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CNN CAPITAL GANG

The death of Pope John Paul II: Legacy, Possible Successors, American Political Implications

Aired April 9, 2005 - 19:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
AL HUNT, HOST: Welcome to a special CAPITAL GANG, a tribute to Pope John Paul II. I'm Al Hunt, with Kate O'Beirne, Robert Novak and E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post." Our guest is former House Democratic whip David Bonior of Michigan, currently chairman of American Rights at Work and professor at Wayne State University and one-time seminarian.

David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID BONIOR, FORMER HOUSE DEMOCRATIC WHIP: Nice to be with you, Al.

HUNT: It's good to have you.

The world celebrated the 26-year papacy of John Paul II.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's had a huge influence, Steve, not only amongst, for example, young people in America but around the world. One of his great legacies 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.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Pope John Paul II was a man of peace, a friend of the Jewish nation. He recognized the uniqueness of the Jewish nation and worked for a historic reconciliation between the nations and for the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Vatican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: The pope was praised, among others, but fundamental Protestants and liberal Catholics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, PRES., SAMARITAN'S PURSE: We want to honor this pope in this country. I think that one of the great things we could do would be to pass a law in his name and in his honor to protect life because he was such a champion of life during his lifetime. FATHER ROBERT DRINAN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: He condemned the Crusades. He apologized for the Inquisition. He lamented the persecution of the Jews. He changed the position of the Catholic church on the death penalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Kate, what's the major legacy of this pope?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, one fundamental one was in the lead of a lot of stories this week. He left no material possessions, and yet he's mourned by millions around the world. There's a lot of competition for a major legacy -- his indispensable role in seeing the end of the Soviet empire, the Christian -- Christian reconciliation and getting together, Christian unity, obviously, Jewish-Christian relations and reconciliation, the Catechism -- he left the gift of the Catechism to the church.

But I have to agree with George Bush -- young people. He called them the hope of the church and of the world. He loved them. They loved him. We saw them in huge numbers this week, both young clergy and young Catholics.

HUNT: E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think there is a twin legacy, and it's totally consistent in his eyes but not the world's eyes. I think in many ways, he reaffirmed what you would call the liberal legacy of the church from Vatican 2. He firmly supported human rights, democracy, religious pluralism and toleration, the first pope to visit a synagogue. And this kept the church on a particular line.

At the same time, doctrinally inside the church, he was decidedly a conservative. The bishops he appointed, the cardinals he appointed were conservative. He cracked down on dissent in the church.

Now, from his point of view, this was part of a kind of consistent anti-materialist ethic, but I think from the view of the world outside, we're going to struggle with these two legacies. From the point of view of the outside world, I think the liberal part is going to be very important.

HUNT: Bob.

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: I think the pope presided over a period of rebuilding and strength in the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church repeatedly renews itself because it's got some help upstairs, even in some mediocre popes. So I think the history books are going to look at the pope's role in defeating communism in the eastern revolution -- Eastern European revolution, where so many millions of people came out of tyranny into freedom and democracy. And I think the pope played an indispensable role in that.

HUNT: Yes, I agree. David, his legacy? BONIOR: He did do that, Bob, but he did it through an interesting means that's not often talked about, and that is through the labor union. He was helpful in developing Solidarity in Poland. He stood by Lech Walesa. He equated workers' rights with human rights. And in his encyclical on this, on human -- on human work, he talked eloquently about the rights of workers in the world today and fought for workers. He self-proclaimed himself the voice of the voiceless, which is a revolutionary thought, when you think about -- about it. And he was very instrumental in -- in the rights of decent wages and health care and all of these issues that workers are struggling with, particularly in the developing world.

The other legacy, I would say, is his failure to lift women up in the church. I think that is an issue that will be left, obviously, for future popes and the church. But I think it's an important one and one in which we will see what happens.

O'BEIRNE: He canonized, of course, a record number of saints, I think as a reminder to all of us that saints walk among us, including women. You can't lift a woman much higher than having her canonized. And of course, even Mother Teresa's canonization is now pending. And of course, his view of workers' rights and the inherent dignity of the individual, human dignity, is what makes his views completely consistent, his completely consistent ethic of the culture of life, of human dignity and freedom.

HUNT: From abortion to the death penalty.

