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. bobhamiltonchicago

    I'm not a specialist in Popal compensation packages, but it turns out the pay for this high pressure job, is zero. after taxes, it's less than that. So who can blame Joe Ratzinger for saying goodbye (in Latin)? If he managed to sock away some of that zero, he might have a comfortable little pension to fall back on. Would you rather be watching Wheel of Fortune in HD or answering questions about why the priests were doing the choirboys?

    February 27, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • Peter

      What the hell are you talking about?

      February 27, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  2. Reality

    Tis not the Peter Principle but the Lame Duck Principle i.e. the last of the leaders of an establishment founded on myths and embellishments. No one could have saved the RCC or any other religion that is based on myths and embellishments which basically covers all religions.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • James M

      And yet, it will continue past your death until the end of time. Remember, it's got about 2000 years of history on its side and has endured more intelligent criticism from 17th and 18th Enlightenment thinkers than the dribble you mistaken for intelligent thought.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:25 am |
    • Reality

      And now moving into the 21st century:

      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 7:46 am |
    • Secure in faith

      What a perfect example of a 21st Century, pompous view on the universe. For those that choose to inspect religions of the world, they realize that faith is not about "prove it." Religions are channels for how we relate to God - There is no right or wrong way. Proof comes upon death and for those that spend energy trying to convince people otherwise are showing their insecurity to the truth.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  3. Jeremy B

    NO man is the right man for this Job...

    February 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • CrossCountry


      February 28, 2013 at 12:02 am |

    I wonder if we will ever get to see a picture of the pope's "O FACE"?

    February 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Doobs


      February 28, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  5. Dan

    Jerry Sandusky was the right man for the job.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
    • Jeremy B


      February 27, 2013 at 11:19 pm |


      February 27, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
  6. The Great Satan

    I feel the best way the Vatican can show their open minds and forgiveness, is by making someone like Marylnn Manson the next Pope. This would show the world that the Vatican Church is trying to heal itself.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  7. Joe

    So basically the author is campaigning for Obama to be pope.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  8. TC

    RCC needs a real leader – one who will route out the problems and the people causing the problems – clean house. Too many in the clergy not being held accountable and we need someone who put teams of the right people together to fix problems

    February 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  9. mdb2424

    More pope's should be so brave1

    February 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • Loyal republican

      actually he was a coward.. brave is to destroy small children's lives in your opinion

      February 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  10. roos

    Why ask a question like that now? Should have asked it at the other end.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
  11. fran

    They'll say that about every pope, that they are tone deaf because the Church refuses to compromise on it's principals, like no contraception or gay marriage. But with more than half of all marriages ending in divorce and the state of our society in general, maybe we should all be a little more "tone deaf".

    February 27, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
    • Reality

      The RCC does approve of contraception. Tis the artificial methods they have a problem with although one can make a strong case that the Pill and male condom do have a natural basis.

      Some examples:

      The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":

      – (Abstinence, 0% failure rate) -RCC approved
      – (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)
      – (Wet dreams) – RCC approved

      Followed by:

      One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
      Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
      The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
      Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
      IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)- RCC approved
      Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) – RCC approved
      and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent) – RCC approved

      February 27, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
    • Steve g

      Maybe the Catholic Church needs to come out of the dark ages and acknowledge that if God had such a problem with gay people, then he wouldn't have created so many of them! At least 10% of the population, my dear. And I am fairly sure that God encourages us to be tolerant of others and not to judge lest we be judged. There lies the ultimate hypocrisy of the church:love your fellow man but only if they are exactly like you. Back in the old days, people were encouraged to have as many children as possible for a variety of reasons, none of which have any relevance in the modern world..... Just like the Catholic church

      February 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm |

    my great great great grand mother did dance through the ashes of goon Al-Madinah, I swear on her rubble grave, people!!

    February 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm |

    "Take and eat this in memory of me." Yep. Typical gold stealing Nazi

    February 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
    • Loyal republican

      agreed. he's sc–um

      February 27, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  14. Clint

    Yeah, well if history has taught us anything about the Pope. Their idiots and cause more trouble then their worth. So choose something more real, like atheist.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
    • Karl

      You know our calendar is named after a pope.....

      February 28, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Eddie Vanmeer

      and the days of the week are named after gods

      February 28, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  15. oskar

    OK, what the f*** is this idiot "journalism" thinking. Try to apply the peter principal to Benedict XVI leaving the papacy. Mr. Green, the only other position this guy could be promoted to in the catholic church is to God – and that is not going to happen.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • motive

      he was perfect for the job,, as any other pope,, They lie swindle and steal children's lives.. Sc-ums

      February 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm |
  16. Jesus Christ Son of God

    How about all the priests resign, and all the sheeple then make their own decisions.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
    • Dan

      They are too brain-washed so I don't think they can think for themselves.

      February 27, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
  17. JesterJames

    WHAT! are you implying the imaginary friend of millions of people made a mistake? If they had their ways, they would burn you at the stakes for this heresy. :p

    February 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  18. Mack

    Everything can be force ranked. Catholics, admit this last pope ranks poorly and you'll have more credibility.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  19. stopabortion

    It is not up to us to judge, only God can answer that question, Benedict XVI is really a great Pope, the more I know about him, the more I respect him...God has blessed us with a good Shepherd, I feel so blessed, happy and proud to be Catholic.

    February 27, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Son of God

      Good Shepard? Only sheep need a shepard. Wake up, and live your life.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:54 pm |

      too bad you were not aborted.

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

      Let's get this pope laid already. Clear his mind!

      February 27, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Aloysius

      Thanks for the positive reply, stopabortion. It's so easy to hate this latest Pope but let's stay together as Catholics and not let emotion run over us.

      February 27, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
  20. Dyan S

    I thought the pope was a man?

    February 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm |

      You did not look close enough to learn truth of his man hood.

      February 27, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
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