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Pope Francis - A Man of Many Firsts; Catholics Celebrate Christmas; Pope Francis in 2014: What Will He Do?

Aired December 25, 2013 - 12:30   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: A little bit of papal history at the Vatican this morning, Pope Francis making his first Christmas address.

An estimated 150,000 pilgrims filled St. Peter's Square for the Christmas message which is entitled, "To the city and the world," the city being Rome.

Hours earlier in his first Christmas mass, in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope hand-delivered a statue of the infant Jesus to the front of the altar as you see there.

The immense popularity of pope Francis as we discussed a little bit earlier has some people likening him to a bit of a rock star of sorts.

And Becky Anderson reports for us now that makes some people a little uncomfortable.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: His papacy is being hailed by many as a fresh start for a troubled Catholic Church, so much so that "Time" magazine named him Person of the Year for 2013.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: There is a kind of rock star quality to this man, a sense of a new day dawning you know wherever he goes.

ANDERSON: His demeanor, style and words have garnered attention, the world over.

POPE FRANCIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (via translator): If a person is gay and accepts the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge them?

RITA FERRONE, "COMMONWEAL" MAGAZINE: People listening and looking are seeing a different atmosphere, a different attitude here.

ANDERSON: Just months into his tenure as the 266th pontiff, is Pope Francis the man to change attitudes and galvanize hundreds of millions of Catholics?

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, FORMER ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON: I have no doubt he has the ability to get it done.

ANDERSON: He's reaching out, calling for sweeping changes in the church.

But there are those not entirely sold on the pope.

CHRISTOPER BELLITTO, CHAIR AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY; KEAN UNIVERSITY: There are some people saying I want a pope who acts like a pope.

ANDERSON: It's history in the making as we look at Pope Francis, a man of many firsts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The curtains are open. The cross bearer is coming out. And there he is.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": Good morning from Rome. The world has a new pope.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Word first came of a new pope in the form of the white smoke rising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

ANDERSON: It's less than a year since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to face the world as a new pope.

BELLITTO: He looked scared. He looks forbidding. My first thought was, we got someone who is going to stand there and going to preside and we're supposed to bow down in front of him.

ANDERSON: Christopher Bellitto is associate professor of history and department chair at keen university in New Jersey.

BELLITTO: But if you looked very closely, it's as if his eyes began to blink very rapidly behind those glasses as if he came into the moment. This is what Christians call "grace."

POPE FRANCIS: Let us pray in silence your prayer to me.

BELLITTO: And then he did something very traditional, which is he said, I ask for your prayers.

But then he bowed. He made a physical act of humility to the people, and in that moment I think he bound himself to the people.

I think people said, wow, we need him. He needs us. We're in this together.

ALLEN: In addition then what Francis did was he referred to himself not as Pontiff Maximus, the supreme pontiff, not as pope, but the simpler title bishop of Rome.

ANDERSON: John Allen is CNN's senior Vatican analyst, author of eight books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs.

ALLEN: Everything you needed to know about the kind you have man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was and the kind of Pope Francis was going to be was revealed in that debut on that balcony. ANDERSON: Pope Francis has also revealed he's not afraid to weigh in on matters of global conflict.

In September, the pope spoke out on Syria, writing a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the G-20 summit got under way in St. Petersburg.

The pope said, "To the leaders present to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution."

ALLEN: One of the ironies about Pope Francis when he was in Argentina, most people would say he wasn't a very active political player.

But I think what he recognizes is the stakes are different now. He's no longer an archbishop of a major city. He's the pope of the entire Catholic Church.

ANDERSON: The pope also amazed people around the world when he embraced a disfigured man at the Vatican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): When he embraced me, I quivered. I felt a great warmth.

ANDERSON: And getting close to his flock is natural for Pope Francis.

In his first international trip to Brazil as pope, he captivated millions, and also sent shockwaves around the world.


HOLMES: Well, one of the most controversial issues in the Catholic Church has of course, been homosexuality.

Up next, we're going to look at Pope Francis's comments that have divided the faithful.


HOLMES: One of the many and biggest challenges for Pope Francis has been the issue of homosexuality and the church. And the pope's stance has caused some controversy.

Here's Becky Anderson again.


POPE FRANCIS: If a person is gay and accepts the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge them?

ANDERSON: Remarks that reverberated around the world.

FERRONE: I think that it was very important sign that he was truly going to be in a position of tolerance and understanding and attempting to come into dialogue with people who were homosexually oriented without prejudging them.

ANDERSON: Also stunning, his use of the word "gay" when church officials previously had used the word homosexual.

MCCARRICK: This is how the people on the periphery look at life and describe life. That's the way he is, he wants to talk to them in their own language. This is Pope Francis. You love everybody.

