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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Millions Around the World Mourn Pope's Death and Celebrate His Life; Catholic Church Reflects on Past and Looks to Future

Aired April 4, 2005 - 15:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: John Paul II makes one last trip to St. Peter's as tens of thousands pay last respects to the pope.

Church and state.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He didn't like war. And I fully understood that.

ANNOUNCER: How much of an influence did the pope have on our politics?

EARL MUNNS, GREAT FALLS, VIRGINIA: And we are looking to the next pope's coronation and what is going to happen in the future.

ANNOUNCER: But just what do American Catholics want to see in their next pope?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: CNN's special coverage of "An Extraordinary Pope, John Paul II," continues with Wolf Blitzer and Judy Woodruff in Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in Vatican city. They got their first glimpse of the body of Pope John Paul II today as a solemn procession filed through St. Peter's Square.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That procession ended several hours ago, and the public viewing period is now under way. For the next 2.5 hours, Judy and I will bring you the latest developments on today's events honoring the life of John Paul II and his plans for his funeral.

The pope's body lies inside St. Peter's Basilica, and viewing is scheduled to continue for 21 hours a day until Friday. Earlier, the general congregation of cardinals scheduled the pope's funeral for Friday at 10:00 a.m. local time. That's 4:00 a.m. Eastern.

WOODRUFF: Several hours ago, the procession of cardinals led the pope's body from the Apostolic Palace through the crowd of mourners in St. Peter's Square and into St. Peter's Basilica. Italian authorities say they expect as many as two million people will file through the Vatican in the days ahead while the pope's body lies in state.

In a show of respect, the huge crowd applauded spontaneously today as the pope's body was carried through the square on its way to St. Peter's Basilica.

Let's begin our coverage of today's events with CNN's Aaron Brown, who is there overlooking the Vatican.

Aaron, it's a crowd the likes of which we have never seen.

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly over the period of the last couple of days has been. Just before you started to introduce me, I looked back, and it's thinned out a bit.

It's, what, 9:30 here in Rome right now. It's a bit cool. The nights here have been quite cool.

And so what was quite large, I think you could probably see -- I can't see the shot you're on, but there are these squares set up where people are held before they move into the long line. They were quite full even 45 minutes, an hour ago, and they've thinned out a bit as the night goes on. And that's to be expected.

I would think tomorrow, what you will see tomorrow in the warmth of an April day here in Rome, that people who have been coming from outside of Rome, from outside of Italy, will start to make their way here, and we'll see this long line that will go on for virtually the entire day, 21 hours a day. And they'll have the briefest of glimpses as these things often are, but they -- they're important moments in someone's life.

You think of how you felt if you've ever been to a viewing of a relative. As a church leader said the other day, "We Catholics," he said, "we are all orphaned." And so this is a good-bye for many of them, it's the acceptance of the death of someone hugely important in their lives. And it's very powerful even if it's very brief.

WOODRUFF: Aaron, it is an outpouring of the Church, it's also very much an international outpouring. The people, we've heard a number of them standing in line coming from a number of other countries.

BROWN: Well, it speaks, I think, to in many ways how the pope reached out over the course of a quarter of a century. Far, far, far more people saw the pope in life in the various places that he traveled than will view him in this limited time frame in his death, even if the two million is accurate. That's a small number compared to the number of people, Catholics and non-Catholics, the pope touched when he was alive in his many travels.

So yes, I would expect -- we saw some folks from India were here. I don't know if they were planning to come here or how that all worked out. But whether people literally come here I think is less important in many respects than how television, which now reaches every corner of the globe, will project these days to Catholics and non-Catholics alike around the world. There's probably not a spot on the planet that will not have coverage of the pope's -- well, there probably literally is a spot on the planet, but not many, that won't have coverage of the pope's funeral come Friday morning here, and won't have people glued to their TV sets to share in the moment, to connect in what is a truly global moment that we've all been participating in for the last several days.

BLITZER: Is there any indication, Aaron, how long people have to wait in line to get a -- catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul II?

BROWN: I think it's going to vary, Wolf, by time of day and stroke of luck. I think if you went down there now, perhaps, you'd wait an hour or two.

