ABC's Harris Sees 'Controversial' 'Hardliner' Pope with 'Tin Ear'
On World News Sunday, ABC anchor Dan Harris filed a report on Pope Benedict's upcoming trip to America, labeling the Catholic leader as "sometimes controversial," and calling him a "hard-liner" for "strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion." Harris also suggested that he has a "tin ear" because of a 2006 speech in which he used a quotation of a historical figure calling Islam "evil" that sparked riots by Muslim extremists around the world, without mentioning that the Pope later clarified that it was not his personal view that Islam is evil. (Transcript follows)
Before a commercial break, Harris plugged the story: "And coming up here on World News this Sunday, who is Pope Benedict? The sometimes controversial Pope comes to America this week."
After contrasting Pope Benedict's style with that of his predecessor, Harris continued: "Joseph Ratzinger, the so-called 'Professor Pope,' grew up in Nazi Germany, a studious boy who was unwillingly drafted into the army. At the Vatican, he developed a reputation as a brilliant theologian, and also a hard-liner, strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion. As Pope John Paul's lieutenant, he earned nicknames like 'Cardinal No,' and 'God's Rottweiler.'"
ABC then ran a clip of religion expert David Gibson which seemed to suggest that being a "sweet man" is contradictory with adhering to conservative religious convictions. Gibson: "He's a grandfatherly-looking fellow dressed in white with the great white hair. He's a very sweet man in person. But he's the same Joseph Ratzinger. He has very strong principles."
Harris then brought up the Pope's 2006 speech in which he quoted a historical figure who called Islam "evil," and asked Gibson, to his agreement, if the Pope has a "tin ear." Harris: "Benedict has also created controversy, like in this speech, where he included a quote calling Islam evil. Afterwards, there were riots in the Muslim world. Do you think, at times, he has something of a tin ear?"
While Harris noted that the Pope is "more conservative than many American Catholics," on the same day's NBC Nightly News, correspondent Anne Thompson detailed a Pew Research Center poll similarly showing a substantial number of American Catholics to be more liberal on several issues, but she also noted that 60 percent of Catholics support the death penalty. And in noting support by many American Catholics of embryonic stem cell research, Thompson failed to clarify the difference between between adult stem cell research, which is supported by most religious leaders, and embryonic stem cell research, as the NBC correspondent merely conveyed that "55 percent [of American Catholics] say stem cell research is important."
The CBS Evening News was preempted by the Masters Golf Tournament on both Saturday and Sunday.
Below is a complete transcript of the stories from ABC's World News Sunday and the NBC Nightly News for April 13:
#From ABC's World News Sunday:
DAN HARRIS: And coming up here on World News this Sunday, who is Pope Benedict? The sometimes controversial Pope comes to America this week.
HARRIS: Coming up this Tuesday, Pope Benedict arrives for his first U.S. visit as Pope -- a six-day trip to Washington, D.C., and New York. The Catholic Church considers the Pope to be the representative of Jesus Christ on Earth, but Americans, including many American Catholics, don't know much about him.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: Dear friends in the United States, I'm very much looking forward to being with you.
HARRIS: As you can see from this recent Vatican video, Pope Benedict XVI is an understated man. His predecessor was not. John Paul II was a sort of religious rock star who fought communism and barn-stormed the world, visiting the U.S. seven times. Benedict, who turns 81 on Wednesday, does have some personal flare -- these fancy red shoes, rumored falsely to be made by Prada, and a liking for cats. There's even a children's book about him and his neighbor's kitty. But while John Paul loved being surrounded by people -- here, Polish break dancers -- Benedict is more likely to be found alone, playing classical piano.
MSGR THOMAS BOHLIN, OPUS DEI: He's a very gentle soul. Whereas John Paul was a great figure, a great figure on the stage like an actor who dominated the world, in Benedict, you can find somebody who is a deep thinker.
HARRIS: Joseph Ratzinger, the so-called "Professor Pope," grew up in Nazi Germany, a studious boy who was unwillingly drafted into the army. At the Vatican, he developed a reputation as a brilliant theologian, and also a hard-liner, strenuously condemning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion. As Pope John Paul's lieutenant, he earned nicknames like "Cardinal No," and "God's Rottweiler."
DAVID GIBSON, AUTHOR OF THE RULE OF BENEDICT: There's a temptation to see him as a different person now. He's a grandfatherly-looking fellow dressed in white with the great white hair. He's a very sweet man in person. But he's the same Joseph Ratzinger. He has very strong principles.
HARRIS: Benedict has also created controversy, like in this speech, where he included a quote calling Islam evil. Afterwards, there were riots in the Muslim world. Do you think, at times, he has something of a tin ear?
GIBSON: Yes. He just doesn't really think about often the consequences, especially now that he's Pope, of things that he says to people.
HARRIS: While this Pope is more conservative than many American Catholics, he is not expected to come here to scold. As he said from his window above St. Peter's Square today, his main message is that Jesus is the way to hope and love.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: I ask you all to pray for the success of my visit.
HARRIS: And Pope Benedict will visit the White House and Ground Zero and hold two open-air masses. He's also expected to address the priest sex abuse scandal.
#From the NBC Nightly News:
LESTER HOLT: Another big story we're watching in the days ahead is the Pope's historic first visit to the U.S. Today Pope Benedict asked the faithful in St. Peter's Square to pray for the success of his trip. As we hear from NBC's Anne Thompson, he'll find an American church facing serious challenges.
ANNE THOMPSON: What is typical at St. Matthew's Cathedral in the nation's capital, a full congregation for Sunday mass, is increasingly unusual for many Catholic churches. The ranks of the priests who lead them are shrinking, along with weekly churchgoers, about 41 percent of Catholics. Yet Pope Benedict comes to a church more vibrant here than in his native Europe, where, in some places, the percentage of Catholics attending mass sinks to single digits.
CARDINAL JOHN FOLEY, VATICAN OFFICIAL: The Holy Father sees in the United States a place where religion is strong -- not only the Catholic Church but other religious expression. And that for him is a source of hope.
THOMPSON: His American flock is marked by a strong streak of independence, as many Catholics here disagree with the church's teachings on several issues – 60 percent of Catholics support the death penalty; 55 percent say stem cell research is important; 51 percent think abortion should be legal in all or most cases; and 42 percent favor gay marriage, a higher percentage than the rest of the country. It is a church with changing demographics. Much of its energy now comes from new immigrants -- Asians and especially Hispanics.
GEORGE WEIGEL, NBC NEWS VATICAN EXPERT: The Catholic Church has been the most successful immigrant assimilator in our history.
THOMPSON: But it is a church still scarred by the priest sex abuse scandals earlier this decade, paying out $2 billion in settlements; impacting schools, parishes and charities -- an issue Pope Benedict is expected to address.
FATHER THOMAS REESE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It's had a devastating impact on the church, but hopefully, we have learned, and frankly, hopefully, the church can become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
THOMPSON: Eager to move forward, the American Catholic Church welcomes the Pope, anxious to learn about him, and for him to understand the culture that both connects and distances it from Rome. Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.