Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Pope Francis: A Man of Many Firsts

Aired October 13, 2013 - 19:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bianca. Bianca. Bianca.

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: His papacy is hailed by many as a fresh start for a troubled Catholic church.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a kind of rock star quality to this man. A sense of a new day dawning, you know, wherever he goes.

AMANPOUR: His demeanor, style and words have gathered attention the world over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If a person is gay and accepts the lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People listening and looking are seeing a different atmosphere. A different attitude here.

AMANPOUR: Six months into his tenure as the 266th pontiff, is Pope Francis the man to change attitudes and galvanized hundreds of millions of Catholics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no doubt he has the ability to get it done.

AMANPOUR: But there are those who are not entirely sold on the new Pope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some people who are saying I want a pope who acts like a pope.

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

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

AMANPOUR: Six months -

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning from Rome. The world has a new pope.

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

AMANPOUR: Exactly six months since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped on to the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to face the world as the new Pope. CHRISTOPHER 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.

AMANPOUR: Christopher Bellitto is an associate professor of history and department chair at Keen University in New Jersey.

BELLITTO: But if you looked very closely, it is 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 (through translator): 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 bounds himself to the people. I think people said, "Wow, we need him. He needs us. We're in this together."

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: 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.

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

ALLEN: Everything you needed to know what kind of man Jorge Mario Bergoglio was and the kind of pope Francis is going to be was revealed on that debut on that balcony.

AMANPOUR: Pope Francis has also revealed, he is not afraid it weigh in on matters of global conflict. 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: He also called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. And he is using almost every means at his disposal to back this up. One thing that is clear, on the six-month anniversary of Francis's papacy, is that he wants to be a bold global leader.

One of the ironies about Pope France was that 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 and he is no longer an archbishop of a major city, he is the pope of the entire Catholic Church.

AMANPOUR: For Bergoglio, that debut goes back to 1969. When he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in Argentina where he was born. He became archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998. His hall mark was service and humility. Three years later, in 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed him a cardinal.

And after more than a decade, on March the 13, 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 WASHINGTON, D.C. ARCHBISHOP: 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.

AMANPOUR: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the former archbishop of Washington, D.C.. A church insider who says Francis is handling his job well.

MCCARRICK: He doesn't question because he knows he's going to carry it with Jesus and he knows that the people out there and his job is to help them.

AMANPOUR: Becoming Pope was only one of many significant firsts for the new pontiff.

ALLEN: He is the first Pope from Latin America. The first Pope from outside Europe in 1300 years and of course, he is the first pope to utter the word gay.

BELLOTTI: 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 Pope tells them.

AMANPOUR: But even more stunning to many was the name he chose. Rita Ferrone is a life-long Catholic and writer for the U.S. Catholic Magazine "Common Will."

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

ALLEN: 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 is going to be a maverick pope, the guy who is not going to be shackled by convention. And two, this told me this would be a very Franciscan pope in the literal sense of the world. Meaning somebody who before all else was going to embrace lady poverty, the lover of St. Francis.

AMANPOUR: While service to the poor is one of the tenets of the Catholic church, critics came to see the often lavish image of the papacy as a sign the church is out of touch with ordinary followers. Some church observers say Pope Francis's dressed down style from the beginning may be creating some unease, even among the cardinals who elected him.

FERRONE: I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are wondering, "what did we bargain for?" You know, "Did we know what we were getting." So if I'm living in a palatial residence and I'm amassing wonderfully ornate vestments and then here comes Pope Francis and he is living in a guest house and is wearing simple clothes, well, I have to look how I'm putting forward my image in my own diocese."

AMANPOUR: Christopher Bellitto puts it more bluntly.

BELLITTO: But in the last 15 or 20 years, we've had this focus on what we call cuff link or Cadillac policies. And I think the era of cuff link or Cadillac Catholicism is gone. In fact, one of the interesting things I read was a whole series of interviews with men who were ordained priests in April, May, June right after the election of Francis in March and what were they talking about? Oh, how much they always admired Francis of Assisi anyway. So I think that soup kitchens are going to be the new Cadillacs.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Bishops must be pastors, close to people. Men who do not think and behave like princes.

