Return to Transcripts main page


Priest Sex Abuse Survivors Demand Accountability; CNN Reality Check: Free Press Is Not The Enemy Of The People; Pastor Reflects On Ailing "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 07:30   ET



[07:33:13] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: More than 1,000 children sexually abused by Catholic priests over the span of decades in the state of Pennsylvania, and details -- disturbing, horrific, difficult to read details outlined in a grand jury report.

The statute of limitations, though, has run out in nearly every case meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed.

So what will the church do to hold these priests and leaders accountable?

Joining us now is Mike McDonnell. He says two priests abused him between the ages of 11 and 12, unable to face that abuse he suffered. And so more than 20 years later when he was able to talk about it, to deal with it -- to begin dealing with it -- yet, he's been unable to file charges against his abusers.

Mike McDonnell joins us now.

Mike, I think just -- you know, your first reaction when we look at not only the details in this report -- and it is detailed and graphic -- but the sheer numbers and the way that, according to this report, this was covered up for so long.

What's your reaction to those findings?

MIKE MCDONNELL, SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY PENNSYLVANIA PRIEST: Well, the reaction is it's a horrendous report. It's something that this survivor, unfortunately, wasn't shocked at because I've lived it.

I've seen reports before in Philadelphia -- the Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- a 2005 and 2011 grand jury report, and the 2016 Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report. So this is all too familiar certainly for me.

HILL: Yes.

The law was changed, as we know, in 2008 which upped the statute of limitations to the age of 50, but at that point you and so many others had already aged out. So you still have no legal recourse here, although there is push in the state of Pennsylvania to change that. We know that in these -- in this grand jury report that's one of the four recommendations that they make is to actually eliminate the statute of limitations.

[07:35:04] Do you believe that this report could really help add some fuel to that push for a change?

MCDONNELL: Oh, absolutely because it's covering areas in Pennsylvania that key senators have been opposing and blocking this type of legislation from moving forward. So the recommendations that the grand jury report is making with the statute of limitations --

For example -- the statute of limitations -- I timed out at age 15. So ask an 11-year-old what a statute of limitation is and asked that same 11-year-old when he or she would like to tell their story about a sexual experience they had with a Catholic priest.

So we're charging Pennsylvania lawmakers to do the -- do the right thing.

There's two -- there's two choices here -- there's two votes. You're either voting yes for predators or you're voting yes for victims and survivors. This is not complex.

HILL: Not complex, too, when it comes to comments and reaction.

And there has been a fair amount said about the lack of comment from the Vatican, officially saying yesterday morning -- just over 24 hours ago -- they would have no comment on this story.

Also interesting that we know the attorney general there -- Shapiro in Pennsylvania -- actually sent a letter to the Pope last month and specifically asked the Pope to call on churches to, in his words, abandon their destructive efforts to silence the survivors. To stick to his plan of holding clergy and bishops accountable.

We haven't heard from the Pope, we haven't heard from the Vatican.

How does that make you feel?

MCDONNELL: Well, I expected that because let's take a look at the statements that the Roman Catholic Church often uses anytime a predator is removed or a priest is removed or a bishop is under scrutiny or certainly, Cardinal Wuerl.

They use the canonical law. They start talking canon law or canonical process.

That's not transparent. We can't see what's actually going on. There's no camera in a hearing room that we could tell something is actually being done.

So I'm not certain all this information is actually hitting Vatican City.

Take a look at the Pope's visit to Chile. So he initially, in a statement, condemned some victims and survivors in Chile. Only a few days later he retracted that statement.

And now, what are we seeing in Chile? Fifty Chilean bishops who offered their resignation.

HILL: This is -- and you point out in bringing up the case of Chile. It's not just Chile, it's not just the United States. Obviously, there have been reports from around the world -- certainly around this country.

But you bring up an interesting point there that maybe this isn't reaching the Vatican.

Do you think there really is sort of a block on these types of stories even to this day in 2018?

MCDONNELL: This is Roman Catholic Church playbook, page 82. This is what they do. They hide -- they are deceitful.

What they do, it's self-seeking. And they're going to spin every story.

So I do believe that if it's being filtered into the Vatican, it's exactly what it is. It's being filtered and watered down.

And they're telling that the Apostolic Nuncio here in the United States is handling everything, that the Cardinals will have it. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops are in control of things. And that's been the problem from day one.

These bishops -- sitting bishops and sitting cardinals were administrators in Diocesan offices at one point in time or another. They saw the paperwork of all the transfers of priests that went across their desks.

This is how they got their reward. This is how they got their promotion.

And in the Catholic Church, a promotion is a crozier and a mitre.

HILL: Mike, you have detailed how much this abuse harmed you and will obviously never leave you. How it affected your marriages, substance abuse issues.

When it comes to your faith, do you go to church? Where do you stand on that?

