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Future of the Catholic Church

Aired April 5, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: On today's CROSSFIRE, the faithful wait in line for hours to say farewell to a beloved pope. John Paul II lies in state. Later this week, hundreds of world leaders head to the Vatican for his funeral.

Millions of Catholics wonder, what is next for the church?

Many American Catholics respected and admired their charismatic leader, but strongly disagreed with him on issues of faith.

What should the next leader of the church do about abortion, birth control, rules keeping clergy from getting married and keeping women out of the priesthood? The future of the Catholic Church -- today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to our show.

With the world's one billion Catholics and doubtless billions of non-Catholics mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, today is not exactly a day for the same old CROSSFIRE. So, we're stepping outside the traditional formula to look at the life and legacy of a pope who himself stepped beyond the traditional bounds of the papacy; 117 Catholic cardinals will meet soon to make a decision that will affect millions of Americans and billions of others all around the world.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: They have to choose among their number someone to replace Pope John Paul II. Today, we will look at some of the issues that the pope will have to deal with.

Now, tens of thousands of the millions -- of the billion Catholics have -- have gathered at the Vatican waiting for hours for the opportunity to say goodbye to Pope John Paul II. The pope's funeral will be Friday.

CNN's Aaron Brown has been covering the events there since last week. He joins us now from Rome.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Bob, thank you.

People are lined up and waiting seven, eight hours, in some cases, on a warm or somewhat warmer April night here in Rome. They enter the square. They march quietly, though we wouldn't say silently. And then they have the briefest of moments where they actually see the pope lying in state. This goes on from early in the morning -- and I mean early in the morning, 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning -- and goes on 22 hours a day, maybe longer. It was longer yesterday.

It will go on until the funeral, with perhaps a break here or there, as some of the world leaders who come to Rome will receive private, smaller-group viewings. As you look at this -- and I assume you are looking at this now -- we don't have a monitor here -- just a couple tidbits of news that came out of here today.

When the new pope is elected -- and I know you'll be talking about that on the program -- there won't be simply the traditional white smoke, as has been the tradition for centuries. But there will also be the ringing of bells to herald the election and selection of a new pope, and, as a Vatican spokesman put it today, so that journalists don't get it wrong. Sometimes, we need all the help we can get.

Bob and Paul, I can almost hear Paul chomping to get in here.


BEGALA: Aaron, yes. When they use that wonderful 1st century technology of ringing bells and burning things...


BEGALA: And we learned -- we will then learn who the new pope is. But, of course, you are there in Rome. And with the Holy Father's long slow decline and very public death, there must have been a good deal of speculation leading up to this. As the cardinals gather, what do you hear on the horse race for the papabile? That is the men who consider themselves or others consider them to be potential popes.

BROWN: Just, it's -- this is really interesting, I think.

Privately, it's clear that the cardinals are talking about this. They are talking about things that are almost -- they are sort of the intersection between, if you will, Vatican bureaucracy and theology, the decentralization of the Vatican, how much power should be retained by the Vatican bureaucracy. They talk about it as we all about, though they talk about it, frankly, somewhat differently, the liberals and the conservatives and the pulling and pushing that goes on there.

But, publicly, they don't want to say anything right now that is distracting from the important rituals at hand. And so, while, privately, clearly, there are these conversations going on and I suspect some names are being thrown about and handicapping in the way that we all cover elections is going on, publicly, what you hear is none of that, is that they just want us to focus on what is going on behind me now and what will take place on Friday morning, a final farewell to what they all acknowledge is the most important pope of their lifetimes.

BEGALA: Aaron Brown, thank you very much for your coverage from the Vatican there. I have no idea when you are sleeping, given the time difference. But I'm awfully glad that you are there. And thank you for sharing your time for us.

BROWN: Thank you.

BEGALA: Well, even, even as the Holy Father lies in state at St. Peter's, the faithful are asking tough questions about the future of the church he led for so long. Should priests be able to marry? Will the next pope revisit the church's traditional teachings on contraception or other issues of family life? Was enough done by the hierarchy to deal with the church's child abuse scandal?

Well, we have put together a panel to look at some of the challenges the church faces today in the CROSSFIRE, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating. Governor Keating was chairman of the national investigative committee on clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. From Georgetown University, Father John Langan, and, from the Catholic University of America, Monsignor Kevin Irwin.

Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us.

Because we have this audience here, we thought we would impose on you to let the audience share some of their views and some questions of you, each expert in your fields.

Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Rachel (ph). And I'm a G.W. student and also a conservative Catholic who agreed with Pope John Paul II's conservative teachings. But I understand that many Americans did not.

And I was wondering, how do you think the world would react if they were to elect a more liberal pope?

BEGALA: Monsignor Irwin, you want to start us off on that?

MSGR. KEVIN IRWIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: A liberal pope. It's hard to say a liberal pope, because any pope coming into office inherits doctrines. And his job is to espouse the doctrine of the church and to popularize it, to communicate it as best he can. So, liberal pope to me is a bit of an odd term.

And there's a range of issues. I like to distinguish between doctrine and discipline. And popes all inherit the same doctrine. Some disciplinary issues could be debated and discussed. There's no question about that. It seems to me, though, interestingly enough, in the church today, we're inheriting right now the greatest group visibly that moved away from the church are the conservative in parts of Europe, who found the Roman Catholic Church too liberal, as a matter of fact.

So, we might come to this with a different agenda, but the Archbishop Lefebvre schism, in fact, was really done by a very reactionary conservative group within what was the one Catholic Church.

BEGALA: Father Langan, what does it mean? When I hear American reporters say liberal and conservative, I think Monsignor Irwin got it right, that it's kind of inapt with the Catholic Church. This is a Holy Father, for example, who spoke out against what he called savage, unbridled capitalism, not exactly what an American would call a conservative statement.


And, in fact, on social issues, he was liberal and to the left. On doctrinal issues, he was faithful to the tradition as he understood it. But I think the point I would like to make is that there's a real lack of intersection between the American and the world views of what the next pope needs to do.

I think the broader world view is that there are three very pressing problems, the secularization of Western Europe, the relationship with Islam, and the need -- and this is building on the critique of capitalism -- the need to find economic structures that will meet the needs of the people of Africa and Latin America, which is where the majority of the world's Catholics now are.

NOVAK: Just to clean this up, Governor Keating, the introduction we had made it appear there was going so be some kind of a great debate in this next papacy over the -- over abortion, over marriage of priests, over female priests. Do you really think that's going to happen?


I think the pope nominated, consecrated, ordained most of these cardinals. And I think that the selections were based on the basis of orthodoxy and consistent adherence to Catholic theology. But the one wonderful thing about America or the world today, most places in the world today -- I come from a largely Protestant family. And we can be Lutherans or Methodists or Episcopalians or Baptists or nothing, but I would hope, as a Catholic, that, whomever is chosen, will once again reaffirm and lead Catholic orthodoxy. Tell us what is right. Tell us what is wrong. Draw the line in the sand and let us -- nudge us toward paradise.

NOVAK: Question from the audience, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Lewis (ph) from California.

The consequences of celibacy seem to be -- have hurt the Catholic Church considerably in California and other places in the United States. Does it still seem like a good idea?

BEGALA: Monsignor Irwin, for those who are not Catholic in our audience, you spoke a moment ago about doctrine and discipline. Now, priestly celibacy is in fact a discipline of the church, which is less stringent, more susceptible to change, I suspect, than a doctrine, correct?

IRWIN: Well, for example, you have -- in this country, you have former pastors of other denominations who have been married who have been ordained Catholic priests.

So, that -- that gives a signal about the fact that others who are married, certain other Eastern Orthodox -- or Eastern church priests can be married as well. So, that is not monolithic. It's not in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the doctrine. That's something that this Holy Father has championed in the normal occurrence of things, the normal course of things. But there's been an allowance for others who are married to function as Catholic priests.


NOVAK: Governor -- I just want to ask the governor one thing.

You did chair the national review committee of the church on the priests' abuse. And some people feel that celibacy was a cause for the homosexual priests' abuse in the church. Do you think that's correct?

KEATING: I don't know why they put Novak and me together. They put us on the right side of the stage. I guess that means the conservatives in the group.