O'BEIRNE: Right.

HUNT: Right. E.J., you wrote this week that the pope -- you quoted him when he was in Ecuador about 15 or 20 years ago, in which he said that none can feel tranquil where there, quote, "the child without school, family without a home, a worker without a job, an elderly person without adequate attention."

There was, as you said earlier, this incredible, you know, humanistic liberal side to him, as well as the doctrinal conservative side.

DIONNE: Well, in fact...

HUNT: Talk about that side. And you spent some time traveling with this pope.

DIONNE: Right. I mean, that quote is almost identical to Eugene's Debs's old quote, the great American socialist who talked -- you know, "If a man is in prison, I am there." It was inherent in his view of the dignity of every human person. And that's a very radically egalitarian view. As David pointed out, the priority of labor over capital -- those were words he used over and over again -- he wasn't against the market. In fact, if you read his teachings, he really set up a debate, I think, among people who call themselves Christian. If you are for the market, you've got to be for a serious safety net for the poor. And if you are for strong government action, you have to be for a government that's limited, in the sense of respecting the rights of individuals. That's a good debate for people to have.

NOVAK: Let me rain on this parade...

HUNT: Go ahead.

NOVAK: ... this happy parade...

HUNT: Go ahead...

DIONNE: You mean he was against the capital gains tax cut?

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: No, no. I think -- I think in his heart, he was for it.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: But -- but the -- there's no question that -- I have some kind of similarity -- see similarities in the death of Ronald Reagan, where people who couldn't stand him in life praised him in death. And there's a little bit of this going on, too, because I -- I have Catholic friends who really were very nasty about this pope. David was very polite, what he just said about women, but they are vicious in saying how he dissed women. And there was -- there was a lot of people who don't like what the Catholic Church is, who took it out on -- who are Catholics, who took it out on the pope.

So, you know, never speak ill of the dead. That's fine. But this is -- this is the truth.

O'BEIRNE: One similarity I see with Reagan, too, is an awful lot of people dismissed Reagan as, Oh, he was so genial, he was so likable, had such a great personality. Nobody ever actually agreed with anything the man said. And I see some of that with the pope, too.

HUNT: Oh, but Kate, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: He was so winning...

HUNT: Nobody thought this guy was anything but...

O'BEIRNE: So genial...

HUNT: ... an intellectual heavyweight...

O'BEIRNE: ... so winning...

HUNT: ... from the very beginning.

O'BEIRNE: ... but then they want to dismiss -- they want to -- they want to discount the appeal his teachings had to the kind of young people who'd been drawn to the church as a result of him.

HUNT: I want to bring David Bonior in.

BONIOR: Well, he could appeal to people because he -- he was a poet. He was an athlete. He was an actor. I was...

O'BEIRNE: And his teachings!

BONIOR: And his teachings appealed to a lot of people, but you know, they didn't appeal to everybody. Even in Poland, some of the things that the pope was for -- we've seen an acceleration in the divorce rate and other things in Poland. But you know, he had -- he had a magnetism about him, a very -- he was very special in that way. And as a result, I think it was Rick Hampton (ph) writing in "USA Today," he said where St. Peter was the rock upon which the church was built, the pope was the Rolling Stone for the church. He probably was seen by more people in the world than any other human being...

NOVAK: You know, David, you -- you mentioned labor being one of the things he used to fight communism. I remember being in -- going to mass in Poland during the communist regime, and the place was bulging with people. It was a -- it was a political instrument, and he was the leader of the -- of the political revolution.

DIONNE: It was like the African-American church in the South. I think almost everybody agreed with something the pope said, and almost everybody disagreed with something the pope said.

HUNT: He was an extraordinary historical figure, probably one of the three or four most important of the last century.

Coming up: David Bonior and THE GANG ponder the future of the pontificate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back. The 117 cardinals with a right to cast ballots will meet at the Vatican on April 18 in conclave to pick a new pope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL GODFRIED DANNEELS, BELGIUM: To think about what are the needs (UNINTELLIGIBLE) future of the church, and I think there are some needs of the church. For example, evangelization, the secularization in Europe, the poverty in America Latina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Included among widely mentioned possible successors are Francis Arinze, Nigerian; Godfried Danneels, Belgian; Dionigi Tettamanzi, Italian; Claudio Hummes, Brazilian; Josef Ratzinger, German; Norberto Rivera Carrera, Mexican.