MCDONNELL: They stole the most sacred thing that I had and that was my Catholic Church.

An 11-year-old kid loved going to church with his parents. I could sing Pange Lingua in Latin and in English. They stole that from me.

[07:40:00] Today, I have faith. I have faith in God. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for God. My spirituality is there.

Religion to me is for those who are scared to death of hell. Spirituality is for people like me who have been there.

HILL: Mike McDonnell, we appreciate you joining us this morning. We know your fight is not over and it's one that you are leading for a number of folks out there as well.

Thank you.

MCDONNELL: Thank you so much.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A really important, very moving discussion.

Hundreds of newspapers across the country unified with one message today. It's to the president. The media saying we are not the enemy of the people.

A CNN "Reality Check" next.


BERMAN: All right.

New this morning, hundreds of newspapers delivering the same message to their readers and also President Trump. That message -- the free press is not the enemy of the American people.

CNN senior political analyst John Avlon joins us now with a "Reality Check" -- John.


This morning, about 350 American newspapers are linking arms and taking a stand, publishing editorials condemning President Trump's attacks on the free press.

Now, one of Donald Trump's predecessors, James Madison -- who might be called the original constitutional conservative -- said this.

[07:45:02] "To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression."

In contrast, here's Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are the fake, fake, disgusting news. They are the worst. Those very dishonest people back there.

Absolute dishonest, absolute scum. It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.

They are the enemy of the people. I would never kill them but I do hate them and some of them are such lying, disgusting people -- it's true.


AVLON: None of this is normal in American politics despite the built- in tension between the president and the press.

And if you think words like that don't matter, take a look at this. Fifty-one percent of Republicans now agree with Trump's unhinged claim that the press is the enemy of the people. Luckily, overwhelming numbers of Independents and Democrats disagree.

Freedom of the press shouldn't be a partisan issue.

But there's a bigger problem. When the American president uses the bully pulpit to preach against the free press it gives an excuse to autocrats around the world.

Exhibit A: Donald Trump's self-serving distortion of the phrase "fake news" has been picked up by dictators who apparently take him seriously as well as literally on this issue.

Vladimir Putin claimed the serious chemical attacks were fake news.

Syria's Assad on reports that he executed 13,000 prisoners -- "We are living in a fake news era."

That, as well as Maduro, denying human rights abuses and economic catastrophe. "This is what we call fake news today, isn't it?"

The Philippines Duterte killing thousands and trampling rights in the name of his drug war. "I'm being demonized by fake news."

In Myanmar, a security official denying the country's ethnically cleansing the Rohingya people. "There is no such thing as Rohingya. It's fake news."

The official newspaper of the Communist Party in China -- quote, "Trump is right. Fake news is the enemy, something China has known for years."

In these and other countries, journalists are jailed or even executed for printing things the leader doesn't like.

But, America's always been different. That's why we've been a beacon of freedom in a stormy world. At our best, leading with the power of our example even more than the example of our power.

That's a tradition worth fighting for. That's why we'll continue to do our jobs as journalists, holding power to account without fear or favor.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: Yes, we will.

John Avlon, I appreciate that. Thanks so much for giving us that "Reality Check" this morning.

AVLON: Thanks, guys.

HILL: So well said.

Just ahead, the music world and beyond saying a little prayer this morning for Aretha Franklin. How is she doing this morning? Her friend and pastor joins us next.


[07:51:47] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



HILL: That is the voice. Around the world, there are millions of little prayers being said for the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, who we know is in hospice care this morning at her home.

Music legend Stevie Wonder, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson among those who visited the ailing 76-year-old in the past days.

Joining me now is Pastor Robert Smith, Jr. of New Bethel Baptist Church. Franklin's father, of course, served as pastor at that church for more than 30 years and that is where Aretha Franklin began her career singing gospel.

Pastor, we appreciate you taking some time for us this morning.

We know that Aretha Franklin has never forgotten her roots. She has never forgotten her church and how important it is. In fact, it is so much of who she is a person, almost as much as that legendary voice that we all know so much.

Give us a sense of what she means to Bethel, but also what it means to her.

ROBERT SMITH, JR., PASTOR AND CEO, NEW BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH, DETROIT, MICHIGAN, FRIEND OF ARETHA FRANKLIN: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I hated that this is the occasion for which we are coming on.

But I'm glad to tell the world that as Aretha Franklin's father would say, Aretha never left the church. She always put God, church, and her father first in her life.

No matter where she was, no matter what state she was on, you were going to know about her church, you were going to know about her father --

HILL: Yes.

SMITH: -- and you were going to know about her God.

HILL: Her voice -- so many people have been putting out -- even just on social media -- that when they heard the news that she was in hospice care it prompted them to listen, once again, to maybe a favorite song, a favorite album. And if you just close your eyes and you listen to that voice it moves you in a way that few others can.

