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NBC News MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, April 3, 2005
Guests: Archbishop John P. Foley, President, Pontifical Council for Social Communications; Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., editor, "America: The National Catholic Weekly" and author, "Inside the Vatican"; Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, Co-Director, Fordham Center on Religion and Culture; Monsignor John Strynkowski; Judge Anne Burke, Former Interim Chair, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board; Raymond Flynn, Former Ambassador to the Vatican; Chester Gillis, Georgetown University; Jon Meacham, Newsweek Magazine
Moderator/Host: Tim Russert, NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday--the life and death of Pope John Paul II. How will history remember him? With us, Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Reverend Thomas Reese of the Society of Jesus, author of "Inside the Vatican," Margaret O'Brien Steinfels of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. Monsignor John Strynkowski, rector of St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn.
And what now for the Catholic church? With us, Judge Anne Burke, former chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board, Ray Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Chester Gillis of Georgetown University and author of "Roman Catholicism in America" and Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek magazine.
This was the scene this morning at the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican: Vatican television showing the pope's remains clad in crimson vestments, his head covered with a white bishop's miter as the diplomatic corps paid their last respects.
I want to begin by talking about Pope John Paul II's legacy. Archbishop Foley, many believe that his stand against communism, in fact, the fall of communism on his watch, will be his greatest accomplishments in the history books. This is when he went to Poland in June of 1979, when he implored his fellow countrymen, "Do not be afraid." He later met with Lech Walesa, the leader of the solidarity movement, met with the Communist Party leader of Poland, Gerosowski, and even met with Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the former Soviet Union. Will, in fact, that be the most important aspect of his papacy?
ABP. JOHN FOLEY: I think historically you have to say that the collapse of communism will be one of the things for which he's most remembered. A lot of people forget, however, that he was also responsible for the collapse of right-wing dictatorships in Latin America because he always insisted on the same thing, that dignity of the human person as a child of God and the rights of individuals. It's funny when he went back to Poland after the collapse of communism, he spoke about the responsibilities of individuals, and he spoke about the Ten Commandments and what citizens have to do in a democracy to make a responsible democratic government. So he tailored his message to the circumstances of the time, but certainly I think the greatest achievement would be the collapse of communism.
MR. RUSSERT: Monsignor Reese, I want to show you some photographs of the pope in Jerusalem of 2000 when he went to the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem and, in fact, offered a letter of apology and sought reconciliation between Catholics and Jews, the significance of that in terms of this pope's legacy?
REV. THOMAS REESE: Oh, it's terribly significant. You know, a thousand years from now when school children don't know what Communists are, there will still be Catholics and Jews. And they will look back at this time period as an extraordinary time period, when the relationship between Catholics and Jews changed, when Christians no longer persecuted Jews but became brothers and sisters. Now, as brothers and sisters like in any family, we're going to continue to have arguments and fights, but it's going to be, you know, arguments within a family, no longer as enemies, rather as brothers and sisters. His reaching out to the Jewish community by visiting the death camps, by going to the Roman synagogue, by going to Jerusalem to the holy wall and praying there and especially for apologizing for the treatment of Jews through the centuries, this is of epic importance.
MR. RUSSERT: Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, what will be the pope's lasting legacy?
MS. MARGARET O'BRIEN STEINFELS: Well, I certainly think the fall of the Soviet control over Eastern Europe will be among his achievements. I remember things like his going to Chile and objections to his meeting with General Pinochet, and yet, I think everyone feels that his meeting with General Pinochet certainly had an impact on Chilean politics. So there are the grand gestures of the Soviet Union and then there are the perhaps smaller and more easily forgotten but for the people of Chile, of course, it was very important that General Pinochet and the generals finally left office.
MR. RUSSERT: Monsignor Strynkowski, talk about being a Polish American, the way you and fellow Poles felt when Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, became the pope of the Catholic Church.