But the -- we were asked as a board, I was asked as chairman, are you going to address the issue of celibacy, women priesthood, and the like? And we said, no, that's not our -- that's not our task. Our task is to ask the bishops to enforce virtue. I mean, if you take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, that means, you don't own anything. You're not supposed to sleep with men or women. And you are supposed to do as you are told.

I mean, those were what those virtues, those were what those oaths are. Could we have a greater selection of priests, let's say, somebody who is retired from the military, retired from teaching, retired from business who married, children are grown, could become priests? Yes, that would be wonderful. And if this new pope would look as those as opportunities to serve the faithful and the priesthood, I would be all in favor of that.

But, again, that's a decision for the new pope and for the new church that he will lead. As far as our board was concerned, what caused the scandal was the lack of virtue, men who raped and sodomized boys and young men under the gaze of the crucifix was, as the pope said, a monstrous sin, inexcusable, unforgivable. And much of it was the result of the lack of oversight from bishops.

BEGALA: In fact, Governor Keating, when we come back, I want to press that point about what it is that you believe the bishops did wrong in that scandal.

But I'm going to have to take a break soon -- actually, right now.

Gentlemen, keep your seats for just a second.

When we return, we will come back to those difficult questions facing the Catholic Church here on this unusual edition of CROSSFIRE.

And then, later, I'll have a chance to share my own personal memories of the two meetings I was able to have with Pope John Paul II.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Our panel returns to look at the major issues facing the next pope and the Catholic Church.

With us, Father John Langan from Georgetown University, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who chaired the national committee investigating clergy sex abuse in the United States, and Monsignor Kevin Irwin from Catholic University of America.

BEGALA: Let's go to another question from our audience.

Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Marie (ph). I'm from West Virginia.

And I was wondering, many of the cardinals right now are quite older. Do you think they should choose a younger pope, so that he has a longer time to effect change?

BEGALA: Monsignor Irwin.

IRWIN: Well, that's the -- that's the great question. Do we get a young pope and he has continuity like this pope has had for 26 years? Do you hope for good health? Do you hope for that kind of continuity? That's certainly in the hopper. The other side of the coin is, is that we've had 26 years of an incredibly dynamo of a pope.

Is it time to kind of move in a different direction? That's on the table. It seems to me, with media and with the enthusiasm of this Holy Father, it's going to be hard to pull back from that, because he's -- this man has been larger than life. And the papacy has been larger than the papacy ever was with him. So, how do you move back from that? And a young man bringing that vitality would be an obvious candidate.

NOVAK: Father Langan.

LANGAN: I think I'm in substantial agreement with Monsignor Irwin on this.

The bully pulpit that the pope occupied is very hard to fill. The job is a man-killing job. And part of what we have to recognize is that this pope took his responsibilities as teacher and a kind of exemplary figure in the world very seriously and was inclined to entrust a lot of power to his immediate subordinates. And that's one of the reasons why there's discussion about the tension between the center and the various local and national churches.

BEGALA: Well, in fact, Governor Keating, let me ask you how that tension played out in the scandal that you investigated.

One of those subordinates that the Holy Father put an enormous amount of trust in was Cardinal Bernard Law. He disgraced himself. He obstructed and covered up the sexual abuse in his diocese, and yet was rewarded by Rome by becoming the cardinal archpriest of the one of the four great basilicas of Christendom, St. Mary Major in Rome. He will be voting to choose the new pope. What does that tell us about the hierarchy's willingness to reform in the face of the scandal you uncovered?

KEATING: Well, remember this. In fairness to the bishops of the United States, as evil and as awful as this scandal was, the bishops of the United States in 2002 in Dallas came together and outlined a three-prong plan of transparency, open up the books and the records of the church, criminal referral, that everyone who is accused of this conduct should be referred to criminal authorities, and zero tolerance, that we're not going to have this anymore in the church.

So, my panel and I were charged with implementing that agenda. And we created an Office of Child and Youth Protection, put an -- I'm an ex-FBI agent -- put a bunch of FBI and law enforcement people in charge. So, give the bishops the credit that they are due.

Cardinal Law is quite another story. Was it that he looked evil in the face and blinked? Yes, he did. And how he could permitted a Father Shanley and a Father Geoghan to do what they did and transfer them from parish to parish is, I think, a real low and sad moment in the history of the Catholic Church in America. To promote him to Rome, to transfer him to Rome, I think was real sad. He should have been in sackcloth and ashes.