At various points tomorrow, you'll probably wait 10 hours or 12. So I think it just depends on how, you know, literally is this -- I guess painfully self-evident as I say it -- but how many people are there when you happen to get there, what time of the day you happen to get there. The line itself will pretty much move at the same pace.

BLITZER: Aaron Brown will be joining us throughout the next 2.5 hours, into the evening. Aaron, we'll be getting back to you -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Wolf, here in Washington today, President Bush had more words of praise for John Paul II. Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is with us now with more on the president's comments and on his plans for attending the pope's funeral.

Dana, we learned more today?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And Judy, it's worth noting that it's our understanding that Mr. Bush will be the first U.S. president ever to attend a papal funeral. And it is a delegation the president will lead, a very small one, just five people.

Now, exactly who will be in the delegation, they are still trying to work out as we speak. But we do know that they going to leave on Wednesday for the Vatican.

Now, today, Mr. Bush had an appearance here at the White House with Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, and it was there Mr. Bush said that the pope showed the world one man can make a difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: He's a courageous person, he's a moral person, he was a godly person. And he's had huge influence, Steve, not only amongst, for example, young people in America, but around the world. One of his great legacies will be the influence he had on the young.

He spoke to the poor. He spoke to morality. And, of course, he was a man of peace. And he didn't like -- he didn't like war. And I fully understood that, and I appreciated the conversations I had with the holy father on the subject.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And there you heard the president talking about the pope not liking war. He was referring, of course, to one of the major differences the two had. And that was over Iraq.

In fact, Pope John Paul II sent a cardinal here to the White House in the run-up to the war to try to talk Mr. Bush out of it. And at their last meeting at the Vatican in June of last year, the pope talked publicly about his concern about the grave unrest there and talked also about the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and his concern about that. That was in their private meeting.

But today, Judy, the president also reflected on their first meeting. That also was in Italy, and it was at the pope's summer palace. There you see a picture of it.

And Mr. Bush talked about looking over the balcony, listening to the pope telling him about his views on the world. And it's worth noting, in that first meeting, that was an interesting time, because the president was trying to figure out his policy on stem cell research.

And at the time, the pope said very publicly that he thought it was Mr. Bush's moral obligation to outright ban stem cell research. Of course, he decided to just limit it. But perhaps that is a good example of the pope's penchant for blunt talk with American presidents.

And as we have heard from some U.S. -- former U.S. ambassadors, particularly Jim Nicholson to the Vatican, the pope made it very clear that he was quite concerned about how American presidents and how Americans in general use their power in the world.

BLITZER: Dana, you said that the president is only going have a five-person delegation that he's bringing to the Vatican. Did the White House announce who exactly will be accompanying the president?

BASH: No. That's exactly the information that we are waiting to find out, Wolf. They are working on that, as I said, as we speak.

But it's interesting to note that it is quite small. It's just five people. We don't know exactly, for example, what other members of the administration.

Perhaps the president's brother, who is Catholic. Perhaps members of Congress. As soon as we get that information, we will definitely let you know.

WOODRUFF: Dana, my impression is that the White House -- that there was never any thought given that this president wouldn't go personally to the funeral. Is that your sense?

BASH: That's exactly right, Judy. From the minute it became clear the pope was gravely ill, and that this was a possibility perhaps quite soon, senior aides were telling us privately they didn't see any scenario where the president would not attend this funeral, that he certainly has a great deal of respect for the pope and that he essentially wanted to be in his presence quite a bit. So they were just really waiting for the public announcement from the Vatican before they made this announcement official here at the White House today -- Judy and Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Dana Bash reporting from the White House.

With us now to give us some perspective is Father David O'Connell. He's the president of Catholic University here in Washington. We'll be turning to him throughout our program to get his perspective on the life and times of John Paul II.

Father O'Connell, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

How big of a deal is this to American Catholics, that the president of the United States, this president, will be the first American president, sitting president, to attend the funeral of a pope?

FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Well, as we know in the election that just passed, the Catholic vote was a very significant factor. I think this is going to be very important to American Catholics.