MSGR. JOHN STRYNKOWSKI: Well, I was working here in Rome in 1978 when he was elected. I had been in Poland in 1975, and I had spent three days in his house. And I was tremendously impressed by him, so much so that when I came back here to Rome, I said to people, "I think we have a potential papal candidate in Krakow." I found him to be very warm, very intelligent, great working with his priests, a very holy man, and a wonderful preacher, and a great sense of humor. I thought he had all the qualities that would make him a great leader for the universal church. So, needless to say, standing in St. Peter's Square on October the 16th, I was one of many who leapt into the air when we heard the announcement of his name as the next pope.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring you back to that terrible day at St. Peter's Square, Monsignor, when the pope was greeting pilgrims in May of 1981 and suddenly shots rang out; the pope collapsed. He was rushed by his security guards in the so-called popemobile to a nearby hospital, six hours of surgery. Many believe that he was shot because of his outspokenness, particularly towards communism. What do you remember about that day?
MSGR. STRYNKOWSKI: Well, I think we were all deeply distressed because we feared for the life of the pope. But I think the first reaction, at least in my mind, and I think in the minds of many others, was that this indeed was some kind of a plot by the Soviet authorities to assassinate him and to have him off the world scene. I think there's no question that they were extremely displeased with his election, and knew that this could have a very profound effect on their control over a country like Poland. So no question that they wanted him off the world scene. But, fortunately, God preserved him, and enabled him to continue to serve as pope for many more years.
MR. RUSSERT: Archbishop Foley, I want to show you some extraordinary footage just two years after that assassination attempt, the pope meeting with the man who shot him, praying with Mahmet Ali Agca. How difficult is it for a person to sit and talk to, much less pray with, someone who tried to take their life?
ABP. FOLEY: Not for the pope, it isn't difficult. He's a remarkable individual--compassionate, forgiving, loving. And I think he saw it as his obligation to show the forgiveness of Jesus, so who even on the cross said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Ironically, I received a number of letters from Ali Agca at the Vatican. I don't know why he sent them to me. But he spoke about his own sorrow for having made that attempt on the life of the pope, and he spoke about our Lady of Fatima and the importance of her in the life of the Catholic Church and in the life of the world. These are handwritten letters from Ali Agca, and I would forward them up, of course, to the Holy Father. But how Ali Agca got my name, I don't know. But it was, I thought, very impressive that Ali Agca would say these things.
MR. RUSSERT: Extraordinary. You know, Father Reese, let's talk about the future of the Catholic church. You are quoted this morning as saying that just as the pope selection of a priest from Poland, unlike the past history of our church, most of the popes coming from Italy, that you have a sense that perhaps the cardinals may want to choose his successor from South America or Asia or Africa. Explain that.
REV. REESE: Well, we are no longer simply a European church. We're now quite clearly a Catholic, a universal, church that reaches into every race, every culture, every country in the world. And the cardinals who will be gathering, the 117 cardinals that will be gathering in Rome, to elect the successor of John Paul II come from all over the world. And there's a very good chance that they might elect one of the cardinals from the Third World, from Latin America or Africa. Cardinal Francis Arinze, for example, a Nigerian cardinal who works in Rome, is one of the leading candidates who's spoken of. This would have a tremendous impact. It would show that this is a universal church. It's not simply a white European church anymore.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said that cardinals want to go back home and say to their flocks, "This is someone we can be proud of," suggesting that even in the Catholic church, all politics is local.
REV. REESE: Absolutely. You know, the concerns of cardinals coming from the Third World will be, you know, that their people are hungry, that they're getting the short end of the stick in globalization. They're concerned about their relations with Muslims in countries like Nigeria and in Africa and in other places where Christians are a minority. On the other hand, you know, the American cardinals are going to be very concerned that the new pope understands the sex abuse crisis in the United States and doesn't, you know, say something dumb about that that would set us back for years. And also, you know, the European and American cardinals are going to want someone who continues the pope's outreach to the Protestants and Jewish communities. All of these things are extremely important, and, you know, for the bishops coming from the various parts of the world.
MR. RUSSERT: There will be 117 cardinals who are 80 years or younger who are eligible to vote for the next pope. All but three were appointed by Pope John Paul II.
Margaret Steinfels, as a Catholic laywoman from the United States, I want to ask you about a quote that Father Reese wrote in America magazine a few years ago. "The growing alienation of women from the church is extremely serious because it is women who, as mothers and teachers, pass on the faith in the next generation." How would you explain the role of women in the church right now, and what are your expectations for the next pope?
