Pope's Resignation News Pauses Runup To Obama's Speech

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The runup to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday was overshadowed Monday by news out of Rome: the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning. What does this mean for the Catholic Church in America?


And this is the day of the week when we normally talk to our MORNING EDITION contributor Cokie Roberts about politics. This morning, though, politics and the runup to the president's State of the Union Address tomorrow have been overshadowed by the news out of Rome.

So we've asked Cokie, a longtime Vatican watcher, to weigh in on the announcement that Pope Benedict is resigning at the end of this month.

And good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee. Well, this is politics, of course. It's just politics of a different sort.

MONTAGNE: Well, yes, but - as in politics, I mean, rarely in the papacy do you have this sort of surprise announcements. How shocked are you?

ROBERTS: Totally. Totally. Nobody expected this. And, as you just heard, some of the cardinals didn't even understand it since the pope was speaking in Latin, and some of their Latin really does need brushing up.

But he has warned people that he considers resignation a completely acceptable path for a pope to take. And Easter is coming up, which is just exhausting. It's exhausting for the people who are in the Vatican, as my mother was, as an ambassador there. There's so many liturgies and events around Holy Week that it's tiring for the celebrants, much less the people who are actually in charge, as the pope is.

MONTAGNE: Well, if you wouldn't mind, since you brought up your mother - Lindy Boggs - longtime congresswoman. She was ambassador to the Holy See during the time of Pope John Paul. What did that give you? You know, tell us about that.

ROBERTS: Well, it was - I mean, you get a very good sense of what's going on in the Vatican, which is a place where a lot of the nongovernmental organizations have their headquarters or come together. So that's an aspect of it that is not generally well known.

But look, I've also covered papal - church synods. And there is a lot of politicking going on. What is different here is that without the mourning period after the death of a pope, this conclave to elect a new pope is likely to come quicker and not allow for the same amount of conversation among the cardinals as you would normally have.

But this is going to be - it could be earth-shattering in the church, because we don't have an obvious successor. I mean, when Benedict became pope, everyone knew him as Joseph Ratzinger, the chief theologian and, sort of, disciplinarian under John Paul II. There's nobody like that now. So what happens next is very much up in the air and could have an enormous impact.

MONTAGNE: Well, here at home, back to what we would've talked to...


MONTAGNE: The president is scheduled to give a State of the Union Address tomorrow night. We just have 20 seconds here. Does this knock him off tomorrow morning's front pages?

ROBERTS: No. But look, there - a quarter of Americans are Catholic and not even all of them really care that much about who's pope. But, so the president certainly still has his place in the sun. But yes, this is a much bigger story than a State of the Union.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings to talk about politics. Although this morning, talking about church and state with the news that Pope Benedict has resigned, effective at the end of this month.



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