Morning Joe | February 27, 2013
>>> his final general audience before his resignation takes effect tomorrow. tens of thousands of people gathered in st. peter's square, with what will be one of the last public appearances. once again, welcome, everyone, joining us on set. "new york" magazine, john heilemann. and in nashville, pulitzer prize -winning historian and our resident theologian, jon meacham . jon, why don't we stick with these live pictures. and i'll start out with a question to you because obviously there's a lot of symbolism here, a lot of ritual. but it's not something that the vatican has done in over 600 years. this was a surprise when he announced that he would be resigning. what do we know at this point as to why?
>> i think we take him at his word in the sense that he's 85 years old. he does not feel that he has the energy or the -- really the ability anymore to carry forward the work of the church . i think there's always vatican intrigue. that's a redundant phrase. and i think we'll continue to hear things about leaked papers and potential complicit in different things. but my own sense from talking to friends who -- friends who know friends is that this was, in fact, a surprise. it is what it appears to be. and he's -- you know, this is a man who -- i don't think this man has been forced to do anything in his whole life. you know, he's a very -- a formidable figure. one view of it's stubborn. the other view is unflinching. and so i don't think he's pushed around very much.
>> right. which really doesn't match resigning from this position. in some ways there's a lot of questions in my mind as a catholic. especially since the last pope, one that we knew growing up, pope john paul ii , literally allowed the world to watch him die. that was part of the process of sharing life, willie.
>> yeah. this pope says he's old and fragile, unable to travel, but you make a good point about the previous pope. john, we've heard many times now that the next pope, whoever that may be, will have to confront the sexual abuse scandal, puts it mildly. that has consumed the roman catholic church for so long. what will that mean exactly? what will a pope do? a new pope in terms of confronting that? will he come out immediately in an opening address? will he purge some of the priests? what do you think that pope will do at least from a public relations point of view to change the perception?
>> well, it's the perception and the reality. it's the most disturbing thing about any self-protecting institution. you see this as the catholic chump has, for decade upon decade now, put its own institutional survival and its own institutional dignity, really, ahead of the interests of the weakest people in its care, its children. i think many people who are admirers of benedict and were admirers of john paul ii accept the view that the church should have moved more aggressively. you cannot simply, as the church has done in recent decades, move priests from diocese to diocese in the hopes that somehow or another the problem will go away. i think that the new pope would be very wise, particularly in the west, to speak out and argue that this is entirely a new day and that the church will become more christlike.
>> you know, mika, i don't really know -- nobody knows why the pope is stepping down. we can take him at his word. unfortunately, taking the catholic church at its word over the past decade or so on a variety of scandals has not been what journalists should have done. i think some questions have to be asked here. he stepped down, the first pope to step down in centuries. and again, i love the church . i have a lot of connections to the church . and i just -- this is less about the church than it is aboutists who are covering this story. i think far too many people are just saying oh, he's old. i think they need to dig into it a little bit more.
>> you know, it's impossible, given the way the vatican runs. i will say there's a lot of reporters sent out there who are also practicing catholics. i'm a practicing catholic, and i just have a lot of questions. having said that, these are incredible images, incredible moment in history, in the history of the catholic church . we can take that moment for what it is. but we also should continue to ask questions because my hope for my church is that it becomes more transparent and more modern so that it embraces young people that join and keeps them safe.
>> transparency would be a very good thing.
>> it would be wonderful.
>> obviously moving forward.
>> i love being catholic, but i just feel i have to say that.
>> that there hasn't been a lot of light in the hierarchy of this church for