updated 4/22/2005 2:46:30 PM ET 2005-04-22T18:46:30

Guest:  George Weigel, Thomas McSweeney, Senator Jim Bunning, Daniel Williams, E.J. Dionne, Harvey Cox, Susan Molinari

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to this special report on the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  It began just before noon Eastern Time, white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.  Then the bells tolled, and suddenly (INAUDIBLE), we have a pope.  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been elected the new pope, taking the name Pope Benedict XVI. 

As the crowds in St. Peter‘s Square cheered viva al papa (ph), long live the pope, the new pope blessed the faithful from the balcony of St.  Peter‘s Basilica.  MSNBC‘s David Shuster is standing by above St. Peter‘s Square in the Vatican—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it has been quite an evening here at St. Peter‘s Square.  It began at about 5:45 inside the Sistine Chapel after a ballot count, Joseph Ratzinger was asked if he accepted his election as a supreme pontiff.  He responded (INAUDIBLE), I accept and then became the political, religious and bureaucratic leader of the Catholic Church. 


SHUSTER (voice-over):  The first sign came from the chimney in the Sistine Chapel.  The puffs looked white but they were the same consistency as the smoke earlier in the day that eventually turned black.  Still, the timing from the cardinal suggested there had been just one afternoon ballot, not two.  Soon, people were streaming into St. Peter‘s Square by the thousands, cheering, singing and praying. 

For 15 minutes, though, there was no confirmation.  Bells started ringing, but those bells marked the top of the hour.  Then, five minutes later, with the drama, the crowds and the anticipation building...


SHUSTER:  ... following longtime traditions, the doors to the main balcony overlooking St. Peter‘s Square were opened and a senior cardinal stepped forward to make the announcement. 



SHUSTER:  We have a pope, he said, and his name...


SHUSTER:  Joseph Ratzinger then emerged, he will now be known as Pope Benedict XVI. 


SHUSTER:  Dear brothers and sisters, he said, after the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord‘s vineyard.  I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instrument and above all I entrust myself to your prayers.  With the joy of the risen Lord and confidence in his constant help, we will go forward.  The Lord will help us and Mary, his most holy mother, will be alongside us. 


SHUSTER:  Ratzinger, aged 78, is the oldest cardinal to become pope in 275 years.  He is the first German pope in nearly 1,000 years.  Born in Bavaria, Ratzinger was a leading theology professor and then archbishop of Munich.  In 1981, at the age of 54, he took over the congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he delighted conservative Catholics, but upset moderates and other Christians. 

He disciplined Latin American theologians who preached liberation.  He denounced homosexuality and gay marriage and he reigned in Asia priests who said that non-Christian religions are part of God‘s plan for humanity.  In a document five years ago, Ratzinger branded non Catholic Christian churches such as Anglicans, Lutherans and Protestants as deficient.  But Ratzinger‘s views were well known to the College of Cardinals and with concerns that a moderate pope might shift power away from Rome or open the church to dissent by local bishops, this dean of the College of Cardinals who presided over John Paul II‘s funeral was a leading choice.  And in the end, it took only two days and four ballots for Joseph Ratzinger to be chosen as the pope. 


SHUSTER:  Following tradition, Pope Benedict XVI had dinner this evening with the cardinals who elected him.  He will celebrate his first mass here tomorrow morning in the Sistine Chapel.  And regardless of what people say they may think about Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, just about everybody we talk with here tonight, Chris, said that this is an evening for hope and possibility—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  David, is that hope over experience, because we know that he is very conservative.  Is that a generalized sentiment in the Vatican today that he‘s going to be a great pope for everyone?

SHUSTER:  No, I mean, if you talk to people who are connected to the (INAUDIBLE) the bureaucracy in the Vatican, they see this more as a transitional figure, a figure who will continue the legacy of Pope John Paul II.  But when you talk to people here who have gathered here by the tens of thousands, they were simply celebrating that a process unfolded today that people had not seen in 28 years.  That this was a witness to history and regardless of what you think of Joseph Ratzinger, what you think of the Vatican or the bureaucracy here in Rome, there is a sense at least today is a day when the world can be united and at least hope for the best with this particular religious leader—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, great report, David Shuster.  George Weigel is a NBC analyst and the author of the great book “Witness to Hope: A Biography of Pope John Paul II”, and Monsignor Thomas McSweeney is the former director of The Christophers, a Catholic outreach program in New York.  He‘s also an MSNBC analyst.