E.J., what kind of pope will the conclave select?

DIONNE: Someone with a name that's very hard to pronounce!

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: That's why they change their names immediately!

DIONNE: The -- you know, the bookies actually take money on this. And right now, the favorite, according the bookies, is Cardinal Tettamanzi. I think Arinze has a good shot. I'm picking Danneels, partly because he's the underdog. I think they really have three choices here. They can continue on the present course, which I think would lead to a coalition of Italians with the more conservative cardinals, and that's why Tettamanzi is picked.

I think they could look to the future, in one sense, and pick someone out of the third world, where the church is growing. That argues for Arinze or perhaps a Latin American cardinal. Or they can look to the future in a different way and try to solve some of the problems the church has with alienation in Europe, North America, especially the United States. And I think that points to Danneels.

HUNT: Bob, do you think there's much chance they'll go back to an Italian pope?

NOVAK: Well, I think -- I think that probably they will.

HUNT: You do?

NOVAK: Yes. An old Italian pope, some guy never heard of, probably. But one thing I think is quite certain is that a lot of people, a lot of journalists, act as if this pope is going to bring in women and change a lot of doctrine of the church. I don't think there's going to be any change in the doctrine of the church, from what I know of it. And particularly with this growing number of the congregations in the third world, who are very socially conservative. To satisfy people who don't even go to mass in Europe, I don't think the knew pope is going to change doctrine.

HUNT: Going to disappoint you, then, David Bonior?

BONIOR: Well, I don't know, but you're going to get a better place in heaven for being able to read all those names!

(LAUGHTER)

BONIOR: You just elevated yourself. This -- the pope has appointed, as we all know, I think, 114 of the 117 cardinals. And there was a litmus test, I think, with respect to church dogma. So it'll be interesting to see if, in fact, one of the developing-world cardinals, the cardinal from Nigeria or the cardinals from Mexico and Sao Paulao and Brazil, emerge.

A third of these cardinals are from the developing world, and they were all appointed by Pope John. So really, you've got a -- kind of a dichotomy here. On the one hand, you've got the strict dogmatic moralists, and then on the other hand, you have the developing world concerns. The Catholic cardinals, particularly Mahoney from Los Angeles and McCarrick...

NOVAK: American cardinals, you mean.

BONIOR: American cardinals -- excuse me. Thank you -- have expressed at different times their concern about the need to pressure (ph) in the third world and to do something about the developing concerns there. So you could -- I could foresee them backing someone from the developing world, and then we could have another surprise.

HUNT: Kate, I want to tell you, I'm -- after my record in basketball, I'm not going to take up B.J.'s wager on the next pope. But I will tell you that Cardinal Arinze, a third world cardinal, spoke at my alma mater at commencement some years ago. This is a very conservative man. It's not the sense that you pick someone from the third world, developing countries, you're going to get a more liberal pope. It may be just the other way.

HUNT: Al, the next pope -- this I will safely predict. The next pope will be Catholic.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: So he's going to sound an awful lot like Cardinal Arinze. Let me remind you that I blew a prediction on the Iowa caucuses, and it was sitting right in front of me, and everybody involved you were perfectly free to talk with and engage openly. So I am not going to make the kind of prediction that others might venture to say.

I will explain this. I think we Americans are particularly handicapped trying to guess what might happen. American Catholics make up 6 percent of the universal Catholic Church. I don't think the concerns of some liberal, in particular, American Catholics is on the top 10 list for what those cardinals are facing around the world. Vocations are up over the past 40 years, 50 percent in Latin America, 60 percent in Africa, almost double in Asia. That's where the church has grown from 700,000 when Pope John Paul became pope to over a billion.

I think there's a concern with that kind of growth, with Islam, with post-Christian (ph) Europe, and as I said, not with the concerns of an awful lot of liberal American Catholics.

HUNT: E.J., the numbers that Kate cites are absolutely right, but the number of priests are going the other way.

DIONNE: Right. I mean, what you've got...

O'BEIRNE: Not worldwide.

