February 27th, 2013
08:41 PM ET

Was Benedict XVI the right man for the job?

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

Rome (CNN) - Thirty-five years before a German intellectual named Joseph Ratzinger ascended the throne of St. Peter and took the name Benedict XVI, a very different intellectual named Laurence Peter coined a rule which he named after himself: the Peter Principle.

Put simply, the Peter Principle says that people who are good at their jobs get promoted, and if they're good at their new jobs, they keep getting promoted - until they get to a job they're not good at, where they stay.

As the troubled papacy of Benedict XVI limps to a close, it appears very possible that the rule describes Ratzinger's eight years at the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Call it the Throne of Peter Principle.

"He was just the wrong man for the wrong time, which is nothing to do with him as a person," said Christopher M. Bellitto, author of the book "101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy."

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"He was not a manager. He was a lousy administrator," said Bellitto, chair of the history department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. "Sometimes someone is a great mayor and a lousy governor and I think that's probably what happened with Benedict."

The Vatican was battered by one highly public crisis after another while Benedict was pope.

The sexual abuse scandal that first flared in the United States when John Paul II was pope caught flame under Benedict, burning across the country and into Europe.

Just this month, two top American cardinals, Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Timothy Dolan of New York, were called on to give legal testimony over lawsuits related to abuse of children, and the leader of Scotland's Catholic Church, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, resigned after allegations he had acted improperly toward four men studying for the priesthood decades ago.

The sexual abuse crisis wasn't the only problem Benedict faced.

His own butler leaked private papers from his apartment and gave them to a journalist. The Vatican Bank has tried - and failed - to achieve international standards to prevent money laundering.

Pope Benedict welcomed back into the fold Richard Williamson, an excommunicated bishop who, it turned out, doubted the scale of the Holocaust. The Vatican was forced to admit it hadn't known of the bishop's views on Auschwitz before the lifting of the ban - although an interview where Williamson outlined them was posted on YouTube.

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Just a year and a half after Benedict became pope, he infuriated many Muslims by quoting a medieval Byzantine emperor who said: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The Vatican was quick to say that it was the emperor's view that Islam was evil, not the pope's, but the gaffe is emblematic of the problem with Benedict, Bellitto said.

"This was a tone-deaf papacy. This has not been a savvy papacy," he said.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican," said Benedict's greatest strength was that he was an intellectual and a teacher - but that was also his greatest weakness.

"The last two conclaves, what they did was they elected the smartest man in the room," he said: John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

"Both were intellectuals, both were scholars, academics," Reese said.

"Maybe it's time to not elect the smartest man in the room, but to elect someone smart who will listen to all the other smart people in the room, and not just in the room but in the church - someone who brings people together, who builds a team," Reese said.

But Benedict has his defenders.

Thomas Peters, a Catholic activist who blogs at AmericanPapist, said there are powerful forces at work when cardinals gather to elect a pontiff.

"We believe the Holy Spirit guides the choice of the pope," he said.

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And he argued that the idea of a Vatican in disarray under Benedict XVI was false.

"I think there's a meme out that the church is a dysfunctional bureaucracy," he said, then rejected it: "It does make the trains run out time."

Benedict has appointed able administrators who are making the Vatican machinery function more swiftly, Peters said, describing an "American renaissance of administrator cardinals and archbishops."

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who has known Joseph Ratzinger for more than three decades, said the job of being pope is an enormous one.

"You must know circumstances that are moving at the speed of light. It is necessary to have a very clear mind, a good capacity to govern the church. There are about 5,000 bishops, half a million priests, 1.2 billion Catholics," he said.

Barragan participated in the conclave that elected Benedict, and the man was up to the job, said the cardinal.

"He has a clear mind, he is man of faith, a loving man," Barragan said. "Benedict was the right man. He was."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI

soundoff (727 Responses)

    Michael Jackson was also a leading continder at the same time. Who would have been better?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • .


      February 28, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • .

      blah blah.

      February 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  2. justsane

    nailed it.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Roberto

    There is no "right man for the job" of ruling over brainwashed people and protecting the child molesters who victimize them.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • TheBob

      Sorry, no. Joseph "Joe the Rat" Ratzinger proved you wrong. He excelled in that job. Give credit where credit's due.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • Ricochet Rabbit

      He did excel in alienating Catholics and sending them out of the church. He excelled at fumbling a major Vatican banking scandal. He excelled at stonewalling the pedophilia scandal.

      What a guy! If that ain't following in Jesus' footsteps, I don't know what is!

      February 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • Mike

      Who is brainwashed? In my experience, the people who mindlessly accept what others tell them about the nature of the supernatural are typically atheists. For the vast majority of atheists I've talked to, all that they know is that they don't like the rules that Christians are told to live by. On the other hand, a surprisingly large portion of Christians I've talked to are well versed in the philosophical traditions of the last 3000 years (including Greek philosophy and other religions).

      February 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • steve brickman

      Dear Mike, in what cloistered environment do you live? Atheists simply believe there is no god. Atheists are like everyone else – most live by society's rules. Of COURSE they reject the special requirements of a religious dogma. Do you expect them to attend mass and accept communion? If I need ancient morals I'd go by the Code of Hammurabi. By the way, if your 10 Commandments are what should be followed, please use Exodus 34. It's a hoot.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  4. bankrupt1

    i bet israel will go next. more of the same.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • Jakumo

      Bankrupt1, you're really bankrupt!