George, what can we expect from the new pope, Benedict XVI?

GEORGE WEIGEL, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  Chris, I think the name is the program.  Joseph Ratzinger had a long devotion to St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism, one of the saviors of western civilization at the beginning of what we conventionally call the dark ages.  And I think the program is the revitalization of Christian culture throughout the world, but especially in Europe.  So the name is the program.  And the program will be in dynamic continuity with the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. 

MATTHEWS:  Monsignor, what will you expect—what do you expect from the new pope? 

MSGR. THOMAS MCSWEENEY, MSNBC ANALYST:  I think George just nailed it.  It‘s all in a name.  What‘s in a name, Benedictus, blessedness, happiness and holiness.  As George rightly pointed out, St. Benedict, of course, Germany, was the founder of monasticism, leading people to holiness, to put the gospel truth, all of that truth into practice, into one‘s life.  Without that, there is no blessedness, there is no happiness and there is no joy.  This is a pope that is going to call us to find the joy behind all of these truths. 

MATTHEWS:  George, why him and why now?  He has been around for a long time before two previous papal elections, why is he picked as pope now? 

WEIGEL:  Chris, Cardinal Ratzinger was the most well-known and well-respected member of the College of Cardinals at the death of Pope John Paul II.  Moreover, he is a man whom the cardinals trust. I would point especially to the cardinals of the third world who are often treated if not shabbily, then at least somewhat cursedly in Rome.  They knew Cardinal Ratzinger as a great listener, a sympathetic listener, a man who did not impose his views on them at the beginning of a conversation but genuinely wanted to hear about the situation of the church in their countries. 

And while we don‘t know the full contours of the coalition that elected Pope Benedict VXI, I think it is faired to assume that a large part of that coalition came from the church south of the equator, the growing edge of Catholicism throughout the world, men who knew him as someone they trusted. 

MATTHEWS:  So this was not a victory of old Europe over the new world?

WEIGEL:  No, I don‘t think so.  I think what we are seeing in retrospect, Chris, is how much 1978 changed the dynamics of the papal elections.  Once the Italian jiminy was broken, it seems to have been broken for good, which doesn‘t mean that there will not be Italian popes in the future.  It does mean that they will be elected not because they are Italian, but because they are the man for the job.  The cardinals rose beyond nationality, beyond ethnicity, beyond race and chose the one among them in whom they repose the greatest trust.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Monsignor, I just looked at a list of—actually it was a whole set of pictures of possible new popes that ran in “The Washington Post” last year, no picture of Ratzinger. 

MCSWEENEY:  You‘re absolutely right.

MATTHEWS:  Once again, they have confounded us. 

MCSWEENEY:  They have.  I mean, you look at John Allen‘s book and so forth, I‘m leaving through these on the conclave and so forth, updated just a couple of years ago, where is Ratzinger?  There didn‘t seem to be a lot of confidence that he was going to be in the running here and again you are right, we are confounded.

MATTHEWS:  Well let me ask you about the questions facing the church and George, you know more than most of us, without getting into the arguments over conservative versus liberal interpretations, et cetera, there are some issues out there that this new pope, Benedict XVI is going to have to deal with.  I mentioned earlier today in the program, I think you might have been on it, the time that in South Africa, a Catholic archbishop of Cape Town, I believe it was Cape Town, it was certainly South Africa, is allowing people to use condoms as a means of fighting Aids, not as a means of birth control. 

People—generally Africans are not that concerned about birth control as a motive, but they are concerned about saving their lives and the lives of their children from Aids.  What will the pope do?  Will Ratzinger, would he be the kind of person that would send a stiff letter down to South Africa and say stop it? 

WEIGEL:  I think the stiff letter might come from Cardinal Napier of South Africa, who has taken a very strong position in support of the Uganda and Aids reduction and prevention program.  That is the only place in Sub-Saharan, Africa where the incidents of Aids has been dramatically reduced.  It is a program based first on abstinence before marriage...


WEIGEL:  ... secondly, fidelity within marriage and third, condoms only in cases of extreme emergency.  That seems to have worked.  The condom dumping grounds of the world, South Africa and Botswana, have the highest incident of Aids in the world.  Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict VXI—this is going to take a while to get used to...