DIONNE: Right. But in the United States, there is -- there is a decline. What you're getting is a more conservative church. The new priests coming in are much more conservative than the ones who are retiring. The older priests now were shaped by the spirit of Vatican 2 and Pope John XXIII. I just want to say I agree with Kate's point about the danger of punditry. I think that the Holy Spirit is going to surprise us, just to make pundits look bad, which is a moral good all by itself.

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: So you may look bad by picking an Italian pope, even an obscure...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... won't be the first time, but -- because, I'll tell you, the reporting on these conclaves is always a little inadequate, what goes on in those meetings. They don't leak very well, the cardinals.

O'BEIRNE: Even to you, Bob?

DIONNE: If you're condemning your -- if you're condemning your immortal soul by leaking to the press, it's a strong incentive not to talk.

HUNT: On the other point, Kate may be right. It may -- the concerns of American Catholics may be tense (ph), but you know something? There's 117 in that room, and they got to count votes at the end. The North American delegation could be important, David.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: You know what a caucus is like, right?

BONIOR: And they'll be looking for someone with a little bit of charisma, as well. I mean, this pope set a tremendous example...

O'BEIRNE: Oh, I think that's a very valid point!

(CROSSTALK)

BONIOR: He was an evangelist.

O'BEIRNE: Yes.

BONIOR: He was a preacher. He was...

O'BEIRNE: Yes. He redefined...

BONIOR: ... a celebrity...

O'BEIRNE: ... what they expect the papacy...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Don't you think they want somebody who's not too young?

DIONNE: Well, no. They may want...

NOVAK: So they don't have another long...

DIONNE: ... a transitional pope...

NOVAK: ... papacy?

DIONNE: ... and Ratzinger would be the one who would probably emerge, Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the...

HUNT: You just said...

DIONNE: ... Doctrine of the Faith.

HUNT: ... you weren't going to pick anyone.

DIONNE: Well, I put out enough names...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I'm going to save you before you get in more trouble!

Next on CAPITAL GANG: U.S. politics and the pope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

On the way to Rome aboard Air Force One, two former presidents talked about Pope John Paul. Bill Clinton said, quote, "He's like all of us. He may have a mixed legacy. There will be debates about him. But on balance, he was a man of God. He was a consistent person. He did what he thought was right. That's about all you can ask of anybody," end quote.

George Herbert Walker Bush said, quote, "He differed with us on Desert Storm. He has that standard position on the use of force. I wish I'd asked him about the concept of a just war," end quote.

Bob, what is the political reaction to the passing of the pope?

NOVAK: Well, it's a lot better than the comments by the two former presidents, which I thought were very unfortunate. The president's still talking -- President Bush is still talking about the Gulf war, President Clinton talking about him being like the rest of us. He's not like the rest of us. He's touched by God and -- and much superior to the rest of us. President Clinton also went on to talk about how the -- he had failed on the vocations, getting priests in, and in fact, as Kate made clear, worldwide, there was an increase in priests.

So I think that was very unfortunate. There was a great -- the interesting thing, of course, is everybody wants to get on the Catholic bandwagon, particularly with the -- with President Bush doing so well with the Catholic vote last time, and everybody -- the last -- nobody went to popes' -- no Americans went to popes' funerals before. They all went to this one, and they were all -- wanted to be on the right side. But the ones who kept their mouth shut I thought were better off than -- than the senior George Bush and Bill Clinton.

HUNT: David, what do you think?

BONIOR: About the political implications of all of this?

HUNT: Yes.

BONIOR: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, I -- the Catholic vote is a significant vote in American politics, about 25 percent of it, and...

HUNT: Not a very homogeneous vote, is it?

BONIOR: Well, it splits pretty evenly. But when I was growing up as a kid in Detroit and going to Catholic schools and growing up in a Catholic neighborhood, the Democrats got, you know, maybe 60, 65 percent of the Catholic vote and...

NOVAK: Kennedy -- Kennedy got 80 percent of...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: That was a special case.

