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)
  1. amac

    Perhaps there's a comparison to be made beween Benedict XVI and Jimmy Carter. Both are intellectuals, extremely bright individuals who simply lacked the ability to lead in the high office each assumed.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • ..

      Really? How many child rapes did Carter cover up? Shitty comparison.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Plus, Jimmy Carter , while a lackluster president, has been one of the greatest ex-presidents we have ever had. His record speaks for itself post-presidency.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Akira

      I have to agree, Richard Cranium. I have the highest respect for Former President Carter.
      I do not have the same respect for the former Pope.
      At all.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  2. Justin

    This author of this article has very poor perspective and analysis. One can't be an administrator for things that are out of their control. There isn't one example in this article that anyone with good administration skills would have been able to manage more or less effectively. Who allowed this article to be posted in the first place?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Doobs

      What was out of his control? Doesn't he have a phone that he could use to call the police and report pedophiles?

      February 28, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Bob

      Who allowed Justin out of his padded cell?

      February 28, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Wally, I'm worried about the Beiber

      Bellevue must have had a major breakout, because "cat-demon" Justin, "triangle of locked in days" John, Chad Nye Pseudoscience Guy, "Where's my thorazine" Live4Him, Robert "angry guy with an angry god" Brown and Topher "do you have any questions I can make a fool out of myself with" are just in extra-special form lately.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • lol??

      Do what I do. I rarely read the articles unless I run out of material.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Pretty sure the first amendment is what allowed the article to be posted.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      *** One can't be an administrator for things that are out of their control.

      What was out of his control ?
      Priests played hide the weeny,
      the Pope played hide the priest.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Doobs

      @ Wally

      That made me laugh. Perfect!

      February 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  3. YUTRE

    Richard Allen Greene a typical CNN athiest hack,with nothing worthwhile to say

    February 28, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Typical arrogant know-it-all christian

      Nothing but unsubstantiated criticism

      February 28, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Peter

      YUTRE, google 'ad hominem fallacy'. Spend several days reading and thinking about it.

      You're welcome.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Saraswati

      You might want to research the author .

      February 28, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Blackspur

      Actually Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was the political hack. Former behind the scenes player who, as always, politiced into the job and was never up to it. He never dealt with the child abuse or any other scandal which arose during his reign just as he is quitting over the latest scandal now. So he is the incompetent hack not the allegedly atheist CNN staff. I'm betting only a few of them are actually atheist.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Fearless Freep

      You dont like the message
      you shoot the messenger.
      You are defending someone who covered up a crime.
      You should rot in hell.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  4. JPS

    For me, Benedict's resignation only serves to further isolate many Catholic church members who are already hurting from the scandals and changes that have affected the clergy. His resignation could be seen as a symbol of weakness to many around the world. Do you think that his decision was wise, or foolish?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Topher

      There's plenty of room here on the Protestant side ...

      February 28, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Hmmm

      I personally think this has something to do with the evil.

      No clue on this but I heard ...... There is a prophecy by father malichee that says the next pope is the false prophet named Petrus Romanus.
      Apparently he named all the popes for the last 900 years . Maybe this leads to the false prophet?

      February 28, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Peter

      Personally, I think the RC church is dying a slow, painful death, and that's great news.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Kenneth

      It's going to get much roomier as time goes by, Tophu.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:44 am |
  5. Rich

    Pope Benedict has barely left, and already the attacks have begun. Doesn't say much about the secular media.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Saraswati

      When anyone leaves office you see the exact same thing. The pope should be treated no differently.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • JPS

      People are attacking because this is arguably one of the most influential individuals in the world. Everyone knows the pope, and many could see his resignation as abandonment of the Catholic church in a real time of need. I am not saying I agree with this, but I do understand how people could view it this way.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  6. Science

    And the Pope just took in heli to meet the fairy in the sky......

    February 28, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • well he

      Did not find the fairy just lasnded a hideaway.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  7. jerrymcm1970

    I thought God chose the Pope and he was infallible? Are you saying God made a mistake?

    Should I just add this to the VERY long list of religious logical fallacies?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Jerry, it is about 100 guys in their 60s and 70s who select someone from among their number to be the God's Kid's Vicar. These "Princes" are effectively electing an "Emperor" who may have the pretty clothes and a nice chair, but he only controls 108 acres of physical territory in the entire world. There was a time when invoking the wrath of the Pope could cause him to raise an army to wipe out your country, or cause you to travel on your knees to beg his forgiveness. But, no more.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Check


      You don't know the real definition of Papal Infallibility. The real definition is silly, of course, but not as silly as what you are implying.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:35 am |
  8. John

    I come from a very Catholic family. Nobody likes this pope. Since he changed the mass you have half the people saying things one way and the other half another. The church needs progress not a pope that is a throwback to the stone ages.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • YUTRE

      You are a lying arhiest

      February 28, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Raycamp

      I hope you do realize HE did not change the mass and that the process of the new Roman missal, which is what I assume you mean, was in the process long before he took office. What he did was remove more priests from office than the past 10 Popes combined, he spoke out more on social justice issues in 3rd world countries than any other Pope, including JP II and last but not least, emphasized that the message of the gospel is timeless. And since it is timeless just needs to be brought to the people of the time it is in. I suggest you read more about your faith than simply attending mass (which I doubt is every Sunday) and reading the Sunday bulletin. By the way, I am a proud Catholic and while I was not the biggest fan, to not recognize the huge implications of what he is doing and the great standard he has left, he simply blind about our faith.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  9. Doobs

    Sort of like asking "Was Hitler the right man for the job?"

    February 28, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  10. Live4Him

    Mike Andrews : But more than 1.5 billion Orthodox and Catholics, 75 percent of Christendom, believe that Christ Himself gave the apostles, their successors and priests the ability to forgive sin on His behalf and His Church.