WEIGEL:  ... is a realist.  He is going to look at this empirically as all of us should and get off of this latex ideology and see what is actually working in terms of saving human lives. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that ABC approach, Monsignor, and I do—I really respect, of course, the president of Uganda who initiated that program, which is basically just say no if you can, but if you are going to have sex, make sure it‘s with a partner, ideally of course your wife or husband, but then if that doesn‘t, you know, hold true, condoms.  Condoms are better than death. 

MCSWEENEY:  I think we are going to have to see here some opportunity for free open discussion.  There‘s issues of collegiality...


MCSWEENEY:  ... that we can talk about...

MATTHEWS:  Which means—explain that in layman‘s terms.

MCSWEENEY:  Collegiality is you know, every bishop, wherever he is working needs to translate all these universal truths to his local situation. 


MCSWEENEY:  And there has been a great confidence in this concept of collegiality where the Vatican in this case would allow bishops to make those calls as he sees them, you know, responding to the culture and the needs of the people in his own region without having necessarily to have ever “I” dotted and every “T”—there‘s a trust that they‘re going to do the best that they can to realize the gospel truth and whatever social situation they‘re in...


MCSWEENEY:  ... but they must be permitted to do that locally. 

MATTHEWS:  An old venture of mine, Tip O‘Neill, used to say that all politics is local.  George Weigel, isn‘t it interesting that the more conservative—I know these terms bother some people, but let‘s say there‘s the rather conservative Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI he‘s become, is not so popular in his native Germany.

WEIGEL:  I would describe Pope Benedict XVI as I described Pope John Paul II, as a Christian radical, as a man utterly convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to the question...


WEIGEL:  ... that is every human life, a pope who is going to challenge fellow bishops around the world to be evangelists.  That‘s the real divide it seems to me in the Catholic Church today.  It is not left, right.  It is who images the church as an evangelical movement, calling the world to conversion and holiness and who is into the institutional maintenance game. 

Institutions are important, but the institution of the church exists for the service and conversion of the world.  That‘s the challenge that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has been putting before bishops, priests and laity and will continue to do so in this new pontificate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well you wouldn‘t want to put down on a lower level of concern, would you, the institutional responsibilities—we will talk about this in the next hour, but of course over here in America, George, you know it, we‘ve had a terrible problem with this pedophilia problem with some of the priests, a small percentage but a disaster to those affected by it.  Isn‘t that a part of the tougher administration that we need? 

WEIGEL:  Cardinal Ratzinger—I keep saying Cardinal Ratzinger—excuse me.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not officially...


MATTHEWS:  Is he officially crowned the pope, yet?

WEIGEL:  He is officially the pope from the nanosecond he says I accept...


WEIGEL:  I have known the man for 18 years as Cardinal Ratzinger...


WEIGEL:  ... it‘s going to take me a while to adjust.  Chris, I think Pope Benedict XVI has as clear a grasp of the need for the reformation and purification of priestly life and Episcopal leadership in the United States as any possible candidate.  All of these dreadful situations have come to the attention of the congregation he led in Rome. 

He has a clear understanding of the need for a reformed priesthood and a reformed episcopic (ph), a reformed body of bishops to seize the enormous opportunity that is in front of the church in the United States.  We are, after all, the most vital church in the developed world.  It is time to get on with the program of being of service to the world and being about the conversion of our culture. 

MATTHEWS:  You are so good, George.  You are the best.  Thank you for—we will be right back with Monsignor Thomas McSweeney and George Weigel, who boy he knows his stuff. 

When we come back, a prominent Catholic from the U.S. Senate, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning, plus we‘ll get the latest from Germany, the birthplace, (INAUDIBLE) of the new pope.  This is (INAUDIBLE) for (INAUDIBLE).

You are watching MSNBC‘s live coverage of the election of a pope, Pope Benedict XVI. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our special coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  Pope Benedict is the first German pope in nearly 1,000 years.  NBC‘s Martin Savidge joins us now by phone from Marktl, Germany the new pope‘s hometown. 

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I just love the entire town of Marktl, Germany (INAUDIBLE) border is here standing in this small square, this village dates back over 1,300 years.  It was not that long ago when the bells of the only small Catholic Church here in town began to peel (ph) at an unusual hour.  That was the signal from the parish priest that in fact there was a new pope and not just any pope, but it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a man who was born in this town, a man who is now going to transform this town.