BONIOR: That was a special case, bless him. But the -- this last election, the Republicans won the Catholic vote by 5 points. So I think the avenue back for Democrats, if I can interject -- I feel uncomfortable actually talking about the politics of this and -- but the reality is, is that the Democrats, it seems to me, have to talk about not only the moral dogma piece that we chatted about a little earlier, but they've got to talk about the worker piece a lot more and what, actually, this pope was all about and John XXIII was all about.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: I -- maybe it's my Christian charity, Bob. I'm not going to criticize the reaction of either president -- former president Clinton or president -- or former president Bush. I really don't think politics was much at work this week. I think any awful lot -- there was just a really genuine desire on the part of members of Congress and others to be there, if they could, around this great and good man. They felt touched by him. They felt moved by him. They wanted to be there as witnesses to say farewell to him. I really think that sums up this week with respect to the passing of the Holy Father.

HUNT: Kate, I think you're absolutely right. I would love to have been in Rome...

O'BEIRNE: Yes.

HUNT: -this week. I think anybody would have. It doesn't have anything to do with your -- your ideology or your politics. This was really one of the most extraordinary figures that any of us will ever see, and it was a great moment of history. E.J.? DIONNE: You know, I agree with what Kate said, and yet it is hard, looking at any group of politicians, not to imagine some politics isn't going on somewhere. And you know, I think there is no Catholic vote and its importance, which is to say Catholics do not vote as a bloc, as they did in the Kennedy election, but they tend to vote for the winner. And that 5-point gain that...

HUNT: Because they're 25 percent of the electorate.

DIONNE: They are. But they also -- they are more Democratic than your average white voter, but they're not that much more Democratic. And I think they're cross-pressured. I mean, in some ways, the church's job is to make everybody feel guilty about something. And the church tends to make liberals feel guilty about abortion -- liberal Catholics, anyway -- and it tends to make conservatives feel guilty that they're not doing enough for the poor. And that cross-pressures a lot of Catholic voters.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: I know one Catholic who doesn't feel guilty about that.

NOVAK: The Democratic problem is that the people who are going to mass tomorrow are probably going to vote Republican. The Catholic...

DIONNE: Forty percent of them went for Kerry.

BONIOR: The Catholics -- the Catholics who don't go to mass are probably going to...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: The more observant you are, the more likely, predictably, you're going to vote Republican (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HUNT: But a lot of the minorities would -- would defy that.

But David Bonior, I want to thank you for being with us.

BONIOR: Nice to be here.

HUNT: You really added a lot to it, joining us tonight.

And coming up next in the second half: Kate O'Beirne is "On the Beat," recalling her time as a Vatican delegate in 2003 and private mass with the pope, Robert Novak's conversion to Catholicism, and our "Outrages of the Week" all after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Kate O'Beirne goes on the beat sharing recollections of her time as a Vatican delegate and private mass with the pope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BEIRNE (voice-over): In October, 2003, I had the privilege of serving on the presidential delegation to the Vatican to celebrate Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary and the beatification of his dear friend Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

When we were greeted by Jim Nicholson, our ambassador to the Holy See, he noted that the then frail pope always concluded recent conversations with American officials by struggling to say God bless America.

Surrounded by diplomats in their white ties and tails, with colorful sashes and medals and clergy in shades of pink and red, we had fine seats for the mass the pope would offer at the same hour he was elected in 1978. A huge cheer welcomed him when he appeared in the doorway of St. Peter's.

In his sermon, he told the crowd of 50,000 how upon his election he trembled, humanly speaking, at the big responsibility that will now weigh on him. At the conclusion of the two hour mass, the pope remained in front of the altar to the delight of the crowd of 50,000 chanting "viva el Papa." He appeared to be drinking in their affection.

Ten years before my family had a remarkable opportunity to join the pope for mass in his apartments and greet him afterwards. He was gracious and relaxed and delighted to meet the children in particular. Phillip (ph) and John will never forget his kindness and warmth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BEIRNE: What did I say? Nothing, I was struck dumb, perhaps another miracle attributed to this very holy man.

HUNT: E. J. was this pope extraordinary in having reached out personally to so many?

E.J. DIONNE, JR.: It was amazing. I mean one of the great sort of blessing of covering him was, for example, getting to cover that visit to the Roman synagogue. No pope had ever gone to a synagogue.

And, if you wanted to send a message about anti-Semitism and how the church was finally clearly unequivocally saying anti-Semitism is wrong, the mere presence, let alone his very strong words, you know, sent that message.

And there were also amazing scenes. I saw the pope once visiting with animus priests (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or traveling around India. I loved the man who was greeting the pope and I asked him about sort of what his view of God and the church and he said, "We're Hindus. We believe in everything."