NOVAK: We'll try to get one more question.



What are your views of the role of the laity in the future of the Catholic Church?

BEGALA: Monsignor Irwin, you want to speak to the...

IRWIN: In so many ways, any parish priest knows that he's as strong as the volunteer army, which is the laity of the parish. Let's be clear. I mean, most of it gets done by lay folks who are either on staff or volunteering and make this whole thing work. And, so there's an office in the Vatican about laity. But anyone who is in any diocesan office knows that most of the structure in diocese are laypersons. Look at the National Conference of Bishops here in Washington. It's largely laypeople in the staff. That's how it all happens.

So, anyone who thinks that this is a largely clerical operation has to realize that the vitality and the inspiration and the diversity comes in terms of the lay folks, who do, frankly, much of ministry of this church.

NOVAK: Monsignor Irwin, thank you very much.

Father Langan, Governor Keating.

Paul -- next, Paul shares his memories of meeting Pope John Paul II on two occasions.

And unsettling news for the last of the old big three network anchors. Wolf Blitzer has details just ahead.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, a million mourners say goodbye to Pope John Paul II. You're looking at live pictures from the Vatican. And there are new details about the conclave that will elect the next pope.

There was a surprise announcement today about a TV news icon. Peter Jennings has been diagnosed with lung cancer. We'll tell you how he plans to fight it.

And why the price of gasoline is going so high. Who is getting all that extra cash? We'll tell you.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

For many Catholics, a high point in their lives is having the honor of meeting the pope. Paul Begala has had that honor twice.

BEGALA: And it was an honor.

In 1993, President Clinton asked me to join him and many others as he met the pope when the Holy Father came to Denver. After the president and the pope met, they introduced all their long entourages. Each one, the Holy Father greeted. Many of them were different of ethnic origins, as Americans are. And he spoke to them in their parents' language, one after right other, Croatian, Spanish.

When he got to me, the president said, well, this guy, Paul Begala, he is from Texas.

And the Holy Father lit up. He said: Texas? I have been to Texas.

I said: Well, yes, Your Holiness. We recall that very fondly. It was in all the papers.

And then the president said: He does my politics, Your Holiness. And he's a faithful Catholic. He goes to mass every Sunday. Don't you think he should have to go every day, though?

And the pope cracked up and I stood there and blushed. And I didn't know what to say. In 1999, when the Holy Father came back to St. Louis, he was a much different man, much older, much more frail. And yet, he gave one of his most heroic homilies on that trip, his culture of life speech. And it was, again, a rare privilege to have a chance to meet someone like that. But the body was already frail by 1999, but the spirit was as strong as it could be.

NOVAK: Do you think how mean you were to me on the program?


BEGALA: He told me to keep it up, actually.

No, I'm just kidding.


BEGALA: No. No. It was a wonderful privilege, Bob.

And, up next, we'll have a little talk about Bob Novak's own faith journey, how he became a member of the Catholic Church. And you know what? They say there are no miracles these days.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back.

I am what is called a cradle Catholic, which means my parents were Catholic and so were theirs and back and back for centuries. But, for other Catholics, joining the church is more of a journey.

And tomorrow, on CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS," the faith journey of my co-host, Bob Novak, his remarkable journey to the church of John Paul II. That will be on "JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS" Wednesday, 3:30 Eastern, only on CNN.

Bob, I've got to ask you, for most of the Holy Father's pontificate, you were not a Catholic. For the last seven years, you have been. Do you view the pope differently as a non-Catholic and a Catholic?

NOVAK: Almost entirely differently.

I -- in the -- before I was a Catholic, I thought of him as a political figure, a fellow conservative, a fellow anti-communist. But, as a Catholic, he transcends ideology, transcends politics. He's a great spiritual leader, a vicar of Christ. And I looked at him entirely differently.

BEGALA: Absolutely. It's one of the rare things that can unite Novak and Begala, is the greatness of this now lost pope.

So, Bob, thank you, I can't wait to see that full piece on your faith journey on "INSIDE POLITICS" tomorrow.

NOVAK: Thank you very much.

BEGALA: For Bob Novak, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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