BELLITTO: We do not need leaders in this church who have the mind-set of princes. I think if he knows, if he wants preach that successfully to the 5,000 bishops in the Catholic Church and to the more than 400,000 Catholic priests of the world, he's got to model it himself.

AMANPOUR: Just 10 days after his installation as pope his humility was in full display on Holy Thursday before Easter, one of the most sacred times in the Christian calendar.

FERRONE: He went to a prison and washed feet, including the feet of women, including the feet of two people who were non-Christians. There were some people who argued that that is incorrect and it should only be men. Because they represent the 12 apostles who were all male.

Immediately, after he did that, there were churches and cathedrals around the country who were washing women's feet the same day.

BELLITTO: I don't think he cared whose feet he was washing. He washed a woman's feet. He washed a Muslim's feet. And guess what? The Vatican is still standing.

AMANPOUR: Also, (INAUDIBLE) Pope Francis is getting close to his flock. In his first international trip to Brazil as Pope, he captivated the people. And also sent shock waves around the world.


AMANPOUR: The Catholic Church has been plagued by scandal. Most recently the sexual abuse of children and cover-up, money-laundering allegations, the Vatican bank, the so-called Vati-leaks involving the unauthorized release of embarrassing papal documents by a Vatican butler.

Six months into his papacy, observers say Pope Francis is changing the narrative.

ALLEN: I mean it was church in crisis. Catholic water gate. Now within 24 hours after Francis's election we were talking about new day dawns for the Catholic church and charismatic pope takes the world by storm.

AMANPOUR: In July, Francis took his first international trip as Pope to celebrate World Youth Day in Brazil, the most populous Catholic country in the world.

The reception in Rio de Janeiro was overwhelming and raised security concerns. Many were calling the 1981 assassination attempt of John Paul II and one woman attacking Benedict XVIth twice in 2008 and 2009.

ALLEN: I will tell you, after that mob scene on the first night of the Brazil trip unfolded in which the papal motorcade was basically hijacked, I spoke to some very senior churchman including some cardinals who were holding their breath and who were frankly saying, on background, "Dear God, I hope we don't have to go back to the conclave next week because I hope this guy doesn't put himself in harm's way."

MCCARRICK: His love of the people, hope to reach the people, to touch the people, to get involved with the people, is so overwhelming. It is more of a pastoral desire to reach the people and to touch them.

AMANPOUR: His final mass along Rio's iconic Copacobana beach drew 3.5 million, according to the Vatican. He challenged believers to be vocal.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): Don't be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life. To the fringes of society. Even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The church needs you. Your enthusiasm. Your creativity. And the joy that is altruistic of you.

ALLEN: Bikinis gave way for rosaries as Francis took the world's most famous stretch of sand and surf by storm. But that was the story line. And one of these iconic global figures that radiates a desire to awaken the better angels of our nature. That was the spirit of Copacobana beach for that weekend in July.

AMANPOUR: Perhaps even more dramatic was an impromptu press conference he gave at end of his week-long visit. On the plane back to Rome, he was in high spirits taking questions for more than an hour. At one point, said this -

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): If a person is gay and accepts the lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge them.

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

AMANPOUR: 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. And that's where he is. He wants to talk to them in their own language. This is the Pope Francis. You love everybody.

AMANPOUR: 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 "intrinsically disordered."

Pope Francis's predecessors both talk tough on the gay issue. Here's Pope Benedict XVI, last year.

POPE BENEDICT XVI (through 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 run up to and hug. Francis is the kind of Pope we need at this moment. Someone who is gentler. Someone who is more open. He is not going to change doctrine, but he is going to preach it differently.

AMANPOUR: Which was apparent when reporters asked him about women becoming priests. He sounded a jewel tone.

POPE FRANCIS (through translator): In reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no. This door is closed. I have said it, but I repeat it. Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests.