    What is the Biblical support for such a belief?

    February 28, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Science

      Not you !

      February 28, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • clarity

      Gullible4Him (the conflicted trying to lead the conflicted; lol)

      February 28, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Topher

      The correct answer is, "There isn't any."

      February 28, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Austin

      It was for sale too.

      Jesus is alive and he is preparing a return and heaven.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Doobs

      @ Austin

      What is Jeebus doing to prepare heaven? Is he choosing floral arrangements and china patterns?

      February 28, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  11. Brian

    The fact he was a Hitler Youth - no matter how and why it happened - reflects how tone deaf all the people were who picked this man

    February 28, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Atheist2432

      Same thing I thought. The guy was a nazi, and they elected him to the head of the invisible sky daddy club. Amazing what those who believe in mythology will do.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • lol??

      Sounds like youse guys are still wet behind da ears. Or just plain ol' commies Or Nazis. It's all Socialism.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  12. Ryan M.

    The good and bad thing about the Church is simply this: change takes a long time. PBXVI cannot be expected to turn around decades (perhaps centuries) of disorder in a handful of years. Each bishop has supreme authority over their diocese, and the pope has little external control over them. It is telling that some of these bishops and cardinals have stepped down on their own accord when, ultimately, no one could make them, short of assassination or death.

    PBXVI, on his part, has done much to put good men in good positions, by and large. Others, such as Cardinal Mahoney, will not voluntarily relinquish their authority, and it is up to civil authorities and a cooperative church to prosecute them- we have seen progress in both. Should these investigations move along more quickly? Of course.

    If the Catholic Church is the one true Church (God would have only one, as he is not divided against himself) then it gets a great amount of grace from God, who supports and sustains it. It's adversary, Satan, does what is in his power to destroy it. The result is exactly what we have seen in the history of the church- the greatest of saints, the greatest of sinners. Both need grace and mercy from God, as do we all.

    For this Catholic, it is difficult some days to see the state of the Church, but if the Church is the one Christ created, then we must adhere to it as well- through joy, through pain, through heartbreak. For now, I will be like the poor beggar in the temple, offering my copper coin; I hope that God will be pleased with me.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Austin

      Catholics can be saved, but the organization does not qualify as true. Only an individual can be true.

      Paul was to the Gentiles as Peter was to the Jews . they were leaders of different groups. The true church would be a universal individual judgment.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  13. oldguy68

    If one believes the Holy Spirit guides the selection of popes, cardinals, bishops etc., they need to explain how child molesters made it into the mix.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • EZ

      Easy – "God's mysterious ways"! Covers anything and everything, ya' know.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  14. Dallas H. Hosey (Des Moines, Iowa)

    Could not me more disgusted with this network's coverage of the Papal resignation. Anything to bring the abuse scandal into a story where it has no relevance. This network is garbage and I can't believe I even took the time to read this crap.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Brian

      The abuse scandal has no relevance? How sick are you?

      February 28, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • sam stone

      Not only that, but you took time to comment on it

      February 28, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • archchuzzlewit

      How does the abuse scandal not have any relevancy to a story asking whether or not the Pope did a good job? No matter what your opinion on his performance, it's certainly a valid issue to bring up.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  15. Joe in Kalispell

    Was he the right man for the job? You act like it is picking a CEO... and maybe it it is now. However, Catholics worldwide have been told and many still believe that the choice is inspired by God the Father.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • livingston

      Then were was the mistake made? Picking someone who doesn't feel he has to serve if God called him or did God make a mistake in choosing him?

      February 28, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      Sorry man chose the pope....man wrote your babble

      February 28, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  16. UvrA

    I think the time for the Church to be appointing cardinals referred to as "Cardinal No" was over a long time ago.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  17. Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

    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

    Really? lol DELUSIONAL

    February 28, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  18. livingston

    So the Pope quit, huh. I thought that he was chosen by the will of God. Does that mean that he no longer feels he needs to listen to God and that the church is run by self serving old men or that God made a mistake? I don't buy the nonsense of him being to infirm to serve. All the others stayed until they died. You can't get more infirm then that.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  19. tino giugno

    No, Ratzinger was the wrong man as was Wotjtila both destroyed and reversed the aggiornamento of John XXIII's Second Vatican Council. They brought back and strengthened the authoritarian/fascistic rule that John XXIII wanted to get rid of. These guys are thugs as are the cardinals about to vote for a new Thug as they were all appointed by these last two popes.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  20. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    People thought Obama was the right man and look what we ended up with. A liar in Chief!

    February 28, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • LinCA

      @mike Lake Orion Michigan

      You said, "People thought Obama was the right man and look what we ended up with."
      In US Presidential elections you eventually end up with a choice between two viable candidates. In both 2008 and 2012 the choice was between Obama and disaster. You may not like the President, but he was a far better choice than any of the alternatives.

      Republicans at every level have shown to be very good for the economies of the wealthy, at the expense of the economies of everybody else. They have also shown to cater to religious dimwits (to get sufficient votes so they can cater to the wealthy). To do so they have no qualms about trampling on the rights of women and minorities.

      If you are a woman and vote republican, you're an idiot. If you are in a minority and vote republican, you're an idiot. If you are a middle class American and vote republican, you're an idiot. If you've yet to ascent to middle class and vote republican, you're a complete and utter fucking moron.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • OhPlease

      "A liar in Chief!"

      Really that's why he had to pickup the mess that George W got us into and don't forget that George W lied about the Iraq war and said his God told him to do it. Now, that's an idiot.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • sam stone

      mike....gosh, bringing politics into this.....how insightful

      February 28, 2013 at 11:16 am |
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