Really, this is the first time that a sitting president has gone to a papal funeral. And it is also very significant, I think, that this particular president in just his first term met with the holy father and for his point of view, and sought his advice on several different occasions.

WOODRUFF: There was a bit of a discussion during the election last year, Father O'Connell, about how involved the Church was or was not in this election. Is the sense in the Catholic Church now that that's an appropriate -- increasingly appropriate thing for the Church to do, for individual priests who urge a congregation to vote one way or the other, or is that something that the Church may not necessarily continue?

O'CONNELL: I think this past experience created a great deal of controversy in the Church, and much of it not positive. I think the feeling and the reaction was at times that the Church maybe in this particular election exerted a little bit too much influence in inappropriate ways. And I think it's of concern to many people on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the ideologies.

BLITZER: And the opponent of the president in this election was himself a Roman Catholic, John Kerry. I guess that must have been a factor of some sort.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, what made it difficult was not the fact that he was a Roman Catholic, but he was a Roman Catholic whose positions at times were at variance with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

BLITZER: Father O'Connell is going to be with us throughout our program, Judy. So we'll be picking his brain regularly.

WOODRUFF: We're really glad to have you with us. Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Nice to be here.

WOODRUFF: Well, American Catholics are remembering Pope John Paul II, and they're looking to the future.

BLITZER: Just ahead, our Bill Schneider reveals what a new poll shows about U.S. Catholics and what they're looking for in a new pope.

Plus, the presidency and the papacy. We'll take a closer look at the relationships between American presidents and the leader of the world's Roman Catholic Church.

WOODRUFF: Also, we'll visit a museum here in Washington that focuses on Pope John Paul II and his extraordinary life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. Wolf Blitzer and I in Washington.

As American Catholics reflect on the life of Pope John Paul II, they're also look ahead to his successor and what his stance might be on some controversial issues.

BLITZER: A new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll reveals some interesting opinions. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Pope John Paul II's conservative views on social issues have made gains in the United States. Take abortion.

In 1994, one-third of Americans felt abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Only 13 percent thought abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. A majority took the moderate position, legal only in certain circumstances.

And now, more than a decade later, a majority still takes the moderate position. But the number who favor legal abortion under any circumstances has dropped 10 points. And the number who feel abortions should be illegal in all circumstances has increased.

The two views are now just about equal. But the shift against abortion occurred among both Protestants and Catholics, more strongly, in fact, among Protestants, suggesting that growing reservations about abortion had less to do with the pope's influence than with controversies over issues like late-term abortions.

MUNNS: We're looking forward to the next pope's coronation and what is going to happen in the future.

SCHNEIDER: The Catholic Church is not a democracy, of course, as this commentator pointed out on CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The thing we need to get clear is the Catholic Church doesn't change its teaching to meet the science of the times.

SCHNEIDER: Catholics may not have say in Church doctrine, but they effectively vote with their decisions on whether or not to attend Church and respect Church teachings. And there are many church teachings they do not agree with.

Nearly 80 percent of American Catholics believe the next pope should allow Catholics to use birth control. Over 60 percent think he should allow priests to marry. Fifty-nine percent hope the next pope will promote a less strict doctrine against stem cell research.

Most Catholics favor allowing women to become priests. On divorce, however, American Catholics are split.

One issue where Catholics do not want to see a change in Church doctrine is abortion. Fifty-nine percent do not want the Church to change its position on abortion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The Catholic Church is out of step with the views of American Catholics on many issues, but abortion does not appear to be one of them.

WOODRUFF: And Bill, you and I were just saying one of the interesting things you saw in this poll is whether these are Catholics who are devout, who go to church every week or more than once a week, or those who don't, you didn't see that much difference.

SCHNEIDER: It wasn't a big difference on many issues. For instance, on allowing Catholics to use birth control, allowing priests to marry, church-goers, as well as non-church-goers were in agreement that those should be permitted.

On the issue of abortion, of course, church-goers said the Church should not loosen its views on abortion or change. But interestingly, non-church-going Catholics were split on that issue. They weren't of one opinion on it.