      February 28, 2013 at 1:51 pm |

    Is he going to star in the movie THE LAST NAZI?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Hollywood

      We have Benedict signed up for an exciting range of films, including "Vatican Boogie Nights", "Pope 9 From Outer Space", "Brokeback Cardinals", and many more!

      February 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • TheBob

      He may be many things, but he is not a Nazi.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
  6. Jeebusss

    They all think there are magical people living in the sky waiting to give them candy forever if they play their cards right. On top of that, they apparently think molesting children counts as playing their cards right. Does it surprise you that the Pope isn't that bright?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  7. TheBob

    He gave wholesale protection and and cover to child molesting priests and bishops. OF COURSE he was the right man for the job! IT'S THE CATHOLIC CHURCH!!!

    February 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
  8. Mr. Patton

    "The last two conclaves, what they did was they elected the smartest man in the room," he said: John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
    I certainly hope that the author of "Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives" isn't the smartest man in the room.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  9. ShingoEX

    Obviously not if he's quitting.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  10. LL

    God supposedly chose him........oops...

    February 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm |

      Do it your self and lay it on God, way of hindus crooks to make hindu s stupid out of humanity.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:34 pm |

    Interesting question? by standard of hindu Mithra ism, racist savior ism labeled as Christianity, he can not be a man, but an Enoch, reason hindus, ignorant s worship them as their hindu sanatans filthy goon man gods.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • rob0rah


      February 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
    • TheBob

      You are a fu cking mo ron.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:41 pm |
    • kobio

      All religion sucks.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
    • Mack

      Brainwashed fool wasting his life. Go have a good meal, a glass of wine and read a non-bible book. Do what YOU want to do while you've got a few years left. Life is going to hit CRTL-ALT-DLT on you too soon and then it's all over. That's the harsh reality.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • rob0rah

      fu cking rag head

      February 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
  12. Brett Adams

    Pope Benedict XVI, both as a cardinal and as pope, did a lot to crack down on abusive priests (the number, of which, is very small. He didn't so as much to crack down on bishops who hid abusive priests. It should also be remembered that many of the abusive victims that are coming to light were victimized in the 1960s-1970s, a time when it was popularly believed that such people could be rehabilitated. As a result, Pope Benedict XVI has been dealing more with the fallout from such abuse, rather than any actual cover-up on his part.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • Will S

      Protestant clergy actually molest children at a higher rate than Catholic clergy. Both groups molest children at rates lower than the general population. I guess the lesson is that no one is perfect, but that doesn't really matter as long as people enjoy casting stones as much as they do.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Ricochet Rabbit

      It was always against the law, and there is no law that ever said it was okay to not report child molesters, much less rehabilitate them yourself. What a lame bit of apologetics!

      February 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
    • Mike

      @ Richochet Rabbit:
      It was not a law until the 2000s in most states that anyone who suspected that a child was in danger had to report it. So the bishops followed the law to the letter. Let's put it this way: if your coworker steals from your company, you are under no obligation to report it to the police. That is the way the law looked at child abuse until the last 10-20 years.

      The bishops tried to live up to their moral obligations to keep it from happening again by reassigning priests and assigning penance, but child molesters were not viewed as mentally ill until the 1990's so no one understood that it would keep happening. They simply weren't equipped to deal with it back then (no one was, not even the courts).

      February 27, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
  13. Bvallin

    papacy. is. irrelevant

    February 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Brett Adams

      Tell that to 1.2 billion people.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
  14. Da Udder Pope

    Isn't it obvious this pope was not suited to the job. One day he is a fallible cardinal and the next an infallible pope. Really?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • maryrm

      The Pope is not infallible as a man or as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The infallibility only refers to very limited expressed dogma. Most popes never make the infallible declarations. I believe (but may be mistaken) that the last one was the declaration of the Assumption of Mary.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Agnes

      ...which was in 1950. In any event, things have changed a lot since Vatican II.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • Mike

      Catholics only think that a pope is infallible when he speaks "ex cathedra" (from the chair). And popes have only exercised that power twice in history, neither of which was by Pope Benedict. Learn before you criticize.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • Rufus

      And then back to being a fallible Cardinal. Man made authority traded like baseball cards.

      February 28, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  15. Zbd

    A figure head. A useless position. He does nothing but gestures with his hands. A joke.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Ricochet Rabbit

      It's a Ronald McDonald thing.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Owl96

      The Pope is also the Bishop of Rome. As such he is the direct supervisor of all priests in the Dioses of Rome. The Pope also appoints all Bisops and Archbishops in the church accross the world. Those are some of his official duties, there are may more.

      February 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  16. Jez

    Who gives a rip???? As if one MAN can talk to the supreme power!!!

    February 27, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  17. Mohammad A. Dead

    ask any old man if he is right for the job, any kind of job.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  18. garwin1

    After being a Hitler Youth, what's wrong with a little pedophilia?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  19. ice

    Damn, I thought he was picked by God.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  20. Colin

    Now there's a view of the Pope that many an aspiring young Catholic priest would have seen.........

    February 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • Doobs


      February 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Or . . .

      Isn't that the Vatican's response to the pedophilia victims?

      February 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.