HUNT: Bob.

NOVAK: You know, the pope's -- Pope John Paul's unique role in the Vatican was his traveling around the world. None of his predecessors did that, not even his 20th Century predecessors. And the only time I ever came close to him was when he came to Baltimore at Camden Yards, the baseball stadium, and had a mass there.

My wife, Geraldine, and I were there and we were not Catholics then but it was just such an emotional experience to have 60,000 people there. I think whoever is the pope, the new pope is going to have to follow that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HUNT: Kate, in looking at the tape of what must have been extraordinary for you, not just in 1993 but in 2003, when you were over there in 2003, he was in fairly advanced stages of Parkinson's. I think it was a reminder that among many other things that this pope did he taught us how to deal with sickness and how to die with grace and dignity, probably as publicly as anyone we've ever known.

O'BEIRNE: You're definitely struck with that when you saw what difficulty he had. We were there. He said a number of masses during the time we were there, both to honor Mother Teresa and, of course, to celebrate his own anniversary. Once he was able to finish a homily.

Another time a priest had to step in and finish it for him. He was so visibly infirmed and so obviously suffering. You typically do not see people when they're in a state like that. We, of course, didn't see Ronald Reagan when he really began physically failing for years.

This man decided that he was going to teach all of us that it was a cross he was being asked to bear that there's an enormous sanctification in suffering and so he suffered in front of us for all the world to see.

DIONNE: And then in the years when he was vigorous, everybody forgets this pope is the first one to do anything close to a news conference. On those papal trips he would walk around the plane and answer questions in gosh knows how many languages and you'd have to have the translations that were very difficult. You wondered what the relationship from the sixth translation was.

I'll never forget I asked him a question and I can't for the life of me remember but he didn't like it and there was this former altar boy having the pope shake a finger at him and, of course, had to give that picture to my late mom.

O'BEIRNE: Scolded by the pope.

DIONNE: Scolded by the pope.

HUNT: Well, Bob, I mean this in a complimentary way. This incredibly spiritual man was a performer in the best (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Not only that but he had something in common with E.J. and me. He was a syndicated columnist for a while, remember that? DIONNE: So, do we have a chance yet Bob?

NOVAK: Possibly.

HUNT: Can we redo those Vegas odds? I mean we may have a new candidate, a long shot -- Kate.

O'BEIRNE: You know what for such an obvious people pope, as he's being called now, I was reminded this week that he actually sought to join a contemplative order in Poland. That's where he thought his vocation was because he was so deeply spiritual. And apparently an adviser said, "No, there are greater things in store for you" so he didn't spend his priesthood in a monastery, far from it.

HUNT: Boy were there ever.

Coming up the CAPITAL GANG "Classic," the pontiff meets Mikhail Gorbachev 16 years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG trivia question of the week. Of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, which country has the largest population of Catholics? Is it, a) Brazil; b) Germany or, (c) the Philippines? We'll have the answer right after the break.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Before the break we asked, "Of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, which country has the largest population of Catholics?" The answer is, a) Brazil with 180 million Catholics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Welcome back.

Sixteen years ago Pope John Paul II met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The CAPITAL GANG discussed this on December 2, 1989. Our guest was former Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: How significant was this meeting -- Al Haig?

ALEXANDER HAIG, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Extremely significant, Al, an invitation to the pope to visit the Ukraine, which may be forthcoming. It could be explosive in character and a high risk step for Mr. Gorbachev.

HUNT: It shows that Gorbachev is a lot smarter than Joe Stalin who one time said "How many divisions does the pope have?" Gorbachev has learned that the pope has a lot of divisions. I think there are some personal elements here. Gorbachev has told us he was baptized. His mother is still religious.

NOVAK: When Gorbachev and Vatican City said he believes in separation of church and state, I almost fell over. You know Whittaker Chambers correctly said that all this world is a battle between the believers and the un-believers and if the un-believers just send up the white flag what does that mean? That to me is more stunning than even democracy in Eastern Europe.

SHIELDS: I don't think Mikhail Gorbachev was seeing any sort of a conversion here, battlefield or otherwise. He's got a problem at home. He's got a serious problem in his workforce that is indifference, that's absenteeism and that's alcoholism and he recognizes, I think, the social value of religion as an economic element.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: Bob, did we overestimate the importance of Gorbachev's meeting with the Holy Father?