BLITZER: But there's great admiration in this poll among American Catholics for this pope.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Two-thirds of American Catholics think that Pope John Paul II ranks as one of the greatest popes in history. And, in fact, that is true among both church-going and non-church- going Catholics. So it's the entire Catholic community that respects the pope.

BLITZER: It's interesting. They may disagree with him on many of these issues, but they still love him.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. And they certainly respect him. BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Bill.

BLITZER: And our coverage continues. Thousands of mourners look on Pope John Paul II as he makes his solemn journey, the procession that took the pontiff to St. Peter's Basilica.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: This was the scene several hours ago where, at the Vatican, the body of Pope John Paul II was carried from the Apostolic Palace, where he had lain in state since yesterday, since Sunday, and was carried slowly through these frescoed halls, letting the public see this man that they clearly had such an enormous affection for. They moved him from the Apostolic Palace into St. Peter's Basilica, where thousands of pilgrims will begin today to pay their respects.

BLITZER: And they already are, Judy. These are live pictures from inside. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, before everything is completed Friday morning, will have had a chance to walk past to say goodbye to Pope John Paul II.

With us once again, Father David O'Connell, the president of Catholic University.

This is -- for Catholics to do this, to walk past the body of Pope John Paul II, this must be a huge moment.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, how often did we see this man so energetic, so full of life, so dynamic, and now to see him still there, it really is a jolt in a way.

WOODRUFF: I was going to say, there's almost something disturbing about -- well, it's always disturbing to look at a body of someone who has passed on. But in this instance it was always going to be this way, there was anything to be a public showing.

O'DONNELL: Yes, that's true. And you almost expect him to sit up and to smile and to wave as he did so often.

BLITZER: Are you surprised by these poll numbers, the CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll number, where there is great affection for this pope but there's clearly some serious disagreements between American Catholics and the Vatican?

O'DONNELL: I'm not really surprised by the polls, you know, especially during this last year with the election and so many events, the war in Iraq, the election and the controversy over the election. A lot of these feelings have surfaced as well.

But, you know, we have a tendency at times to superimpose our American experience on the Church. Opinion polls and Democratic votes are not part of the Church's experience. They're part of our experience as an American.

The Church doesn't rely on polls to define its teaching. It would have been interesting, wouldn't it have been, in Christ's day to have an opinion poll on take up your cross and follow, love your enemies, forgive those 70 times, seven times, and see what reaction Christ would have received.

WOODRUFF: You know, there is discussion about whether under a different pope, a new pope, the Church may come together more. But, you know, then the sense is that's not likely to happen, that that would be an artificial coming together.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, the old traditional way of explaining the role, the purpose of the bishop of Rome, the pope, is that he is to be a sign of unity. And that would be the hope, the hope that this would happen certainly more so than it has been recently. But people are people in our day and age with our own opinions and point of view.

Yesterday, during one of our segments, Mario Cuomo talked a little bit about truths, the truths of Christ and the truths of the Church as though they were two distinct things. He spoke of alterable truth.

There's no such thing. Truth is truth. There's only one truth. There are different ways to explain, there are adaptations and implementation of truth. But there's only one truth.

BLITZER: Father O'Connell is going to be staying with us, Judy, throughout our next couple hours as we continue our special coverage.

WOODRUFF: He is, indeed.

The pope and the White House. We're going to be looking at why is George W. Bush the first American president to attend a papal funeral. We'll explore that in our next half-hour.

BLITZER: And we'll also talk about the pope and our politics. How great an impact did John Paul have on American politics? We'll speak with two U.S. senators, both Catholic, about where they agreed and disagreed with the pope.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Our coverage of the funeral preparations for Pope John Paul II will continue. We will have more live updates from Vatican City, as well as my look at the strong relations through the years between Pope John Paul II and America's presidents.

As the markets, though, right now, get to set to close on Wall Street here in the United States, I'm joined by Christine Romans. She's in New York with the Dobbs report. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Judy. Thank you.

Stocks turned higher after the oil prices fell from their record highs. Today, the final trades are still being counted, but the Dow Jones industrial average right now up 15 points, 10,419. The Nasdaq is half a percent higher.

