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. Matthew Paulus

    The Peter Principle? Seriously? Kudos to Pope Benedict XVI for being proactive in putting the needs of the church ahead of this 'egocentric' papal status achieved by so few. It shocked me that no pope in the last 600 years has resigned. Steve Jobs resigned from his post as CEO of Apple many months ahead of his untimely death. Why? Because he knew that he would be letting himself and his company down if he continued on in that role. I'm not saying Benedict is dying, but he obviously came to the realization that he could not be as effective as he needs to be should he remained Pope until his death. I respect his decision and I think people should stop reading into his resignation as a sign of weakness. I view it as selfless, humble sign of strength.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Apparently "god's grace" was not enough to sustain him

      And if not the pope, what chance do the rest of us have?

      February 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
  2. palintwit

    On the one hand you've got a pope that molests little boys and on the other hand you have teabaggers who molest their sisters and cousins. What is the difference?

    February 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
  3. whoblackmailedpope

    his nazi background permanently immediately disqualified him as the CEO of Vatican Hedgefund Incorporated trading on wall street and in the London Financial District.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  4. carlos vidal vidal

    Que la paz sea contigo, estamos solos por mandato de nuestro señor ......te pedire que ores aun se que ya lo estas haciendo dejame llevarles el mensaje de jesus a la humanidad que nos a dado la ultima oportunidad ..............arrepentiros dijo jesus que la hora tu la has acortado entre el y nosotos .....

    February 28, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  5. lolrepublicans

    I just giggle every time I picture a Christian dying and then finding themselves standing on the shores of the Styx and saying "G*D DAMM*T!" as Charon approaches....

    February 28, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Bill

    JJ - are you Catholic? If not, then please don't tell us what goes on in our Church. You have no clue about what goes in a typical diocese and the things that are in place now to protect children. Not perfect because we have - wait for it - sinners!

    But 99% of the people that I know who go to Church regularly are wonderful family people, who love the Church and love what the Church has offered through her teachings, guidance and sacraments. I know I am a better person who otherwise would be a terrible husband without the Church's guidance.


    What perfect organization do you belong to pray tell?

    February 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • ReligionIsBS

      99% of the people who I know who dont go to church are good people. And they dont support an organization who hid child rapists from prosectution. What exactly is your point.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Lonny

      If religion makes people better, why does every study show that religious people have higher crime rates? Why are the secular countries of western Europe safer and more prosperous?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • SuperDave

      Bill is a religious zealot. All the evidence is there. All the crimes in the name of God.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • JJ

      You talking to me? You are delusional and a member of a pedophile infested cult that raapes thousands upon thousands of children and protect rapists using the money you send them and depend on you delucional sheep to defend them. There's nothing more repugnant and disgusting to a moral descent person than to watch you and your fellow sheep defend and protect child rapists. Open your eyes, there's nothing devine about your cult.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • buffaloyetti

      watch mea cuppa then you will know what goes on in your cult(church) now every one will also know. The Catholic cult needs to be closed down and all property sold and taxed. We can recover the world economy on the taxes alone.

      February 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • I was born into a christian home

      And I grew up in a christian world, so I know all your darkest secrets and I can assure you that 99% is way, way to high an exaggeration

      February 28, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
  7. Bill

    @ Jerry

    "Ancient ways, ancient myth and folklore is being replaced with facts, science and common sense."

    What do you know about the history of science Jerry? Have you read the scientific histories of Heilbron, Crombie, Lindberg, Edward Grant and Thomas Goldstein? Read these and then get back to us about how much the Church was 'against' science. In short, you are flat dead wrong.


    February 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Lonny

      .00000000001% of scientists were Jesuit. Wow, what open-mindedness.

      Let's see, are there more popes and cardinals and priests and Inquisitors who oppressed science than Jesuit scientists?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  8. PaulRDay

    No, he was not. He should never have been Pope.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
  9. loopie

    I'm a member of RCC since birth, whenever I go to Sunday Mass I don't even think about our Pope or Priest. I just focus my attention to the Gospel and that's all.

    We humans are all sinners whether you're a pastor, a priest, a journalist or a troll.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • His Holiness Bippy XVI, Roman squirrel emeritus

      Sin is nothing but a guilt trip to control you, loopie. It's exactly the kind of trickery a con man would use on a mark. It is not the kind of thing a real deity would use.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • JJ

      They don't care what you sheep think as long as you keep feeding them your children and cash.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • Which God?

      @loopie. So, you're the troll, eh?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Check

      "I just focus my attention to the Gospel and that's all. "

      Maybe you should check out long past popes and priests (bishops, etc.) then, who collected and assembled the unverified claims and writings which you know as "The Gospel".

      February 28, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  10. Breaking News

    CNN is bidding for the papal office

    February 28, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Great!

      We need the next pope to be an atheist

      February 28, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Pockets

      In the not to distant future they will back at us as if we just stepped out of the cave. Religion is a form of mental illness.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  11. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    And now moving into the 21st century without the need for popes and other "wasting-their-time" clerics:

    The Apostles'/Agnostics’ Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

    February 28, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Reality

      Spreading out the Good News:

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      February 28, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Austin

      He bears witness of his presence within the heart of man, and through life. If seeing you see and hearing you hear than this is faith. The holy spirit is alive in resurrection power, life, truth, glory, was and will be. All things were made through the word of God. He came clothed in a robe dipped in blood and they call his name the word of God. The angels fear him and conclude that our God is an awesome God.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • New member

      Do you always say 'No'. Geez! your parents must have had a tough time dealing with you.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  12. Pope Ben-a-dick

    Left the Vatican't in a helicopter. Reminds me of Nixon.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Wally, I'm worried about the Beiber

      Most humbly went by humble helicopter to the humble Vatican Vacation Retreat, to humbly eat lashish meals and the humbly waited upon by scores of servants.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:50 am |
  13. Eustace

    If the premise that the Pope is chosen by God to lead the church is correct; How can he resign?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      According to Darth Benedict..."god wanted him to step down"

      February 28, 2013 at 11:49 am |
    • Apparently "god's grace" was not enough to sustain him

      And if not the pope, what chance do the rest of us have?.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  14. LL

    I am still amazed at how many millions of people actually worship the pope as a Diety.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Wally, I'm worried about the Beiber

      I guess they know that soon a bunch of humans will elect him a deity based on Little Bittle Drippynose's claim that praying to Ratzi cured his acne.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Mr.BigStuff

      He isn't worshipped as a god on Earth fyi.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Pockets

      Mental illness reigns over the quackery of any church. Hucksters, and thieves for the easy picking of the mentally ill who go to these clowns for "salvation". Lol, it's just so ignorant .

      February 28, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  15. SillyT

    Catholic church is stuck in the middle ages; islam is stuck in the 6th century...who ya' gonna call?

    February 28, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  16. Billy

    Evidently the pope's new title will be "His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus"

    (He was just going after a longer name than "Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel in a can").

    February 28, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Platypus Rex

      He invented the ti</b.tle himself. Nice revelation of his megalomania.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:52 am |
  17. Father Malachy

    Petrus Romanus. Watch out if this is the next pope

    February 28, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  18. Father Malachi

    The pope if named Petrus Romanus. Will complete a 900 year prophecy naming all the popes up to the final pope and false prophet, the end times begins.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  19. Tom

    Hell's NO, he was not right for the job.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  20. great job pope'r

    you covered the abuses well.. You made sure small children's lives were destroyed.. You made lots of $$$ of donations and tax payer money.

    You are the perfect, perfect thief

    February 28, 2013 at 11:35 am |
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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.