MS. STEINFELS: Well, I'm always happy to agree with Tom Reese. I think the fact of the matter, and we can all observe it, is that when women go to church, sometimes men go with them. And when women don't go to church, men don't go either. Anybody who is an active Catholic in their parish knows that much of the work of the church, certainly in the United States, is carried out by women as choir directors, as Catechists, as heads of schools, etc. And I do think that this pope--it is no surprise, he said, that women cannot be ordained. I don't think that's a surprise. What is a bit of a surprise for man who, I think, had good friendships with women and who I'm sure was not anti-woman was that he said after Sister Teresa came and urged this on him in one of his trips to Washington, "We can't talk about this." And I think the fact that you can't talk about it doesn't mean you don't talk about it, but it means that you have created a very serious blind spot in the church. And it may be that older women are not so much affected by this, but I do think younger women are very much affected by it. And I do think it has consequences for the church.
MR. RUSSERT: Monsignor Strynkowski, do you believe that the next pope will alter in any significant way the views of the church on issues like ordination of women in the priesthood or on issues like birth control or gay rights or some of the more controversial issues that are discussed so frequently here in the United States?
MSGR. STRYNKOWSKI: Well, I think we have to remember that every pope has to see himself as being loyal to the tradition that he has received. There is continuity from one pontificate to another. The very name, for example, of John Paul. John Paul I chose that because he wanted to emphasize that he was going to continue the work of John XXIII and Paul VI. And I think that John Paul II saw himself in the same light. So I think that every pope has to see himself as working within the tradition that he receives.
At the same time, there are areas where things can change. But no pope does that on his own. Every pope has to take into account what is the mind of the church, what is going on in the church. So in those areas where change is possible, a pope may very well consider that. But I don't think we can speculate or try to guess what a new pope might do. All we can do is be sure that he will always use a criterion of fidelity to what he has received as his criterion for whatever change he would implement subsequently.
MR. RUSSERT: Archbishop Foley, as you well know, we are a sacramental church. We need priests to offer Mass and distribute Communion, concentrate the host and the wine, marry people, last rites. About half the Catholics in the world do not have ready access to a priest during a course of a week. How acute is the shortage of priests, and would there be any consideration of broadening the universe from which priests could be chosen?
ABP. FOLEY: Well, of course, there is a critical shortage of priests in many areas of the world. There is an abundance of vocations in many areas of Africa, in India, in Korea, but there is a shortage of priests in the United States and a growing shortage of priests in some areas of Europe. I think that we should reach out more for vocations, and more people have responded to the example and the invitation of Pope John Paul II, but we can't change the teaching of Christ. We can expand the number of lay ministers to do various functions that were previously done by the priest but weren't essential to the role of the priest--for certain types of administrative tasks, other organizational things--but you really can't have the essential things, the celebration of the Eucharist, the forgiveness of sins, the administration of the sacrament, of the anointing of the sick given to other individuals because the church doesn't consider itself authorized to do that. It was Christ who instituted these sacraments and gave them to the church to be administered by priests, so they must be done by priests. But perhaps priests can be kept for these essential roles, and other things given to others to do, more responsibility shared within the church.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you share Father Reese's view that there's a good possibility the next pope could come from the Third World--Asia, Africa, South America?
ABP. FOLEY: Well, working in the Roman ...(unintelligible) it's a little dangerous for me to speculate, Tim. But I know cardinals--I know all the cardinals, thank God. I mean, I know a number of men from those areas who, I think, would be wonderful candidates for the papacy. So it's not impossible, it's not even unlikely. But who knows?
MR. RUSSERT: Father Reese, in terms of the Catholic laity, how do you see their role changing, if at all, with a new pope?
REV. REESE: Well, I think that over the years, especially since the Second Vatican Council, we've seen a growing respect for the gifts that the laity bring to the church. We've seen a growing involvement of laypeople in church ministries, as Archbishop Foley mentioned. They're doing religious education. They're doing pastoral counseling. They're taking Communion to the sick. They're reading the Scripture readings at the liturgies. You know? And I think the question is: Are we going to take it a step further and really listen to the laity when it comes to issues that are quite central to the church, even in terms of governance and in terms of church teaching and practice, to really consult with the laity and really listen to them?
I think that's so important, as Peggy Steinfels said. You know, the--even if the new pope continues and takes a position that people might disagree with, if people feel that he has listened to them and that the bishops and the hierarchy are listening to them and taking their concerns seriously, I think that makes all the difference in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Margaret Steinfels, do you believe that a new pope will change the role of the laity or will there be a stronger centralization of power or a decentralization?