A record high for oil prices today. Above $58 a barrel, and the market instability has futures contracts due later this year, showing oil prices above the $60 mark. By the end of the day, crude prices had closed slightly lower. The head of OPEC says another increase in oil production may be necessary to cool off these prices.

It's the largest take-over in the oil sector in years. Chevron Texaco has agreed to buy Unocal for more than $16 billion. In a three-way bidding war, Chevron edged out Chinese and Italian competitors in a race for Unocal's vast supply of untapped oil. In particular, Unocal has valuable oil resources in Southeast Asia. That's close to the fast growing economies of China and India. Industry watchers say ChevronTexaco could afford this merger because of its profits from the surge in oil prices.

While Congress is on the verge of tightening personal bankruptcy rules, the Supreme Court is offering filers new protections. The justices unanimously ruled that creditors cannot seize individual retirement accounts, also known as IRAs. The court said IRAs are comparable to 401(k)s, Social Security, pensions, and other benefits that are protected under bankruptcy laws. IRAs are especially popular with self-employed workers in small businesses, which employ a majority of U.S. workers.

Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," join us for our special series, "Broken Borders." This weekend was the start of the Minuteman project. Hundreds of citizen volunteers gathered at the U.S./Mexican border to draw attention to the crisis of illegal migration into this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES GILCHIRST, MINUTEMAN PROJECT FOUNDER: There is a major, major, problem in this country and it will begin with Mexico changing its way. There is something seriously wrong with Mexico when 50 percent of its population want to leave that country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: We'll have live reports from Naco (ph), Arizona, where protesters and supporters came to watch the Minuteman project. Also tonight, Congressman Tom Tancredo is our guest. The chairman of the house immigration reform committee supports this project, run by civilians. We'll ask him why.

And then we take a look at how illegal immigration is affecting U.S. prisons. Taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars every year to keep dangerous criminal aliens off the streets. States say the federal government should foot the bill. Then, the high cost of free trade. Imports from China surged 63 percent last quarter. We'll take a look at how cheap Chinese goods is affecting our economy.

All that and more tonight, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Now back to Judy and Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Christine. It's just after 10:00 p.m. in Rome and the crowds of mourners continuing to file past the body of Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Earlier today, there was a procession, very somber procession, as Pope John Paul II, his body, was moved from the Apostolic Palace through these crowds. They carried by pallbearers, protected by the Swiss Guard of the Vatican, moved into St. Peter's Basilica, where this body will lie in rest until Friday morning.

The funeral scheduled for 10:00 a.m. local time. That would be 4:00 a.m. Friday morning Eastern time. Leaders from around the world, including President Bush, will be coming to Rome to participate in this funeral.

WOODRUFF: You know, Wolf, it's a terrible thing to say, but when I see the pictures of his body being moved through, I can't help myself. I remember the day that he was shot right there in the square and I guess that memory will be forever burned in our minds.

BLITZER: June 1981. Seems like only yesterday, but there he is. What a picture, Judy, as we see the pontiff there lying and thousands, thousands, waiting for many hours. And this will go on through the night. There will only be three hours where Vatican authorities have decided that they will have to, for technical reasons, close down the viewing of pope John Paul II. But people are praying, they're going by, and they're paying their respects.

WOODRUFF: That's right. Among other things, they're saying they need to clean, but I'm sure they just may need to take a brief break in the middle of the night. These are live pictures you are seeing right now. The body of Pope John Paul II lying in state.

For some perspective on the day's events there at Vatican City and the ceremonies that lie ahead, let's bring in CNN Vatican analyst Delia Gallagher. She is in Rome.

Delia, you are watching all this.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Yes, Judy. It's really been an amazing day, and a different sort of atmosphere from what we have seen in the past few days. Right now down in the square they are playing almost loud, almost celebratory, music. There are pictures on the screen of the pope in younger days. The people have been waiting very quietly in line. The lucky ones for eight or nine hours had a chance to get in, and of course, that time is just going to get longer as the line gets longer and people are coming in from all parts of the world to visit the pope -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: Delia, any special provision being made for people who are infirm, who might be in wheelchairs or might have a hard time waiting so long? GALLAGHER: Well, if you can see there, there's a line of people and then there's another sort of alleyway where there is access for people who are handicapped, access for emergency ambulances, et cetera. So, it's actually quite organized according to Italian standards, I have to say.