(INAUDIBLE) pandemonium, people came rushing from all over, first they focused on the church then they came to the town square and then it was just jubilation.  There was a holy mass that was celebrated just a short while ago and now they are gathering here, passing along the information they know the old fashion way, by word of mouth.  A party is going to begin, but the music we hear and they will be celebrating well into tomorrow, knowing that perhaps this town has lost something as well as gained notoriety, lost a small, isolated lifestyle everyone‘s had now is the celebrated home of the pope—back to you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Martin Savidge is in the pope‘s hometown right now.  When we return, one of America‘s prominent Catholics, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is going to join us.  You are watching MSNBC‘s live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  How quickly things change.  We are joined right now by a prominent Catholic politician, well he‘s a politician and he‘s a Catholic.  He‘s a United States senator from Kentucky, Jim Bunning who traveled to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.  Your feelings, Senator? 

SEN. JIM BUNNING ®, KENTUCKY:  I‘m so excited because this cardinal that is now pope had the mass, was the celebrant of the mass for Pope John Paul II.  He buried, you know, had the burial mass, and I think it was kind of John Paul‘s handpicked...


BUNNING:  ... successor.

MATTHEWS:  When you were out there on St. Peter‘s Square on that Friday morning, two Fridays ago, early in the morning, did you sense anything in the way the crowd reacted to him, to his funeral homily, Ratzinger?

BUNNING:  I thought it was, you know, we didn‘t get it except in Latin...


BUNNING:  ... so we didn‘t know what he was saying, but after we went back and were informed on what he said, the crowd reacted very well to him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s what struck me. 

BUNNING:  And I suspect that he was the best known and one of the few people that John Paul did not appoint to the...


BUNNING:  ... to be a cardinal. 

MATTHEWS:  It reminded one of our producers here and me as well, once he brought it up, Ann Clank (ph), she suggested that remember when President George W. Bush had to pick a V.P. and he met all the young guys, and he said well, none of these guys grab me and he looked at the guy who was sitting across the table from him and he looked at Ratzinger and he said well, why don‘t we start with this guy? 

BUNNING:  Well I thought—they are very similar situations where all of a sudden I can remember Dick Cheney calling me and asking me for suggestions for...


BUNNING:  ... V.P. and obviously, here is the cardinal who was leading everything that John Paul wanted...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s also leading the search committee, the College of Cardinals.

BUNNING:  That‘s not a bad deal being the one chosen, and I don‘t know what ballot was on but it was pretty quick. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes it was just 24 hours...


MATTHEWS:  ... three ballots, something like that.  Let me ask you about one letter he sent, a little bit of controversy here.  Last year in August, he sent a letter to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington saying that politicians in the United States or politicians period who support not abortion, but the right under the law for a person who have an abortion shouldn‘t be allowed to have communion.  Now, the Catholic bishops in America, being American, said we will leave that up to the bishops.  What do you think—are we facing a clash here at some point between Ratzinger, the new pope—I mean Pope Benedict XVI I should call him properly, and the American Catholic Church? 

BUNNING:  Chris, I think this—always when you have a tough Catholic, someone who believes deeply in the principles that this church is supposed to stand for, you gather more people.  I sincerely believe that.  I guess the vote of the 13 cardinals from the United States was 3-10.  Three for and 10 against.  Because obviously he stood for things that a lot of the cardinals from the United States were very reluctant to take into their churches. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the idea of excommunicating a politician because of a vote in a secular institution like the U.S. Senate, that‘s a pretty radical step, isn‘t it? 

BUNNING:  Well it‘s radical if you...


MATTHEWS:  ... that standard Catholicism...


MATTHEWS:  ... to just tell politicians now, you will vote—Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, you will vote against that amendment...

BUNNING:  No, no, no, I don‘t agree with—I don‘t believe the church should be able to do that, never have thought that but I think the church has a right to demand of their Catholics, if they are going to be Catholic...


BUNNING:  ... to believe what the church teaches. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh believe, yes, but how about sanctioning them if they vote differently...

BUNNING:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... other people...

BUNNING:  ... sanctioning them in the church...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  For example, if the cardinals in Rome where the pope himself, the new pope said I don‘t think the United States is right morally to go to war with Iraq or the next country we have a problem with, would you consider that interference if they said anybody who votes for that war resolution is excommunicated? 

BUNNING:  Well no, I don‘t think that‘s—that is not what this pope is all about. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s what Ratzinger—has Ratzinger...


MATTHEWS:  ... wrote a letter to McCarrick saying that he wanted that to be done...