MS. STEINFELS: It's hard to say. I myself would not be surprised if not the next pope, the pope after that, would certainly allow married men to serve as priests, to--ordained married men. That, of course, we know was a practice in the first thousand years of the church, and there is no doctrinal impediment to it. There may be sociological ones. So that is--seems to me almost inevitable that in the United States and Europe that that will happen. Then, of course, it would happen around the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Monsignor Strynkowski, do you agree with that?
MSGR. STRYNKOWSKI: I really don't know what will happen. I think, though, whatever happens a pope will first want to consult with the bishops of the world, maybe using the structure of the Senate of Bishops. This actually was done in 1971 when the Senate of Bishops was discussing the issue of priesthood, and Pope Paul VI asked them to vote on two propositions. One would allow him to proceed to the ordination of what are called the vidiprovati; that is, men who are experienced, mature. And the other saying that only in the most extraordinary circumstances should the pope allow the ordination of a married man. And that second proposition won by about 30 votes. So there was considerable sentiment already in 1971 on the part of a number of bishops that perhaps there should be some consideration given to the ordination of older, mature, experienced men, men who've already raised their families. So I suspect that if a pope is going to consider that in the future, he would want to use a similar structure or procedure and get the mind of the bishops of the world on this before making a final decision.
MR. RUSSERT: Monseigneur Strynkowski, what do you think the biggest challenge confronting the American Catholic church is?
MSGR. STRYNKOWSKI: I think something that was raised earlier and that is the role of the laity. To what extent are we going to allow the laity to be heard more and to be involved more in responsibility, especially administrative responsibilities. The pope in his wonderful letter for the beginning of the new millennium was very, very strong on bishops and priests listening to the laity and recognizing that even the youngest among the laity have something to say, that they are all a gift to the church. The Holy Spirit makes known the direction the church can go through, our consultation with the laity. So I think that that is perhaps the major challenge for us as we move ahead. The importance of more and more dialogue, relationships between bishop, priests and laity, I think that's going to be crucial for the future of the church in the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Archbishop Foley, let me bring you back 20 years. You were instrumental in facilitating NBC's visit to broadcast from the Vatican during Easter week in 1985. This is how the pope greeted us and American viewers. Let's listen.
(Videotape, March 27, 1985):
POPE JOHN PAUL II: Welcome the group from the American television network, NBC, which will be broadcasting directly to the United States from the Vatican during holy week.
MR. RUSSERT: Archbishop, for generations, popes had been perceived as the CEO of the Curia and stayed in Rome. Suddenly a pope welcoming an American television network to the Vatican, unprecedented, historic broadcast. Talk about this pope's understanding and perception of the media and television.
ABP. FOLEY: It was a wonderful week. I remember it, of course, very vividly. And something that ties in with that is something the pope said to Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore when Cardinal Keeler asked if he could have a television camera present for a presentation he was making to the pope and the pope said, "If it doesn't happen on television, it doesn't happen." So the pope realizes the importance of television.
And, in fact, a year ago at a lunch with the pope, the pope said, "You know, Archbishop," he said, "your department is 40 years old this year. Would you like a letter from me stressing the importance of communications?" I said, "Would I like a letter from you? Certainly, Your Holiness." And he prepared such a letter, an apostolic letter, as it's called, a major document, that was released in the weeks between his two hospitalizations this year. So it was the last major document of the pope, a letter on communications that said, "With the rapid development of the technologies, the techniques of communicating, people are living in an environment of communications, and we have to become accustomed to that. Be careful of the dangers, of course, but also earn to use these media of communications, live with them in order to enrich and unify individuals around the world." So a beautiful final testament of this holy father is his belief in communications.
MR. RUSSERT: We've talked about a lot of serious issues this morning. Before we go, I want to talk about the pope's sense of humor. Now, people, whether they agreed with him or not, loved to be in his presence. This was the scene during Easter week of 1985 when Bryant Gumbel, then the host of the "Today" show, and Jane Pauley...
BRYANT GUMBEL: ...on behalf of NBC News.
POPE JOHN PAUL II: Oh, welcome.
Unidentified Man: From Warsaw.
GUMBEL: From Warsaw.
POPE JOHN PAUL II: From Warsaw?