The crowd is also very calm and not like days I have seen before where they were sort of very sad and tearful. Today is more of an acceptance of what has happened, even though I think many people are still in shock. One of the things -- I was down there earlier, and one of the things people say to me is that, somehow this pope's death also brings to mind, of course, the death of their father, the death of their mother. They tend to relate it to some relative that had Parkinson's or similar diseases, and that brings tears up, even within some of the journalists, the pope's security guards -- I was talking to a few of them -- that -- have this strange sensation of -- once they were protecting the pope while he was alive. And of course, they still have to protect his body now that it's in the Basilica -- Judy?

BLITZER: Delia, I asked this question only in the crazy world we live in this post 9/11-era. I assume security is very tight there, but are the people going through metal detectors before they make it into St. Peter's Basilica?

GALLAGHER: You know, Wolf, one of the things that's amazing about the Vatican is that the security -- and the pope always wanted it this way -- he didn't want to have a sort of fortress-like Vatican. He felt that this was this was a place of prayer and people should be allowed to come. There was metal detectors that normally the pilgrims go through. I don't think they are making them go through that tonight. There are thousands -- hundreds of thousands -- of people and, actually, the line is moving quite briskly, so that suggests they are not having that much time to stop in front of the pope's body, because there's that many people to get through -- Wolf?

WOODRUFF: And, Delia -- it's Judy again -- is it expected that everybody who wants to see this pope lying in state will be able to see him?

GALLAGHER: Well, that's certainly the hope. I think that's part of the reason why the funeral is scheduled for Friday, the last -- it's very late date to have the funeral, but given the amount of interest for this pope, I think that the cardinals decided to put it back to the last possible day so that plenty of people would have that opportunity. And I'm sure the Vatican is going to make every effort to let them have it. Of course, they will probably be here all night and sleeping on the ground in order to get in there. So I think everyone will have a chance to see the pope.

WOODRUFF: All right. Delia Gallagher, our Vatican analyst. She is joining us once again this day from Rome. Delia, thank you very much, and I know we're going to be coming back to you in the hours and the days to come. Thanks very much.

Well, there is much more to come right here. The ties between Pope John Paul II and America's presidents. The connection between the Vatican and the White House hasn't always been strong.

BLITZER: Plus we'll have a closer look at some of the other stories making news today, including a ceremony presenting the nation's highest military award. It was given today for the first time for service in the war in Iraq. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are live pictures from St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican where the body of Pope John Paul II lies in rest as thousands, thousands mourn, walk past, people coming in not only from Rome and Italy, but from around the world, to pay their respects to this extraordinary pontiff. We have much more coverage, extensive coverage, of the events unfolding in the Vatican. We'll get to that.

But, first, let's check some other news that's happening right now.

The first Medal of Honor for service in Iraq was awarded today White House. President Bush presented the nation's highest military award to the son of Army Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith. Sergeant Smith was killed two years ago today in Iraq holding off an Iraqi force attacking his unit.

Heavy weekend rains led to floods in three states forcing thousands of people out of their homes. Water pushing over the banks of the Delaware River caused an estimated $30 million damage in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

And Friday's wedding of Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles is being delayed until Saturday. Prince Charles will attend the pope's funeral on Friday as a representative of his mother, Queen Elizabeth.

WOODRUFF: John Paul II visited the United States six times while he was pope, cementing strong ties between the Vatican and the U.S. government. The late pope was able to develop strong and lasting relationships with several American presidents during his papacy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Laura and I looking forward to leading a delegation to honor, um, the holy father.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): An unprecedented and historic pilgrimage: for the first time ever, an American president will travel to Rome for the funeral of a pope.

BUSH: It is, you know, my great honor, on behalf of our country, to express our gratitude to the almighty for such a man. Of course, we look forward to the majesty of the celebrating such a significant human life.

