Pope John Paul II Celebrates 25 Years

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, October 17, that has been edited for clarity.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: This week marks the 25-anniversary of Pope John Paul II's (search) election to the papacy. What is his legacy and what are the challenges for the Catholic Church (search)?

Joining us to discuss the pope's influence, as Holy Father is Father Thomas Reese, editor of The National Catholic Weekly Magazine of America.

Father Reese, let me just -- wide open question. Assess briefly, if you can, Pope John Paul II's legacy.

THOMAS REESE, EDITOR, THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY MAGAZINE OF AMERICA: Oh, I think John Paul II will be remembered for a number of things. Certainly his impact on the fall of communism, he played a tremendous role there. He started the landslide that wiped out communism in Eastern Europe through his support of solidarity, his support of the Polish people. I mean he inspired them to stand up for their rights.

Secondly, I think he'll be remembered for being the pope that brought about a real change in relations between Catholics and Jews. He was the one who visited the synagogue in Rome, the death camps in Europe, established diplomatic relations with Israel and went to the Holy Wall and prayed. And most importantly, he apologized for the sins of Christians against Jews through the centuries. And for the Catholics who didn't do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust. So, there are a lot of things he's going to be remembered for.

SNOW: He's also certainly the most traveled pope until recent health problems got the best of him. And even after that, this is a man who's visited more than 100 countries.

REESE: Oh, he's visited more countries than anybody. And he's been seen by more people than anybody who's ever lived. I mean millions of people came out to see him wherever he went. He went there to pray with them, to preach, to inspire them. To call them to lives of love, of concern for the poor. You know, he really went out there and preached to the world.

SNOW: The pope is a philosopher by training and somebody who's written extensively during the course of his papacy. And in so doing has made some fairly clear distinctions, at least in terms of Catholic doctrine for now. Some people say he's a conservative pope. But he's a little hard to characterize, isn't he?

REESE: Oh, he's certainly. He doesn't fit into our liberal- conservative boxes in the United States. I mean for example, he is opposed to capital punishment. He opposed the Persian Gulf Wars. He's been very strong in support of the United Nations. And you know, wants the First World to come to the aid through foreign aid of the Third World (search). And you know, for that, he's rejected by the right.

But on the other hand, he's very traditional on sexual morality. He's against abortion. He's very traditional in his church doctrine. So, you know, there he's rejected by the left.

So, you know, he doesn't fit into our normal categories of liberal and conservative.

SNOW: You mentioned the Third World a moment ago. One of the more noteworthy changes, at least, in the church in recent decades, since John Paul became pope, is the explosion of Catholicism in the Third World, principally in Africa but also in Asia.

REESE: Yes, that's absolutely true. The Catholic Church has been growing tremendously in Africa, through conversions. And you know, this pope has also internationalized the College of Cardinals, the Vatican. You know, 38 percent of the College of Cardinals who will meet to elect his successor are cardinals from the Third World. And their concerns, their interests are going to be on the table, on the agenda at the conclave.

SNOW: And an astounding percentage of the cardinals who ultimately will select a successor have been appointed by John Paul II.

REESE: Yes. He's appointed all but five of the 135 cardinals who will be under the age of 80 who are the potential electors of the pope. Absolutely.

SNOW: How's his health?

REESE: Well, the pope's, you know, I mean, people have been watching his health for 15 years, and predicting his death, you know, within the next month. And he's outlived all his -- all the people who have predicted his death. He's the comeback kid. He always has been.

But clearly, he's not the man he was 25 years ago when he was athletic and climbed mountains, and went canoeing, and skiing. He's suffering from Parkinson's Disease (search). He has difficulty speaking. So, you know, he's clearly much more frail than he was before.

SNOW: All right. Father Thomas Reese, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

REESE: Thank you.

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