GUMBEL: From Warsaw. Right.
POPE JOHN PAUL II: You brought them from Warsaw?
GUMBEL: We brought them from Warsaw, NBC News.
MR. RUSSERT: Bryant Gumbel presenting a traditional Easter basket from Warsaw to the pope for Easter, and he was having fun with Bryant, by saying, "You're not from Warsaw. How can we have this basket from Warsaw?"
Archbishop, you have a wonderful story about having lunch with the pope and eating rum-soaked cake.
ABP. FOLEY: Yeah, it was the same lunch where he promised that document that I mentioned to you, and the pope knew that I didn't drink. I don't drink alcohol. And his secretary, Archbishop Geevus, knew the same thing, so Archbishop Geevus, when I'm eating this rum-soaked cake with gusto, said, "Archbishop Foley, what do you call a person who doesn't drink alcohol but eats it?" and I looked at him and I said, "A hypocrite." And the pope had his mouth full and went--but also, by the way, he does have a sense of humor in this way. I had to present a whole group of people to the pope once. And one of them was Senor Poppa, Mr. Pope, who worked in our office. So I said, "Your Holiness, this is Senor Poppa, Mr. Pope." And the pope looked at me and said, "Me, too." He said, you know, "I'm Mr. Pope."
And one final thing, right after the election of John Paul I, I was in Rome, and Cardinal Crole, whom you remember well from Philadelphia, had a special luncheon for American and Polish cardinals, and he invited me. And Cardinal Wojtyla from Poland was there, and the sisters who took care of the house were Polish, from Warsaw. So they invited Cardinal Vajinski, the primate of Poland, the archbishop of Warsaw, to see their convent, but they didn't invite Cardinal Wojtyla. So when they saw Cardinal Wojtyla after he had been elected pope, he said, "Maybe the next time I come back to the residence of the American priests, you'll invite me to see your convent, too." So a real impish sense of humor that he has. He liked to needle.
MR. RUSSERT: And a wonderful way to conclude our conversation. Archbishop Foley, Father Reese, Monsignor Strynkowski, Margaret Steinfels, thank you all.
And we'll be back for more discussion on the future of the Catholic church in the United States after the death of Pope John Paul II, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: More of our special edition, the life and death of Pope John Paul II, the church in America after his death after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Welcome all.
The life and death of Pope John Paul II, an extraordinary figure both in spiritual terms but also political terms. Here is Pope John Paul II meeting with every American president since Jimmy Carter, then Ronald Reagan, of course, former President Bush, former President Clinton and current President George W. Bush.
Ambassador Ray Flynn, you were the Democratic mayor of Boston and then ambassador to the Vatican. The pope infuriates liberals with his positions on abortion and birth control and gay marriage and stem cell research and then infuriates conservatives with his opposition to the war in Iraq, his opposition to the death penalty, his support for massive increases in aid for the poor. How do you define the pope's politics?
AMB. RAYMOND FLYNN: Good, the way I like it. He speaks of the teaching of the Catholic church and Jesus Christ rather than try to accommodate a political party or try to be politically popular or try to be liberal or try to be conservative. Even in the future, Tim, I want the pope to play it right down the middle. I want him to be traditional in representing the teachings and the values of the Catholic church. In politics, Tim, you need two things. You need a good message. We have a good message, the teachings of Christ. We also need a good communicator. We need somebody who believes in that and is able to articulate that. I think this is the talent of John Paul II. And if I'm looking for somebody as a pope, I'd vote for somebody who's going to follow in that tradition, who's going to be respectful for traditional Catholic values regardless of what the political climate is, whether or not people--the thinking should go to the left or should go to the right. That's the reason why I think this man has so much credibility.
Tim, people will support somebody if they believe that person believes in what they're saying. If they believe that person is just accommodating, like we witness all the time in American politics. Everything crumbles in politics and life. The only thing that doesn't crumble is the truth. And I think that's John Paul II's greatest strength is he was consistent with the truth and that's what I hope the next pope brings to the Vatican.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, there was a moral and intellectual consistency with Pope John Paul II. Here's an interview he gave in 1993. "Communism has had its success in this century as a reaction against a certain type of unbridled, savage capitalism." Critical of communism, critical of capitalism. How would you define John Paul II's role in world politics and what do you see in terms of his successor?