ANDERSON: The pope's comments drew a mixture of praise and criticism among Catholics.

Critics thought Francis didn't go far enough. Church doctrine remains the same, engaging in homosexuality is a sin and, quote, "intrinsically disordered."

Pope Francis' successors both talked tough on the gay issue.

Here's Benedict XVI, last year.

BENEDICT XVI, FORMER POPE, ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH (via translator): Father, mother, child, essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.

BELLITTO: Benedict had a certain charisma, but it was the charisma of a university professor that you respected.

Whereas Francis is the uncle you want to run up to and hug. Francis is the kind of pope we need at this moment, someone who's gentler, somebody who's more open.

He's not going to change doctrine but he's going to preach it differently.


HOLMES: So as we've been saying, this is a pope who talks the talk and walks the walk in many ways, but is he going to change the church substantially?

That question, moving forward, senior Vatican analyst John Allen joins me again.

John, just last month, the pope made what many saw as an unprecedented move. He sent out surveys to Catholic parishes right AROUND THE WORLD, asking for their opinions on a variety of controversial topics that the church has been grappling with.

Ad they included questions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, divorce, cohabitation and the like.

Now, one of the questions was this. I just want to quote it here. "What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live their lives in other types of union?"

Now, what do you see is the point of sending that survey? We've discussed in the past, you and I, that he's not touching on doctrine, not yet anyway, but why even ask that question if it's not on the cards?

ALLEN: Well, Michael, I'm going to come to that question in a moment, but quickly, let me just say that I was on that papal flight when the Francis gave us the fateful "who am I to judge?" line.

In many ways, it was a very forgettable experience. The food was bad. The seats were uncomfortable. And I will say this. The in-flight entertainment was spectacular, because it truly was the shot heard around the world.

Look, I think the purpose of this survey isn't so much to prepare the groundwork for changing Catholic teaching, but Francis is very much a pope of mercy. He wants the church to be compassionate and tolerant to all.

So, I think the purpose is to figure out how the church can put together this teaching that some people perceive to be fairly harsh with a spirit of outreach and inclusion to these folks so they don't feel excluded from the family of the faith.

I think that's where he's going.

HOLMES: Right.

Let's listen to two comments the pontiff made about homosexuality and also women that got people talking about what many saw as his liberal views.

Let's have a listen.


POPE FRANCIS (via translator): If a person is gay and seeks god and has good will, who am I to judge him?

We cannot limit the role of women in the church to altar girls or the president of a charity. There must be more.


HOLMES: All right, that famous flight again, I mean, you get to hang out with the coolest people.

I'm curious about this. When we talk doctrine, John, is doctrine untouchable, certainly not by definition, but do you see this as someone who might go down that road in some areas?

ALLEN: Yeah, Michael. First of all, in terms of hanging out with cool people, let me say, I've spent today in real space with Pope Francis and in virtual space with Michael Holmes. If that's not the ultimate double plate of cool, I'm not sure what is.

Look, he has clearly taken some things off the table. He has said a firm "no" to women priests. He's said he's a son of the church when it comes to teaching on homosexuality. But there are other areas where he's indicated some openness, perhaps, to change. One, for example, would be a very painful pastoral question in the church, which is whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion.

Under the current rules, the answer is no, and for millions of people in that situation around the world, it's a real cross to bear.

Francis has indicated he's open to a more generous and flexible policy. And that's part of what might come out of this meeting of bishops here in Rome next October.

So I think the basic thing is, this is a pope who wants to stress compassion wherever possible. He's not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and turn church teaching on its ear but he's looking for the most generous reading of that teaching that he can possibly find.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Yes, indeed. John Allen, again our thanks to you. We will talk again soon. I do envy you. You know very cool people and good restaurants, too, I have to say in Rome.

He's a man of the city there, Mr. Allen. All right. We'll talk again soon.

Now as you just heard there, Pope Francis could be the leader who really shakes up the Catholic Church and not just with words either.

But to find out how and why, one only really needs to look at his past. We're going to take a look at the pope's road to the Vatican when we come back.



HOLMES: Continuing our coverage now of the pope and the Vatican, where a short time ago, Pope Francis did deliver a message of peace to some 150,000 people in St. Peter's Square.

This is Francis' first Christmas as leader of the world's Catholics. Our Becky Anderson has a special look now at the path he took to get here.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Francis' journey to the papacy goes back to 1969 when he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in Argentina where he was born. He became archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and ultimately pope.

His service was hallmark and humility. Three years later in 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal.

And after more than a decade on March 13th, 2013, he was elected to lead the world's estimated 1.2 billion Catholics and installed as pope six days later.