BUNNING:  Well here‘s another...

MATTHEWS:  ... with regard to abortion rights.

BUNNING:  Let me read you a statement...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUNNING:  ... he charged the conclave with when they first came. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUNNING:  He said having a clear faith based on the creed of the church is often labeled today as fundamentalism.  Whereas relativism, which is letting once self be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching looks like the only attitude acceptable in today‘s individuals. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I can accept the value of that. 


MATTHEWS:  ... saying it does breed a more popular church.  I‘m just talking about as we have in America, the separation of church and state and rendering under Caesar the things that are Caesar‘s, which is the right of a senator to vote his constituency.

BUNNING:  Well, but how do you separate it from the...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your job as senators. 



MATTHEWS:  That‘s the job...

BUNNING:  How would you separate it from...

MATTHEWS:  I would say...

BUNNING:  ... your personal belief?

MATTHEWS:  I would say that I think abortion is wrong, very wrong, I think you should take it seriously, everybody should no matter what their beliefs are take it seriously, but I think in the end, I don‘t want to live in a country that is so oppressive that it can stop a woman from having an abortion should she choose to. 

BUNNING:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s too much power in the hands of the government for me.  That‘s my view. 

BUNNING:  That‘s your view.

MATTHEWS:  ... have your view. 

BUNNING:  Well I—my view is opposite of that only because...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s hope the new pope will let us agree to disagree. 

BUNNING:  No, no, wait a minute now, the same teachers taught you that taught me.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I know.  Well maybe I got it wrong and maybe you got it wrong.  Anyway, Senator Jim Bunning, senator from Kentucky, a man who was spiritually moved by what happened in Rome these last two weeks and a good guy.  That‘s our church.

When we come back, “Washington Post” reporter Dan Williams joins me.  He interviewed Pope Benedict when he was the cardinal, just a few hours ago actually. 

You‘re watching MSNBC‘s live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict




CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Those are what we call graphics.  Weren‘t they wonderful?

Anyway, welcome back to our live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  Get used to that one.  The new pope is considered a staunch conservative by everyone.  We‘re joined now by Daniel Williams, the Rome bureau chief of “The Washington Post,” who‘s covered then Cardinal Ratzinger‘s role as the Vatican‘s defender of church orthodoxy.  He joins us by phone in Rome. 

And E.J. Dionne, an old pal, is also in Rome.  He‘s a syndicated columnist.  He appears in the “Washington Post” and many other newspapers. 

Let me start with Daniel Williams, Daniel, how would you describe to someone who‘s not informed what to expect from Ratzinger in terms of cracking the whip on orthodoxy?

DANIEL WILLIAMS, ROME BUREAU CHIEF, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, that‘s his last quarter century of his career has been to defend orthodoxy in an office that is in fact in charge of protecting morals and ethics worldwide in the Catholic Church.  So I think you can expect more of the same, and he‘s made many, many public statements in recent weeks against what he calls moral relativism, which he believes is kind of a mental—a philosophical disease which accepts no absolute truth as valid, that anything goes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the old New Testament line from the Lord himself, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar‘s, and to God the things that are God‘s. 

In our country, our Supreme Court has ruled that a woman, whatever the moral questions involved may be, and they are grave for most people, has the right during certain periods of her pregnancy to stop the pregnancy by abortion.  That is a right under the Constitution as interrupted by the Supreme Court and lately that is about a 6-3 attitude by the court, a position that‘s not likely to change in a long time. 

A pro-choice senator, meaning John Kerry, who doesn‘t want to change that by constitutional amendment is branded under our terminology pro choice.  He says, Ratzinger, in a letter to Cardinal McCarrick of Washington last August that such people as Kerry and I guess Kennedy and Mikulski and everyone else who‘s Catholic who votes in a position that opposes the constitutional amendment to ban abortion is excommunicated, should be denied communion. 

That‘s a strong belief by American standards.  Do you think it‘s representative of this guy‘s thinking?

WILLIAMS:  Well, he didn‘t mention excommunication...

MATTHEWS:  He said deny communion. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  He‘s leaving it up to the bishops to do that.  However, the stand—his stand and the stand of the Catholic Church is clear on abortion.  It is—it is wrong.  And that‘s certainly not going to change with the new pope or frankly any pope who is elected in that office. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but I‘m asking you the question particularly, are Catholics allowed to vote for politicians who are pro choice?  Can Catholics hold the view that it‘s up to—in a society like ours, we don‘t want to have a government so repressive it arrests people for performing abortions?  That is a different question than whether abortion is right or wrong.  It‘s what kind of a government you want, isn‘t it?