What moves Aretha Franklin? Is it -- is it this faith that above all moves her?

SMITH: I surely believe so. You know, her faith in God, which she had from childhood. Very fortunate to be born in a Christian home with a Christian father -- a preaching father -- and she's been trusting God all of her life.

She's known only God as a source of strength, as a refuge. She's known God as her savior, certainly.

But she had to believe that that voice that she has -- that very special voice -- I call it a gospel voice that comes from the soul, no matter what she's singing. It could be the Star-Spangled Banner but you could just hear church right in it.

HILL: Yes.

SMITH: And we're just thankful that God has given her to us and we're just continuing in prayer that we can have her just a little longer. For Shakespeare would say there's no happy ending of the parting of loved ones.

HILL: She is known to so many, of course, as the queen of soul. But as I understand it, you call her the queen, too.

SMITH: Yes, I really believe that. I tell people all the time when they ask about our relationship -- and I tell them that I call her the queen and I'm in the queen dome and whatever the queen says, that's the truth.

[07:55:11] HILL: I know that you hold -- you hold a service every Wednesday morning -- an early-morning service. Normally, there's 10, maybe 12 people there. Yesterday, more than 100 people came?

SMITH: Well, I'm not a good guesstimator but I would think it was 200 or 300. But you know, as a preacher, you always want the crowd so you overestimate. And I'll tell you what, it was far more than our regular 10 to 12.

HILL: And why so many more people yesterday?

SMITH: Because they wanted to pray for that miracle. Everybody's hoping for the miracle that God would reschedule her date and let her come back and make that round -- that farewell round. You know, like the baseball players and all the people do?

Everybody want her to come to the stage again.

HILL: I know you last spoke with her just a couple of months ago when she talked about performing at the church's annual benefit.

SMITH: She's always benevolent to the church. And the Bethel church started as the Helping Hands Club and that tradition has only grown, grown, and grown.

Her father brought people there from the south and helped them get stabilized, helped them get a job at Ford or Dodge Main.

And today, the church has over 21 feeding stations over the city.

But, Aretha -- when we had concerts in our early days when we first opened and we called them the Bethel Emergency Relief Center. Have everybody bring dry goods or canned goods.

But then as we grew and became the Samaritan Center, she just wrote big checks all the time to the Samaritan Center to make sure people were being fed.

HILL: Yes.

SMITH: But the big thing was for three days every year she would have what was called the C.L. Franklin Revival. And she would have quartets singing, which her father loved. She would have preaching, which her father did.

But she would have eating from 4:00 p.m. until -- sometimes until 1:30-2:00 in the morning.

HILL: Wow.

SMITH: She supplied all of the food. I'm talking about soul food. No hors d'oeuvres or nothing like that. I'm talking about fried chicken, ribs, candied yams, ox tails.

Just something she enjoyed reaching out to other people and seeing other people happy.

HILL: She has given so much to so many, millions of whom have never met her but are so grateful for the gift that she has shared.

Is there a favorite song -- a favorite recording of hers that you like to listen to?

SMITH: Well, you know, everybody loves "Amazing Grace." It's still the number-one-selling gospel album out there after all of these years.

But the truth is, as I've said to her, "Ain't No Way" is the song that really moves and stirs me because I think it comes from the bottom of her soul.

HILL: Pastor, we really appreciate you taking the time to share your memories and your insight this morning. Thanks again, Pastor Robert Smith, Jr. from the Bethel Baptist Church. Thank you.

SMITH: Again, thank you.

HILL: We are following a lot of news on this Thursday morning. Let's get to it.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: This is not going to deter me at all. I'm going to continue to speak out.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Mr. Brennan has leveraged his status to make a series of wild outbursts on the Internet and television.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: This kind of criticism is core protected speech.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUSIANA: Mr. Brennan has been totally political. I think he's given the national intelligence community a bad name.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA AND NSA: The White House just messaged the intelligence community, if you say things that upset the president he will punish you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy devastated me with his actions.

BISHOP DAVID ZUBIK, DIOCESE OF PITTSBURGH: There are simply no words that I can offer to take away the pain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It won't go away. It's going to come in country after country after country.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 16th, 8:00 here in the east.

Alisyn is off; Erica Hill joins me.

And the word of the day -- let's say it together -- hogwash.

Former CIA director John Brennan out just a short time ago with a new op-ed. This comes after the president revoked his security clearance because he was among those who launched the investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election.

This morning, Brennan writes, "President Trump's claims of no collusion are hogwash."

And he goes on to write, "Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him which is why he made the politically-motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.

Now, more than ever, it is critically important, Brennan writes, that the special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference from Mr. Trump or anyone else so that all Americans can get the answers, he says, they so rightly deserve."