MR. JON MEACHAM: I think he's a remarkably unique figure in that he was that rarest of creatures. He was a consistent man, particularly when it comes to the culture of life. He held positions, he was anti-abortion, but he was also anti-death penalty. That is confounding to many people, particularly in America. But he spoke from a theological, philosophical, moral, consistent conviction. And what he did, which I think is arguably his greatest service to global politics outside the church, is he defined the moral case against the forces of evil, whether they took the form of Soviet tyranny, of the excesses and failures of capitalism, to be just to the economically oppressed.
You know, my favorite story about the pope is when he was a young man, he was an altar boy in the cathedral in Krakow on Friday morning, September 1st, 1939 when the Luftwaffe came over the city as the Germans invaded Poland beginning World War II. But the young--the future pope and the priest celebrating the Mass kept going. They finished the service before they went out. And I think that story was the beginning of his ability to use the power of faith to stand strong against the forces of what St. Paul called the principalities and powers of this world.
MR. RUSSERT: Judge Burke, in our previous segment, Father Reese talked about the sex abuse scandal here in America. You were the interim chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board. How do you rate the response, the reaction of Pope John Paul II to your findings, your work to the sex abuse scandal here in America?
JUDGE ANNE BURKE: Well, I'd have to give him an A-plus because of his curial cardinals, not because of the bishops in the United States. As you know, this was a very difficult topic for the Catholic church to face. Consequently, what happened was this: The bishops in the United States looked to the laity to help restore the trust that had been lost as a result of the scandal. They also looked to the laity to uncover what was the extent of the scandal, and also to ask for recommendations. And during this entire process, we did have some resistance in the United States of what we were asked to do by the hierarchy in the United States.
However, when we were denied the opportunity to talk to the papal nuncio, we wrote to the members of the Roman Curia, and quite openly they invited us to come speak with them, so on two different occasions, Bob Bennett and Bill Burleigh and I went to Rome. The first time we spoke with three members of the curial cardinals, which was Cardinal Arenze, Lopez Trujillo and staffers. Then on a second visit, we spent a significant amount of time with Cardinal Ratzinger and members of his staff.
These were open meetings, and we have to presume that it was the pope's knowledge that we were there, and they listened far more than what the bishops in the United States did. So I do think this was a wonderful beginning, and what Tom Reese said and Ms. Steinfels said and the others in your previous piece is that this may be a small step, but it is a beginning of dialogue that the pope has asked the bishops in the world, to include the laity in their deliberations and include the laity in many other areas, and I do think that the sex abuse crisis, for what it stands for, the horrible, criminal conduct by members of the Roman Catholic clergy in the United States, will open the door to a dialogue and an opportunity to collaborate.
MR. RUSSERT: Chester Gillis, you are chairman of the department of theology at Georgetown University, a Jesuit university. Many students interested, obviously, in their faith, Catholicism. And yet on the issues that we talked earlier about where the pope was morally and intellectually consistent-- abortion, gay rights, stem cell research--many of your students disagree with church teaching. How does that play out in the years ahead for the future of the church in America?
PROF. CHESTER GILLIS: Well, they do disagree--many of them do disagree with the pope--and there's a kind of a disconnect. They respect the pope and they admire him in many ways, but they simply degree because the culture in which they're imbedded is accepting different principles than the pope's-- from the pope's principles, and they have chosen their cultural principles over the pope's principles. And I don't think they're about to change by virtue of juridical authority. I think they don't make their decisions in relationship to hierarchy and juridical authority the way perhaps Catholics of one or two generations ago did.
They respect him, but they make their decisions based upon personal experience to some degree. So, for example, if they have friends who are gay and they think they're very good people, they judge that as more weighty than the pope's voice. Now, whether or not that's appropriate for them to do, it's what they're actually doing. And so the pope will have a hard task to convince some young Americans of some of his principles, if the next pope continues exactly in the same mode as this pope.
MR. RUSSERT: Asking, they are, for more of an emphasis on the Gospel of Christ than teachings on sexuality?
PROF. GILLIS: Yes, the Gospel of Christ, the pope's social teachings, for example, and his championing of the poor and his being with the underdog, they're all in favor of that, and they're in favor of social justice. But teachings on sexual ethics just fall on deaf ears for them, and they kind of selectively ignore that. And in a sense they're defecting in place. They're not saying, "We're not Catholic," and they're not saying, "We don't want to be part of the church," but they want to say, "We want to be part of the church in some ways on our terms." Now, some people don't like that, but that's the reality.