WILLIAMS:  Well, again, he even in that same letter, when he was discussing how Catholics should vote, he left the choice up to Catholics and had a rather complex opinion expressed on the many possible ways that one can vote for a candidate. 

That said, his teaching will be very clear and will apply to politicians.  They should not support apportion and other teachings that are against Catholic...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a question, again, I don‘t like your terminology. 

If you vote pro-choice in America, you‘re not voting for abortion, are you?

WILLIAMS:  Well, I think that‘s what you‘re saying. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what are you saying?

WILLIAMS:  I think—what I think didn‘t doesn‘t count.  It‘s what the new pope thinks.  He doesn‘t use the phrase pro choice.  He uses the phrase abortion and says it is wrong because under the doctrine, life begins at conception. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me go to E.J. Dionne for you, because I know you‘ve wrestled with this morally and politically and as a journalist.  E.J., where do—where do we find ourselves with this pope, Benedict XVI, on that very difficult issue of abortion rights in America?

E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, see, I don‘t think that any

·         I agree with Dan, that no pope was going to change that.

And there was some debate about what the Ratzinger letter really meant.  I spoke to a cardinal during the election who came to visit in Rome, and he said that the Cardinal Ratzinger and the church did not want to push this all the way to force those, you know—an occasion where somebody would go to the communion rail and be denied communion. 

But I think that some of the issues that you raised earlier this the show, a lot of more moderate or liberal Catholics were looking for at least a more open discussion, for example, about whether you continue an all male celibate priesthood.


DIONNE:  Or perhaps on exactly where the church should stand on condom use, at least to prevent AIDS. 

And I think Cardinal Ratzinger has made very, very clear—you know, I covered—wrote about him 20 years ago as well as recently.  He‘s made it very clear that he thinks the danger of the church is that it will conform too much to the modern world. 


DIONNE:  He said the obligation of Christians is to be nonconformists. 

He‘s willing to be very unpopular.  And...

MATTHEWS:  But part of the modern world—E.J., part of the modern world is to let young girls who want to participate in their religion be altar servers.  Is he OK on that one?

DIONNE:  I believe he is, Chris, but I wouldn‘t—I wouldn‘t guarantee it.  But I think—I think the implication of your question is right, which is I think a lot of moderate and liberal Catholics are going to have some trouble getting used to Pope Benedict XVI. 

He is somebody who condemned, for example, a theologian, Father Charles Curran (ph) for his teachings on birth control and some other sexual issues.  He condemned liberation theologians in Latin America.  This is a tough guy who believes that orthodoxy is both right and the way for the church to win. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Daniel Williams, I‘m glad to have you on the show.  I‘m sorry about the argument but here‘s a fact question.  Is his English good?  The new pope‘s?

WILLIAMS:  Yes, I believe he speaks English.  He speaks several languages and today, of course, he spoke in Italian, which is the sort of lingua franca of the Vatican. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  But do we know much—we don‘t know much about his English skills?

WILLIAMS:  I‘ve never spoken to him myself. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK, thanks for being on, Daniel Williams of “The Washington Post.”  E.J. is going to stay with us.  By the way, his column runs in the “Washington Post.”  I read it a couple times a week. 

And when we come back, theologian—this is a great man, Harvey Cox joins us to talk about what Pope Benedict XVI‘s election means for the future of the Roman Catholic Church.  You‘re watching MSNBC‘s live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special report on the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  The new pope was known for not tolerating dissent within the Catholic Church and has silenced many high-profile priests.  Harvard theologian Harvey Cox wrote a book on one of those cases and actually met with Cardinal Ratzinger.

And syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne is still with us from Rome.

Professor Cox, how tough is the new pope?

HARVEY COX, HARVARD UNIVERSITY RELIGION PROFESSOR:  He‘s tough.  He‘s also bright.  He‘s very confident.  He‘s very competent.  I‘m a Protestant theologian, but I met with him and we had a wonderful conversation for over an hour. 