WOODRUFF: The last papal passing occurred in 1978 with the deaths of Pope Paul VI and John Paul I, less than two months apart. Jimmy Carter was in the White House. He sent his mother to one funeral, his wife to another. Why didn't he go himself? At the time, the United States didn't have formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Still, Carter opened his arms to John Paul II.

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome to our country, our new friend.

RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: In times of great need, God does send someone here to help us in those times, and I think in this holy man, he has once again done that.

WOODRUFF: In 1984, Ronald Reagan re-established diplomatic relations with the Holy See, installing a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Relations had been severed in 1867, in a dispute over the Vatican's handling of religious freedom.

Reagan met with John Paul II four times. So did Bill Clinton. George H.W. Bush traveled to the Vatican twice for audiences with the pontiff. His son sat down with the late pope three times, and presented him with the nation's highest civilian honor.

BUSH: I would be honored if you would accept our Medal of Freedom.

WOODRUFF: Lyndon Johnson was the first president to meet with the pope, sitting down with Paul VI in 1967. Every president since has done the same.

But for most of American history the White House has kept the Vatican at arm's length, John F. Kennedy, the nation's first Catholic president, never met with the head of his church. Indeed, Kennedy took pains to convince a wary public that as president, the Vatican would have little influence over his decisions.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me.

WOODRUFF: Mindful of the anti-Catholic bigotry that helped doom the 1928 campaign of Al Smith, the country's first Catholic presidential candidate, Kennedy made it clear he kept his religion and his politics very separate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (on camera): You know, Wolf, we remember in this country that was founded in a belief of separation of church and state, on top of that you did have very tense relations between the United States and the Catholic Church for many years.

BLITZER: You know, as hard as it is to believe, even at this sensitive moment, the immediate aftermath of the death of this pope, there are, we're getting a lot of complaints -- not a lot of complaints, but we're getting some e-mails and there are blogs out there, why are you paying so much attention to this pope? Isn't there other news you can do? You're giving all this good publicity to the Catholic church? There are still people out there who aren't happy with this extensive coverage.

WOODRUFF: Sure, but there's been an evolution, if you will, on the part of our government. Much has changed politically, geopolitically, since the time.

BLITZER: We'll do more of this when we have a blog segment, later. We'll check in with the bloggers to see what they are reporting right now. Some of it is frankly not very friendly toward the Catholic church. There's a history that a lot of people will remember.

One footnote, Judy, to your piece we just were told, I did not know this. When Pope John Paul -- John XXIII died in 1963, the then vice president Lyndon Johnson went and represented the United States.

WOODRUFF: But, it was still a few years later before he would even meet with the successor, the next pope. All right.

BLITZER: And, coming up, we'll hear from two U.S. senators, both Catholic, about Pope John Paul II's legacy, and his impact on American politics. Pete Domenici, Chris Dodd, they're standing by. We'll talk to them right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: More than 64 million Americans are Catholic. Among them, some prominent members of Congress.

BLITZER: And with us now, two Catholic U.S. senators, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Senators, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Dodd, like so many Democrats and a few Republicans, you disagree with your church when it comes to abortion. Now how do you reconcile that?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, first of all, it's a matter -- the question is, do I represent diverse constituencies? And that's the point we've tried to make. It's not one of necessarily own personal view, but rather, representing a complex constituency with a lot of different views. We don't recommend abortion, but nor do we ban it for those who may choose that choice under limited circumstances, some circumstances.

But I think we made a mistake here, Wolf, to sort of just, in dealing with this very sad time, with the loss of a pope to -- there will be those who try to sort of claim him for their own. Those who may be pacifists, because this pope disagreed with war, in certain cases, social justice or abortion. I think this pope was way above that, in many, many ways. He was above politics. And to sort of assume it was just his political positions, I think is to misread this pope's contribution, really.