FERRONE: I think that the church is going to see some big changes over time. Will women be admitted to the Holy Orders to the priesthood? Pope John Paul II said that we are not able to do that because it is a situation that is determined by the example of our lord in selecting 12 men to be the apostles. However, there were certainly many women in the early church who had leadership roles in prayer.

AMANPOUR: In September the Pope continued to make news, leaving no doubt he was radically shifting the conversation on social issues. He warned the church not to interfere spiritually in the lives of gays and lesbians and said that the church needed to be more than about condemning abortion, same-sex marriage and contraceptives.

Yet, the winds of change are upon the Holy See as Pope Francis looks to reform the church, including how it's run, by Vatican administrators known as the curia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I bet the people in the curia are shaking in their cassocks right now.


AMANPOUR: With an estimated 1.2 billion Catholic followers, Pope Francis presides over the largest Christian body in the world, making him one of the most powerful men on earth.

But he has his work cut out for him as he exercises that power to make fundamental reforms. Perhaps most painful, cleaning up the mess from a decades long sex abuse scandal that dates back to the '60s.

FERRONE: Things were hold up in the Vatican. The (INAUDIBLE) was not functioning smoothly or efficiently to process these cases, so some of that is in fact a concrete example of why it's imperative that this be looked at and addressed.

MCCARRICK: The numbers still from 30 years ago are, unfortunately, sometimes still coming up horribly so, but we've moved forward. We've moved from there, and here we have a new pope who has expressed clearly his mind is - there's no compromise on this.

AMANPOUR: Another priority which Francis is already tackling is reforming the Curia, the central governing body of the church viewed widely as ineffective. Francis has appointed a group of eight cardinals to review it.

BELLITTO: I bet the people in the Curia are shaking in their cassocks right now. I think this Pope is in many ways an outsider. Sometimes it takes somebody from the outside to come in with fresh eyes who is not beholden politically to a certain circle to effect change.

AMANPOUR: What could be considered the first scandal of Francis' new administration is the allegations of corruption at the Vatican bank. Over the summer, Italian police arrested a senior Italian Vatican Bank official for a reported money laundering scheme involving about $26 million.

Cardinal McCarrick, who voted in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict, knows Pope Francis personally and would inform some of his thinking as he deals with these issues.

MCCARRICK: He wants to be a good manager of the - of the people's money. If he sees it, the poor are giving help that should be used to help others and being used in a bad way, he's not going to stand for that.

ALLEN: There's going to be some blowback. The honeymoon is going to be over at some point, but how that will happen remains to be seen, but what's more important is what happens with all of us. It's not when you get knocked down. It's how you get up again.

BELLITTO: There are lots of people who are saying things like "I want a pope who looks more like a pope." My response to that is, "What the hell does that mean?" Lets let Pope Francis be pope the way that he wants to be pope. Not let other people dictate how he wants to be pope. ALLEN: The hard truth is the papacy is an impossible job. I mean think about what we want popes to be. We want them to be media rock stars. We want them to be Fortune 500 CEOs. We want them to be political heavyweights. We want them to be world class intellectuals, and we want them to be living saints. I mean, any one of these things is hard to do over the course of a lifetime, and you roll that all up together it is a prescription for impossibility.

AMANPOUR: And as Pope Francis settles in his job on the heels of Benedict XVI resigning earlier this year, the first pope to do so in 600 years, Pope Francis must also figure out how to stem the tide of members leaving the church.

MCCARRICK: If there's anything that will bring people back, it is the understanding that the church is there, not to yell at people. The church is there to be an instrument of god's love and of god's forgiveness, and if there's anything that will characterize Pope Francis, it is that.

AMANPOUR: 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, and I'm inspired by how happy he is because I know if I were in that job, I'd 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 why I see as the future with Pope Francis.

BELLOTTI: It remains to be seen. We're only at since months. I'm a historian, not a prophet. But he is certainly, as people who are a lot smarter than I am said, he has changed the narrative of Catholicism from being dower and glum to being exciting and full of vim and vigor.

Francis has clearly shown that you can be 76 years old, with one lung and have an awful lot of energy.

ALLEN: 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 the papacy he's done a masterful job.

AMANPOUR: 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.