I think he has a tough job ahead of him, by the way.  If you really assess the current state of the worldwide Catholic Church, it‘s—it‘s grim. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COX:  The erosion of the church in Europe, the hemorrhaging of Catholics out of the church in South America into Pentecostal and evangelical groups, church is divided in Asia.  There‘s a kind of an angry laity here in the United States.  These are enormous tasks for this new pope to take on.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COX:  And I—I have to say I wish him well.  Remember that the pope is not just the head of the Catholic Church.  The pope is kind of a symbol for all Christians, although our audience to him varies, of course, and we all hope—hope for the best.  But I‘m not sure he‘s the right man for this particular task. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you, professor—can you answer this question.  I know it‘s a public opinion question more than an academic one, but why are so many of my friends and co-workers interested that are not Catholics, many of them, in who the next pope is going to be, what happened to the last pope, his death?      Why is this such a big thing?  I don‘t remember it ever being such a big thing before, the transition of popes?

COX:  Well—well, part of it is that John Paul II was a world celebrity.  He was—he was superstar, and everybody knew about him.  He was probably the best-known person in the entire world.  And whether you‘re a Catholic not, what happens to the Catholic Church and who the pope is is immensely important.  And it influences all of us.

MATTHEWS:  Why?   Help me here.  Answer what I call the call the “so what” question.  Well, you have a new pope.  You‘re Episcopalian, or you‘re evangelical.  You‘re a Baptist.  You‘re a strong believer in your Christian faith.  You are a Christian.  You‘re not Catholic by any means.  Why would you care who this guy, to be put it blunt, this fellow over in Rome is at any given time?

COX:  Well, because I believe that the health and vitality of the Catholic Church is part of the health and vitality of the entire two billion Christian community, only half of whom are Catholics. 

And what we may end up with with Benedict XVI, I think, is a much small smaller, much more exclusive, much tighter Catholic Church, a minority church, which may not be a bad thing.  After all, for 300 years in its earliest history, the Catholic Church was a minority, and it did pretty well. 

MATTHEWS:  Easy for you to say Mr. Protestant, but when you‘re a Catholic these issues matter on the inside, because you want to stay active and you want to be able to find harmony from all your beliefs put together. 

You know, you speak as if the Catholics and the Protestants have a common goal but hasn‘t there been competition?  I mean, certainly in Europe for 2,000 years.  Your prince was a protestant.  The other guy‘s prince was a Catholic.  They went to war.  You had to fight.

Here in this country, there‘s been proselytization on both sides, Catholics trying to win over Protestants, Protestants trying to win over Catholics.  I went to—used to spend my summers in Ocean City, New Jersey, and Youth for Christ came there every summer and they were proselytizing.  And they were nice young people, usually from rural areas, but they wanted to make you a Protestant if you were a Catholic. 

COX:  Well, yes, I guess they did. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s part of the deal.  In this country we compete all the time for beliefs. 

COX:  Yes, we do compete.  There‘s no doubt about that.

However, it is true that the relationship and the atmosphere between Catholics and Protestants over the last 50 years has improved over enormously.  Especially...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, for good reason or bad reasons?

COX:  Well, especially since John XXIII. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but how about bad reasons.  How about they all agree on a kind of a cultural war?  Conservative Catholics, conservative Protestants gang up on liberals in mainstream Protestant churches and liberal Catholics.  Is that necessarily good that the right forges an alliance against the left within the Christian community?

COX:  It‘s not good.  It‘s not good.  And I think these cross traditional alliances between the right wing of Catholics and Protestants on the other side is really a terrible way to go. 

Let me point out, however, that Cardinal Ratzinger has not, in his most recent statements encouraged me that he‘s going to have the kind of openness and ecumenical attitude toward Protestants that was—that previous popes have had.  He keeps using the word sects, which is not—not a nice word. 

MATTHEWS:  I love to hear that.  E.J., I want to get you in here.  This pope doesn‘t want to have Turkey in the European Union.  He doesn‘t want an Islamic influence in Europe.  Isn‘t this—isn‘t this where the tire hits the road?  How we get along with Islam?

DIONNE:  I think this is a huge issue, Chris, and I think his comments on Turkey raise some real potential problems. 

I mean, the Catholic Church is in competition with Islam as well.  In some countries, it faces persecution by Islamic governments.  It‘s also got an obligation to dialogue.  John Paul II was very sensitive to that.  He was somebody who almost believed in a kind of popular front of spiritual people around the world.