MR. RUSSERT: Ambassador Flynn, some have described these type of Catholics as cafeteria Catholics. You pick and choose which teachings you want to follow. But the reality is that most Catholics in the United States, the vast majority disagree with the teachings of the church on birth control, on abortion, increasingly on gay rights, and I daresay on the death penalty. How do you reconcile that?
AMB. FLYNN: It is very difficult, Tim, obviously. But by the same token, you have to be consistent. You have to deal with the truth. The Holy Father, I think, in one of the statements made earlier, even though people disagreed with him, they respected him. I find that, by the way, one of the most fascinating political dynamics that I've ever witnessed in my life. I've been involved in politics for 40, 45 years. I've known presidents and prime ministers and speakers of the House. I've never met a man, however, that has the kind of a relationship with young people, even at a frail age of 84 years old, where young people will disagree with him on some of these issues but nonetheless believe in what he is saying to them is what he really believes is in their best interests. And, wow, that is really connecting with young people.
So I'm not pessimistic about the church, the future of the church. I rode back with the Holy Father from Denver, Colorado, after World Youth Day in August of 1993, and we're sitting right next to each other on the plane. And we started talking about when I first met Karol Wojtyla in 1969. We had a good chat about rarum navarum, social and economic justice, which is what Catholics like me got into politics for, to help the poor, to help the needy. But when we're sitting on that plane all the way back across the Atlantic Ocean, Tim, the Holy Father said to me, "Raymond, I met the future of America. I looked into the eyes of the future of America. The future of America is very bright, it's very hopeful, it's very promising. It's in the teachings of Christ. It's in your young people. America, best days are yet to come."
I never forgot that because previous to that, Tim, I had been the mayor of Boston and naturally you deal with issues like poverty and drive-by shootings and you get down in the dumps once in a while. It took this older man who had to remind me, this so-called savvy, streetwise seasoned politician what was really important and what the future of young people really is all about. You know, I think that's going to be Wojtyla's greatest legacy. You can't measure it today, but you'll see it in the years to come in your children, in your grandchildren. I think the best days of the Catholic Church and society are yet to come because of a legacy that John Paul II has established for all of us. May disagree with him, but you respect him and you're going to understand right from wrong. Your decision.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, let me show you the scene in Mexico City in 1999, the pope being greeted by tens of thousands of young people. And they are all cheering "El Papa! El Papa!" and very much along Mayor Flynn's observations that while many may disagree with the pope's positions on various issues, they embraced him as a charismatic leader. As a man of faith and as a historian, what happens to faith as it evolves through decades and centuries? Does it conform itself to the teaching of its followers or do the followers conform their thinking to the faith?
MR. MEACHAM: That's the great mystery of faith. There's a tension between the two. Speaking as an Anglican, we always try to find a middle way. And I think that history shows that there is such a thing as ongoing revelation. When the Catholic Church decides to change or evolve some kind of doctrinal position, they often say, "As the church has always held and holds now," which, if they had to make an announcement about it, one wonders whether they always held it.
The sense of whether the pastor or the president, to use a political analogy, leads the people or the people lead him is the great mystery of leadership. I think the most analogous American figure to John Paul II who served with him in many ways was another actor, another man with whom many people disagreed yet were fond of, and that's Ronald Reagan.
And the gift of a great actor or a great leader or a great pastor, I think, throughout both faith and politics through the millennia has been the ability to convince people of a reality they cannot see, to be able to paint a portrait of what life should be like or what life could be like beyond time and space, and the incredible ability of John Paul II to tirelessly carry that message of hope. You know, his first words at his inaugural Mass when he became the 264th bishop of Rome were, "Be not afraid," what Jesus said to his disciples. And I think that that message, be not afraid, is something that the followers respond to and are, therefore, willing to work within the system, work within the church to try to move forward and make--come to a kind of unity within context as opposed to breaking away.
MR. RUSSERT: Judge Anne Burke, how comfortable are you with the role of women in the Catholic Church in the United States, and do you believe that the next generation of women will be satisfied without the opportunity to become priests?