NOVAK: No, I think it was a tremendously important development right then and I think it was really the end for scientific socialism, for communism. When he said, boy oh boy, I'm just a mere mortal, I thought it was -- I was in agreement with that. I happened to be in Malta at that event where I was afraid that George Bush was giving away the store to Gorbachev and it really cheered me the news about the pope's visit.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Al, I think you nailed it on that show. I think, of course, the pope always wanted to visit Russia itself and was never able to.

HUNT: Or China.

O'BEIRNE: And, as recently as 2005, the Chinese still apparently feared a visit from this man, so he had plenty of moral divisions -- Al.

HUNT: E.J.

DIONNE: I think you were right that Gorbachev understood the power of religion in a way other leaders didn't. And I think we forget how much Gorbachev had to do with ending the Cold War and there were a lot of things he did and a lot of liberals I've sort of thought about later, Ronald Reagan actually was more of a peacenik for that period.

That's why Bob was upset but a lot of liberals didn't understand that Reagan saw this opening and Reagan kind of flipped his policy some because he, like the pope, saw who Gorbachev was.

HUNT: OK.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, a special segment, "The Prince of Darkness sees the Light."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

This week our own Robert Novak spent some time with CNN's Judy Woodruff to talk about his conversion to Catholicism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR(voice-over): It was one day some years ago that this man, known to many as the Prince of Darkness, walked into one of the oldest churches in Washington and saw the light.

Robert David Novak, veteran journalist, fiery conservative, born a Jew, converted Catholic. On many days here is where you'll find him, in the pews of St. Patrick's Church, today reflecting on the pope.

NOVAK: I'm a poor mortal and I know certainly probably not nearly as good a Christian as most of the people who are sitting in the church and certainly not better.

WOODRUFF: At home, Bob and I sift through old photographs.

(on camera): I see a smiling Bob Novak in this picture.

NOVAK: Yes. I was a little different then.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): As the hard-bitten, often acerbic columnist traces his spiritual growth. He was raised by loving Jewish parents in a modest home in Joliet, Illinois.

NOVAK: The family was not very observant. My father had never been Bar Mitzvahed and his father was not a very good Jew but I was Bar Mitzvahed.

WOODRUFF: Novak calls the event his last association with Judaism. He says he never really connected with the faith.

So, the years passed and the little boy grew up, left for college, moved to Washington, became a fixture on the political scene, got married, had children and grandchildren, a full life, yet something was lacking.

NOVAK: I was kind of feeling a spiritual need all those years. My wife Geraldine and I went to an Episcopalian Church for a while. Oh, it just seemed very political to me that a guy so liberal was talking about opposing the war in Vietnam and I didn't want to hear that when I went to church. I wanted something spiritual.

WOODRUFF: Then in the early '90s, the Novak's discovered St. Patrick's Catholic parish. They started attending services every Sunday.

NOVAK: I liked them very much because they were about God and redemption and we're all sinners but there is forgiveness and there was almost never anything political.

WOODRUFF: But conversion was something he never contemplated until the late '90s. He was in Syracuse giving a speech and he met a young woman and they got to talking about religion.

NOVAK: And she said "Are you going to convert?" And, I said "No, we have no such plans." And, she said "Well, Mr. Novak" she said, "Life is temporary but faith is eternal."

WOODRUFF: So one brief conversation with someone was enough to turn the key?

NOVAK: Well, it was the Holy Spirit talking to me. It was telling me that it was time to go. I had that feeling.

WOODRUFF: So, in May of 1998, Robert David Novak was baptized a Catholic here in St. Patrick's.

NOVAK: My patron saint, St. Thomas More.

WOODRUFF: Bob Novak tries to be a good Catholic, attends mass regularly, abides by church traditions, all the while maintaining his characteristic bombast.

NOVAK: The Democrats are entitled to be just as vile as they want.

WOODRUFF: But he says he honestly believes that his faith has made him a better man.

NOVAK: People laugh at that because they know some of my faults but I don't think they realize how bad a person I was before I became a Christian and a Catholic.