BLITZER: Yes, I was going to say Senator Domenici, on the issue of the death penalty, you disagree with the Catholic Church, just as Senator Dodd disagrees with the church on the issue of abortion.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: You know, that's a nice question, but I didn't really come on here to talk about that. Frankly, this pope, as I view it, is a great, great pillar of humanity. And he stands for some eternal truths and it's hard for a human beings to believe every single one of those things that he talks about, but he will go down in history without question, as one of the great ones. Not only because he thought there were certain truths that were just right, they didn't go left or right, that they were what they were, and, also, because he liked freedom and he was in love with the culture of life. And when you look at that, you've just got this extraordinary human being.

WOODRUFF: Senator Dodd, it's Judy Woodruff. Is it harder or is it easier today to be a practicing Catholic and so engaged in public life?

DODD: Well, there are moments of tension, no question about it. And we're going through a difficult period. There are a lot of issues that are very much a part of the public debate. But I think if you are -- if you are a Catholic and a deep one, you don't get caught up in necessarily the contemporary issues of the day. Your faith should be deeper than that, more profound than that. There are going to be times when you're going to hold positions that may be in disagreement with the formal position of the church on certain matters.

But my faith is deeper than any particular member of the clergy or any particular moment in time, in that sense. And I try to remember that in going through this and this difficult period, on a couple of the issues you've raised here already in this discussion. And this pope is a great symbol of that. I mean, this is a pope that reached out about forgiveness.

I'll never forget the scene of the pope, Pope John Paul II, going to that prison to meet the person who tried to take his life. And we need to be reminded of that more and more. He was very ecumenical. This was the first pope ever to go into a synagogue, ever to go into a mosque, as he reached out to leaders all across the world, that brought Gorbachev into the Vatican. Met with Fidel Castro, met with Ronald Reagan and President Bush.

It's that kind of leadership that I think we need to be mindful of today, as we talk about the future of the church and the future of our own country.

WOODRUFF: Senator Domenici, did this pope change America, or was he in any way changed by America, do you think?

DOMENICI: Well, first, let me say when we talk about the big things, I'd like to talk about little things. One of the great pleasures of my life was to meet him in '79, when he was here, but not by myself. I have a sister who has been a nun now 54 years and I got to bring her with me and give her one of the two tickets that I had.

And one of the great pictures is my sister and I'm shaking hands and she's there looking at him and talking to her afterwards in the last few days as to what meant to her and her dedication and her life commitment. There are some who think maybe women -- religious women are not enamored with this pope. I heard somebody say that perhaps the women who are nuns were very unhappy with him. And I thought maybe you should call my sister. She's not only not unhappy, she's thrilled with him.

But anyway, I'm not sure -- we won't -- America didn't change him, that's for sure. He came here because he thought we were a powerful sort of country. But he gave us a lot of lecturing about the shortcomings of capitalism, not in terms of producing goods and wealth, but its negative impact on us. So in that regard, he might have had a little bit of impact on America. Let's hope he had.

BLITZER: Quick question to both of you before we wrap it up. Senator Domenici, first to you. The president is taking a very small delegation with him for the funeral Friday morning. I assume so many members of the house and Senate would have wanted to go. As far as you know, was there any discussion of expanding this delegation so people like yourself could go?

DOMENICI: To my knowledge, there is not. I talked with our leader Bill Frist and told him that, of course, if there was a delegation, I would like to go. I haven't heard anything one way or another.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Dodd?

DOMENICI: I've expressed a similar interest and I've heard nothing more. I just want to underscore what Peter was talking about, the personal level. I had a wonderful private meeting with the pope in 1983, after I met with Lech Walesa. Saw him in 2003. Gordon Smith and another delegation. He gave a rosary to my newborn child. Little Grace has a rosary that the pope gave to me to give to her. And it was in 1979 in Boston Commons, when he first came to America. I went to Boston to be a part of that large crowd and those moments you never forget. This was a remarkable individual. And being in his presence was a very special time.

WOODRUFF: Senator Christopher Dodd, Senator Pete Domenici, we thank you both, gentlemen. And we especially thank you for your personal remembrances of this pope. We appreciate it.

The pope, the president and the so-called culture of life. Up next, much more on how the church and its views on social issues came to influence American politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer with Judy Woodruff here in Washington. It's been an extraordinary day at the Vatican, as the crowds of mourners continue to file past the body of Pope John Paul II.

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