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, FORMER ARCHBISHOP, WASHINGTON, D.C.: And this is the greatness of the man I think that he is, that he knows who he is. He knows what his responsibility is.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the former archbishop of Washington, D.C. A church insider who says that Francis is handling his job well.

MCCARRICK: It doesn't crush him because he's knows he's going to carry it with Jesus and he knows the people are out there and his job is to help them.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Becoming pope was only one of many significant firsts for the new pontiff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the first pope from Latin America, the first pope from outside Europe in 1,300 years. And, of course, he is the first pope to utter the word "gay."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we have the first Jesuit pope. It seems kind of strange that a pope would be a Jesuit because the Jesuits take a vow to do what the pope tells them.

ANDERSON (voice-over): But even more stunning to many was the name he chose. Rita Ferrone is a lifelong Catholic and writer for the U.S. Catholic magazine "Commonweal."

RITA FERRONE, WRITER: First pope to be named after Francis of Assisi. So Francis of Assisi was a rebel. Francis of Assisi was somebody who was deeply committed to the poor and to prayer and to a kind of radical vision of living out Christianity. This is the first pope to take that name and it's not an accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it is perhaps after Jesus and Peter and maybe Mary the most iconic name in the Catholic imagination because it used to be believed that no pope could take the name Francis because there was only one Francis.

And the fact that this pope did it told me two things about the man right away. One, that this was going to be a maverick pope, a guy who was not going to be shackled by convention.

And two, it told me that this was going to be a very Franciscan pope in the literal sense of the word meaning somebody who before all else was going to embrace Lady Poverty, the lover of St. Francis.


HOLMES: And the pope being touted as a man of many firsts. Coming up, what the future might look like for Pope Francis and the Catholic Church.


HOLMES: Pope Francis delivering a sermon of acceptance and forgiveness a short time ago at the Vatican, speaking to the poor and vulnerable as he always does. This has been his message since his election as pope back in March. Becky Anderson again looking at what lies ahead for the leader of the Catholic Church.


ANDERSON (voice-over): As the first non-European Latin American Jesuit pope, what does the future look like for Pope Francis?

FERRONE: Well, I think he has a hard job ahead of him. I'm inspired by how happy he is because I know if I were in that job, I would be awfully worried about a number of things.

But I think he is going to lead us into the future that is more simple, that is less emphasizing details and more emphasizing the heart of the faith. That's what I see as the future with Pope Francis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As people who are a lot smarter than I am have said, he's changed the narrative of Catholicism from being dour and glum to being exciting and full of vim and vigor.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SR. VATICAN ANALYST: He didn't carry a definition with him into this job. He was able to set the definition for himself. And I think the consensus is over the early months of his papacy, he's done a masterful job with it.

ANDERSON (voice-over): And if he can turn things around in essence rebrand the Catholic Church, he may become a man of many more firsts and perhaps a pope talked about and remembered for centuries to come.



HOLMES: So what can we expect from this popular Pope Francis heading into 2014?

Joining me once again, senior Vatican analyst John Allen.

We promise to let you go home soon.

John, as you've said many times, the pope has already started something of a revolution, if you like, by simply having a different way of thinking about gays, divorce, the poor and the like, and communicating that importantly.

Pull out the crystal ball. What do you expect from the pope as we head into the 2014?

ALLEN: Well, Michael, on the internal church side of it is, that is, trying to reform and rejuvenate the life of the Catholic Church, he's got a lot of heavy lifting to do. I mean, he's created a commission to deal with the child sexual abuse scandal. But he's got to oversee that to make sure that it's real.

He's got the ongoing reform of the Roman curia, including a tough clean-up operation at the Vatican Bank and so on.

On the external front, he's got some diplomatic high-wire acts awaiting him, including a highly anticipated trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories in May.

As he indicated this morning, he wants to continue to be engaged on the Syria crisis and so on.

But look, I think the big picture is this. I think what Pope Francis has already accomplished in nine months is that he has become a point of reference not just for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, I think he's become one of the towering moral authorities on the world stage period.

In a way, he's become almost the new Nelson Mandela. He's amassed an enormous amount of political capital, good will and moral credibility. I think the dramatic of 2014 in going forward, Michael, is how does he choose to spend that to try to make a difference, particularly on behalf of those people he loves so much, the poor and those at the margins.

HOLMES: Yes. I think that's an important word, credibility. He certainly does have that touch, that knack of connecting with people all around the world.

John, we're going to leave it there. I do appreciate it. John Allen in Rome. We're going to give you the rest of the night off. Been a long day there in Rome. Always a pleasure.

All right. And thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD today. I appreciate your company on this Christmas Day. If you're celebrating, our best wishes go out to you. "CNN NEWSROOM" starts right now.