Chris, it's just beginning. Certainly, everybody. I can see hundreds, thousands of umbrellas out there watching the monitors. The smoke watch son, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, thank you, Miguel.

Let's get back to what's going on inside now. John, they're taking off their hats. What's about to happen?

ALLEN: They'll be getting ready. They're basically reaching the end of the litany of saints. They'll be getting ready for the veni creator.


The hats, they're ecclesiastical.

CUOMO: What does that mean?

ALLEN: It's basically an Italian word for skull cap. It's color- coded so the cardinals wear red. Only one guy in the church gets to wear the white one. That's the man who walks out of the Sistine Chapel as pope.

CUOMO: Are they singing now? Let's listen.


CUOMO: As this hymn is being sung, a tight shot on what's in front of the cardinals. Light green -- green is what? Dark green is what?

ALLEN: One copy of the prayers in the meditations that they'll be using throughout the conclave. They'll be doing morning and evening prayer every day as long as this goes on. So they need that. They have a copy of the constitution, the rules of the game for the conclave a 199 document from John Paul II. Edited twice by Benedict XVI once to restore the absolute requirement for two-thirds majority to elect pope and a week and a half ago to allow the cardinals to move the date up to begin the conclave.

CUOMO: So laws of man next to the laws of God.

Father Beck, hearing this song what does it make you think of?

BECK: Of course, the Sistine Chapel is a new place to have the conclave. 20-something popes were elected in the Sistine Chapel. 236 a farmer named Fabbian came after the death of the pope and a bystander and a dove landed on him and they named him pope because they said that must be the Holy Spirit. And that's how Fabbian became pope in 236. You take the Holy Spirit stuff seriously.

CUOMO: Maybe that's why Pope Benedict said, "Let it be a guide as opposed to a complete explanation. Let the Holy Spirit not mess it up, ensure we don't mess up the whole thing."

As the singing ends, this is the last part of the conclave that we are allowed to witness. After this, Guido Marini will speak, and people have to get out, including volunteers who swear an oath of secrecy. Right, John?

ALLEN: That's right. There's about 90 people assistants during the conclave, including the plain clothe guys in the black suits making logistical arrangements. Those people all had to take oath for secrecy. The penalty is excommunication. The only who don't get excommunicated for violating the conclave procedures is the cardinals themselves.

CUOMO: What is being said now?

ALLEN: This is the formal prayer to open the conclave, the Holy Spirit will illuminate the minds, hearts of the cardinals as they go about these fateful decisions. Reading it is the cardinal, a veteran, senior cardinal bishop in the conclave. This would ordinarily be done by the dean, but he's over 80 and not eligible to participate. Cardinal Ray, who led the prayer, will be the cardinal who asks the pope if he accepts the office, that's assuming it's not Cardinal Ray himself.

CUOMO: Right. It's in Latin or Italian?

ALLEN: The prayer in the conclave are all in Latin.


ALLEN: Cardinals taking the oath, which is printed in the books that hear holding in their hands, which is the oath to uphold the absolute secrecy of the conclave. And also to vote for man in conscience and before God.

BECK: But then they take a short individual one?

ALLEN: Each cardinal will profess up, put his hand on the book of the Gospels, promising to uphold the oath they have just sworn.

CUOMO: While they are alone as 115 inside, there are literally over a billion outside watching them and waiting. It is no small burden, not quantitatively or subjectively, is it?

ALLEN: No. I mean first of all talk about the supernatural level. The Catholic belief is the pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, Christ's representative on earth and successor of St. Peter. It doesn't get more awesome than that.

But at the purely human level, the influence of the papacy doesn't stop at borders of the Catholic Church. I've interviewed former Soviets apparatchiks in Europe. Their lives are different because Pope John Paul II. These cardinals have to be profoundly aware of how awesome the choice awaits them.

CUOMO: It's a very interesting point. You can almost see it on their faces. They're serious men to begin with. Certainly, as Jim Bittermann was saying earlier you can see through the course of the mass this morning what had been jocularity had turned to solemnity.

Now, this is the last moments of the prayer of the conclave being spoken in Latin. This is the last thing we'll get to witness.


CUOMO: Again, if you're just joining us, watching the last thing the public is allowed to see before the conclave begins. The men right now are reading a prayer together in Latin, preparing for the conclave and the voting. This is the last part before the doors are shut and Guido Marini will speak. Everybody who doesn't have to be here, leave.


ALLEN: Now, what is happening now, Chris, we should say, is what we should say each cardinal will be processing up to the book of the Gospels, laying his hand as Cardinal Ray and swearing to uphold the oath they have collectively take. All 115 cardinals. Just to underlined the some solemnity of this. They want to indicate before God they are willing to uphold the vow to respect the integrity of the process.

CUOMO: So the oath has been taken in unison now each individual cardinal --

ALLEN: That's right.

CUOMO: -- in reverse order from oldest to youngest will come put their hand on the Bible and again swear secrecy of the conclave?

ALLEN: Right. It's not merely secrecy. This will be a process in which they are voting before God in their own conscience to do what they believe to be the right thing for the church, rather than being subjected to any kind of external influence.

All of this, Chris, obviously, the choreography, setting before Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgment, swearing of oaths, as a group and individually, all is intended to drive home to cardinal electors this isn't just a political game they're about to participate in. But this is a fateful choice that they are making before god.

CUOMO: If you can, either of you, I don't know how good your Latin is, when they have tight shots on the book, if you can see the Latin, wonder what it reads?


CUOMO: Also interesting to see what Gospel. Having read what that is, do we know what Gospel they're swearing oath on?

ALLEN: It's the book of the New Testament. Which page they have it open to, I'm not entirely sure.


ALLEN: What's on the left, Chris, actually is a Latin text of what they're supposed to read. The truth is not all 115 cardinals, A, will have this committed to memory or, B, are fluent in Latin.

CUOMO: These are words they need to say on the left?

ALLEN: On the left, that's correct.

BECK: That's right is the Gospel.

ALLEN: That's right.

You'll notice, of course, putting their hand on the right on the go Gospel.

CUOMO: This is Cardinal Mahoney taking the oath?

ALLEN: That's right. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles.

CUOMO: Controversial figure, obviously. He's been very public since he's been here. He's been very charismatic since he's been here but controversial when he decided to come vote, right, John?

ALLEN: That's right. There were accusations early in cardinal Mahoney's career he was involved in covering up accusations of child sexual abuse, accusations that the cardinal has acknowledged, and he insists later in his career he turned the corner.