WOODRUFF: And so it was that the Prince of Darkness embraced the Prince of Peace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: Kate, as Robert Novak's godmother, has he been a disappointment to you?

O'BEIRNE: Well, certainly at his baptism I was pleased that he didn't cry, as so many baptismal candidates did and there was no crying on the altar. Judy did a very nice job with that piece. Bob, as we all appreciate, is one of the best known figures in Washington, D.C.

And that was a remarkable evening when so many of us witnessed him entering the church and it reminds us that we know each other so often in this one dimensional way and thank God we're not these one dimensional -- these one dimensional people. And, I think Bob (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a very important witness and I admire him for being willing to share it with a much broader audience.

HUNT: E.J. are you glad he's a member of the flock now? DIONNE: I welcome Bob Novak. I'm waiting for his political conversion, which I hope will come soon. But, you know, these converts always try to one-up the people who grew up in the church and I will never forget him on the floor somewhere wandering around. I think it was the Democratic Convention in 2000.

And, Bob comes up to me and said, "Did you go to mass today?" And I'm scratching my head and it was August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, which is a Holy Day of Obligation.

O'BEIRNE: He's been taught well.

DIONNE: And he was taught very well. I felt guilty again as a Catholic.

HUNT: On that remarkable day, Kate, when I walked over from the ceremony to Bob's house, his condo for a reception afterwards with the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said "Now that Bob's become a Catholic, I wonder when he'll become a Christian?" It was a joke. Pat Moynihan just admired you tremendously for what you did that day Robert.

NOVAK: Well, it's been a great service to me and it's nothing I have done but the church has done so much for me and it's not that -- see E.J. to be a good person you don't have to be a liberal.

O'BEIRNE: Have you figured out, Bob, whether or not the church is big enough for you and Mark Shields?

DIONNE: I believe that believe it or not.

NOVAK: Pardon me?

O'BEIRNE: Have you found the church is actually big enough for both of you?

NOVAK: And Margaret Carlson too.

O'BEIRNE: And Mark Shields?

HUNT: It's a big church.

NOVAK: I haven't got to that point yet.

HUNT: E.J. could you work on him a little bit on "Blessed are the poor," OK? I mean there are some things...

DIONNE: Shields has him every week and hasn't done much either.

HUNT: And Margaret Carlson too.

DIONNE: Yes, that's right.

HUNT: All right. The gang will be back with our "Outrages of the Week." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: And now for the "Outrages of the Week."

The Vatican has an age threshold for voting eligibility for a new pope. Any cardinal over 80 cannot participate. But it doesn't have a character threshold. Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced out as head of the Boston Archdiocese for complicity in the sexual abuse priest scandal, will be in the Sistine Chapel casting his vote. Moreover, he is set to preside at one of the nine major masses of mourning for John Paul II. This is a regretful note in an otherwise inspiring week -- Bob.

NOVAK: The Senate Tuesday voted 98-0 to honor John Paul II but 30 minutes later, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer brought up a proposal of this respect for the late pope. "He was architect of an anti-abortion policy adopted by a U.N. conference at Mexico City in 1984."

The Boxer Amendment ends U.S. acceptance of the Mexico City language that bars U.S. subsidies for abortion abroad. It carried by just six votes, shame on eight Republican Senators, who broke party ranks to thumb their noses at John Paul.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: The Irish government refused to declare a national day of mourning to mark the death of Pope John Paul II. Reportedly businesses in Ireland worried about the cost of shutting down for a day.

The pope had plenty to say about that priority. He had a special relationship with Catholic Ireland making the Emerald Isle his third international pilgrimage in 1979, when two-thirds of the population greeted him at his stops. Castro has announced three days of mourning and cancelled public celebrations. Couldn't Ireland have done more than that?

HUNT: E.J.

DIONNE: Former President Jimmy Carter was not part of the U.S. delegation to the pope's funeral. He was the first president to host the pope, this pope at the White House and his humanitarian activities were in keeping with the pope's teachings.

What's known about this mess is that Carter was initially invited to join the delegation and accepted. Then there were more phone calls and Carter withdrew. Carter naturally did the decent thing and denies any snub. The White House insists that Carter could have gone but if that's true, why those extra phone calls? This was a time for simple graciousness.

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying goodnight for the CAPITAL GANG. Thanks for joining us.

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