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On Eve of Papal Election, NBC Hypes 'Bad Time' for Church 'Out of Step' With Liberal Catholics

On Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, on the eve of the Wednesday election of Pope Francis, anchor Brian Williams proclaimed to viewers: "...this is a decidedly bad time for the Catholic Church. There are hopes among many that the new pope will signify a new direction." [Listen to the audio]

In the report that followed, correspondent Lester Holt hyped the divide between the Vatican and some liberal American Catholics: "It's roughly 4,000 miles between Vatican City and the nearest shores of the U.S., but for American Catholics who often find themselves out of step with the Church here, it can seem a lot farther....Abortion, the role of women, and attitudes about homosexuality have been at the heart of much of the disconnect between American Catholics and the Church."

Holt touted poll numbers on the issues: "...one out of every three Americans who grew up in the Church has left....in 2012, half of U.S. Catholics expressed support for same-sex marriage, something the Church strongly opposes.... 58% of American Catholics believe priests should be able to marry..."

Prior to Holt's report, correspondent Anne Thompson noted that the new pope "will have to confront a litany of problems" and dismissed the conclave: "An attention-grabbing event, but it will take more to win back those who have lost faith in the Church."

Here is a full transcript of Holt's March 12 report:

7:04PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: There are over a billion Catholics worldwide, somewhere between one in four, one in five Americans, and this is a decidedly bad time for the Catholic Church. There are hopes among many that the new pope will signify a new direction. Lester Holt has been talking with some of those American Catholics today at the Vatican. Lester, good evening.

LESTER HOLT: Brian, good evening. It's roughly 4,000 miles between Vatican City and the nearest shores of the U.S., but for American Catholics who often find themselves out of step with the Church here, it can seem a lot farther. Young American Catholics on spring break in Rome and witnessing their Church in transition. And hopeful the new pope will take a broad view of a changing world.

EMMA THOMPSON [STUDENT]: I feel like it needs to be someone who can really just be able to relate to the diversity and the Catholics around the world.

HOLT: The Church in America is at a crossroads. The percentage of U.S. Catholics has held steady at 25%. But it is largely on the strength of Catholic immigrants, most of them Hispanic, obscuring the fact that one out of every three Americans who grew up in the Church has left.

DEBRA COUCH [NEW YORK RESIDENT]: I think that he needs to be more focused on today's youth, more trying to get more people back into the Church, and I just think it takes a younger person to do that.

HOLT: Abortion, the role of women, and attitudes about homosexuality have been at the heart of much of the disconnect between American Catholics and the Church. For example, in 2012, half of U.S. Catholics expressed support for same-sex marriage, something the Church strongly opposes.

KATHLEEN CUMMINGS [NOTRE DAME CTR. FOR AMERICAN CATHOLICISM]: I think most American Catholics are hoping for a pope who will be more opening to listening to the concerns of some of the people who feel alienated from the Roman Catholic Church for a variety of reasons.

HOLT: The new pope will also confront dropping numbers in the priesthood. 58% of American Catholics believe priests should be able to marry. And then there is a continuing damage from the priest sex abuse scandal.

FATHER THOMAS REESE [GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY]: It would be a disaster if we had a pope who did not understand the sex abuse crisis.

HOLT: The fact that two U.S. cardinals are now regarded as strong candidates to become pope raise expectations among some of the faithful that disillusioned Catholics might return to the fold. And as the Church looks forward to a new chapter, another reminder back home of the priest sex abuse scandal. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles today saying it'll spend nearly $10 million to settle four clergy sex abuse cases, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Lester Holt, part of our team, our coverage from the Vatican tonight. Lester, thanks.