JUDGE BURKE: Well, there's two stories on this. Some women would like to be priests and others really don't care much about it. But I am satisfied, at least at this juncture, that there is movement going forward with regard to women. I mean, just looking at the sex abuse crisis, the bishops and the hierarchy look to a woman to run the office of child and youth protection. The chief researcher from John Jay College of Criminal Justice was a woman. And I served as the interim chair and vice chair for almost 30 months.
I think that the role of women, irrespective of the fact that they are women, is meeting--because we are laity. And I do think that this pope, as a shepherd that he was, and the good advice he gave to the bishops, is important because I do think that in the future the bishops in the United States and the bishops around the world must look to the laity to help them. We are all servants of our church. We all belong to the church. It's not just a church for the hierarchy or the priests. It is a church for everyone.
And I think we all have jobs and responsibilities with it. I think that we can have improvement on every level, and including the administration of the church. We know now with the crisis of the sex abuse issues in the last 30 months terrible things have happened, and it was because of the failure of the hierarchy or the administration to deal with it in an appropriate way that these were criminal acts against the most vulnerable in our society. And they were covered up. And many children would not have had to suffer and we would hope that there will be no more victims. And the laity participated, and, hopefully, this will never happen again.
MR. RUSSERT: Chester Gillis, you're a fellow at Jesuit University. Boston College has an extraordinary program, the church in the 21st century. Georgetown University doing a lot--same--similar work on that issue. Where do you see the Catholic church in the 21st century, based on your teaching and conversations with young people?
PROF. GILLIS: Oh, I think it's vibrant. I think there's no question about it that people come to the university and they come to the church with a deep interest in it, and also American Catholics are better educated than they have ever been in the past, they're professional, and they want to have a voice in the church and appropriate leadership in the church. I think we'll have a stronger Catholicism in the 21st century because of the kind of Catholics that we're training. They're critical thinkers, as well, but they're leaders in their society in ways that immigrant generations were not. We have come of age.
When you look at the Senate, when you look at the Congress, Catholics are in preponderance. When you look at leadership in America, Catholics are at the head of corporations. The generation that I'm training right now will be the generation on which the responsibility for the church will fall increasingly, if there's a continued decline in priests. They are aware of this, and they're ready to assume that responsibility. And I think that's a great sign for hope.
MR. RUSSERT: Realistically, do you see any change in the ordination of priests, allowing married men or women?
PROF. GILLIS: I don't see it for women being ordained. I think Pope John Paul II largely closed the door to that as much as he could. There are many women who would like to be, as the judge has indicated. I think the chance for married men being priests is very likely. And I would hope that it would come proactively, that the church would see this is a good thing and it would restore a tradition that's already been there. It's a discipline, celibacy, it's not a doctrine, and it would give opportunities for the Eucharist, as you suggested before, which is so central to Catholic spirituality. No Eucharist, not much of a church.
We need priests for Eucharist. To have priestless parishes is not going to work. I think to pray for vocations is noble, but there's a different cultural and sociological situation now. American families are no longer five or six or seven children. They're two or three. American families post-scandal are not likely to encourage their sons to become priests, some are not, because it's a tarnished vocation, unfortunately. So we have to find places for the church to be served in a sacramental manner.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, I want to show you what a Genoa, Italy, paper has said the pope's final words were to his aide, Stanislaw Dziwisz, "I am happy, and you should be as well. ...Let us pray together with joy." There's no greater test of a person's faith when they're on their deathbed and having to confront inevitability of death and afterlife and this pope clearly embraced it with joy. Thank you all.
We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: As a journalist, my job is to fairly and accurately report on the activities, good and bad, of the Catholic Church and the debate over the pope's sometimes controversial positions on some very complicated issues. But this morning, permit me a personal memory as a Catholic layman and a father. Easter week, 1985, NBC News and the "Today" show spent an historic week at the Vatican. The next year, my family returned. The pope blessed the mom, then the dad, then his undivided attention on our baby, Luke. He hugged him, then kissed his forehead, saying all the while, "Very nice, very nice, very nice," then that smile. Luke was truly mesmerized by this most holy man. That moment, that blessing will be with us forever. Pope John Paul II, a man of history, a man of faith. And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. Stay with NBC News and MSNBC on cable for continuing coverage of the life and death of Pope John Paul II. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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