When I covered him in India, he spoke very positively, both of religion freedom and of the deep religious feeling in India.  And so I do think this ecumenical idea that Harvey referred to that took root under John XXIII is still central to the church.  And I think a lot of people in the church continue to believe that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I hope so.  I think we all hope that.  Everybody watching in America hopes that.  We are the great melting pot, not just of ethnicity, but religion as well.  Anyway, thank you, Professor Harvey Cox, a great man.  And E.J. Dionne, a powerful columnist.

We‘ll be back with more reaction from American Catholics when we return.  Former U.S. Congresswoman Susan Molinari will be one of our guests.  You‘re watching MSNBC‘s live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  It will take some getting used to.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our live coverage of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  It‘s all over.  We have a new pope.  Unbelievable.  Habemus Papam.

We‘re joined right now by a prominent American Catholic politician, former U.S. Congressman Susan Molinari.  We‘re throwing that term around tonight, prominent.  Anybody who comes on the show is prominent. 

SUSAN MOLINARI, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN:  I‘m glad I decided to show up tonight.  Thank you.  That makes it all worthwhile. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you think?  What did you feel today as a Catholic politician?

MOLINARI:  It‘s interesting, because I was getting ready to do MSNBC when the white smoke appeared.  And the—the pageantry, the emotion.

MATTHEWS:  Great stuff.

MOLINARI:  And you know what‘s just amazing, the life we live in now, where it‘s text messaging, instant messaging.  And we all had to wait, and there was nothing we could do to move it, to find out, to get on the phone, to figure out other than was the smoke really white and would the bells chime?  And tradition just took over and set us back how many hundreds of years.

MATTHEWS:  There wasn‘t the usual competition among the networks, either, whether Tim gets it first or Tom gets it first.  When we get in, they go to Tom Shelton (ph) of the “Washington Post.”  Who got there by the second?  This time the Vatican itself put out the smoke.  They did it.  They controlled this P.R. thing. 

MOLINARI:  There‘s something to be said for tradition.  And people all around this world who are really longing for it. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re an Italian-American.  What did you think of a German pope?  Isn‘t that something you never thought of?


MATTHEWS:  Never  imagined a German pope. 

MOLINARI:  No, that‘s very true. 

MATTHEWS:  I can think of French, Spanish, Portuguese. 

MOLINARI:  You know, when you‘re Italian, you always think Italian.  But of course.  Of course.  And it‘s wonderful.  I think obviously, Pope John Paul showed that you don‘t have to be Italian to be a great pope. 


MOLINARI:  And that there is something for nationalities around the globe to take great pride in their religious leader.  And so if this allows another nationality to feel the pride that Italian Americans have and now Polish American have, then I think it‘s a good thing.  And of course, as Pope John Paul has shown us all, once they are the pope, they become all of our leaders. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me ask you about—We‘re going to get to in the next hour the whole question of the American Catholic Church.  What are your feelings about how the American Catholic Church can use a new pope?  And I hate to put that it way.  But there‘s certain new leadership that Catholics do want from Rome.  Don‘t they?

MOLINARI:  Right.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know that I necessarily agree with that.  I think that the American Catholic Church was pretty happy in many ways with Pope John Paul and all that he did in terms of bringing young people into the church. 

MATTHEWS:  You want the numbers?  Sixty percent of American Catholics want women to become priests. 


MATTHEWS:  Allowed to become.  Sixty-five percent want priests to marry; 65%.  And everybody I know in my church where I go thinks that.  They think it would be healthier to have families represented up there at the altar, rather than just individuals. 

The ban on artificial birth control, 69% want it changed.  These are not my thoughts.  These are the numbers. 

MOLINARI:  Obviously, that‘s not going to change any time too soon.  This man obviously was the theological leader for Pope John Paul.  And while people may want those changes, I myself live in a diocese that doesn‘t allow altar girls, and I have two young girls, and it kind of breaks my heart. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is that?

MOLINARI:  In Alexandria. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that something? 

MOLINARI:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m afraid Ratzinger, the new pope, Benedict, might be against that, too.  And I don‘t know why you don‘t want to let young girls join in an active role in our church. 

MOLINARI:  We‘d love for them to...

MATTHEWS:  My daughters have always—they‘ve all done that.  It‘s great stuff.  I‘m in Maryland. 

Anyway, thank you, Susan Molinari.  We‘ll have much more about what the election of Pope Benedict XVI will mean for American Catholics, coming up in the next hour.  Our live coverage continues after this.




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