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."

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

"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.

CNN Belief: The pope in retirement: What to expect

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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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. GO_GOP

    He was a great man and his place in heaven is assured. He was much maligned by the left, communist media. However, all this cannot stop him from a special place in heaven. He was our Lord's true messenger.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • Religion is


      A, bullshit, he was just another deluded biblebabbler. A total waste of skin.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:51 am |
    • Religion is


      Sorry, Ah, not A. Fucking iPad.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:53 am |
    • Marcus

      Believe in God or the Lord or whatever you want, I do to but this idiot is just some complete moron that was put in a throne. No different than if we made Elton John the pope. He is just an old idiot elected into some position because his penis dont work.

      February 28, 2013 at 1:10 am |
    • jo

      All I can say is "One Tin Soldier" – "One Tin Soldier" tells the abstract story of a hidden treasure and two neighboring peoples, the Mountain People and the Valley People. The Valley People are aware of a treasure on the mountain, buried under a stone; they send a message to the Mountain People demanding those riches. When told they can share the treasure, the Valley People instead decided to take it all by force. After killing all the Mountain People, the victors move the stone and find nothing more than a simple message: "Peace on Earth." Ironically, the valley people destroyed the treasure in pursuit of it. Pope Benedict is the "One Tin Soldier". Listen to song and pay attention to lyrics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qswm7lHp7oY). Love and peace

      February 28, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • sam stone

      he was a loudmouth who got whacked by the romans. hardly the first nor the last

      February 28, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  2. Be cool

    He was certainly the right man for the job from the church's point of view. He protected the pedophile priests!!

    February 28, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  3. lolotte

    Can you leave him alone, CNN this bullying had to stop this is indecent now, just change subject, please

    February 28, 2013 at 12:36 am |
    • Tim Rigney

      It's not bullying to report on alleged crimes when there's legitimate evidence that they've been committed; and besides he doesn't even know about it. You need to face what he's done, it *really* happened. And then he refused to take responsibility for it or and failed to try to undo it. He's not even a Christian.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Saraswati

      lolette, You might. want to look over all the CNN belief blog posts in the last few weeks. The y are mostly a celebration of the Pope.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  4. John

    He turned the Church back toward the traditional liturgy. Everything else is a non-issue. The Catholic Faith is True and it is on the rise. Look out.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Hubert

      The RCC is growing a bit in the developing world. However it is dying in the developed world.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • Michael

      The Catholic Church is not on the rise in North America. It is the other way around. Young people are leaving in droves, not because they are bad people, but because the RCC has no meaning for them. The RCC is trying to recreate a fifteenth century church in the twenty-first century. Young people want nothing to do with this non sense. I am saying this as a father of two boys, ages -18 and 20, and a youth leader in the Catholic Church.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • sam stone

      "Look Out" is right.

      February 28, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • Tim Rigney

      Covering up child abuse and deliberately obstructing justice repeatedly is not a non-issue. You need to sit down and face what he's done.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Hubert, Their only hope for survival is the continued poverty and desperation of the developing world.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  5. us_1776

    There's no Sky Fairy.

    Get over it.


    February 28, 2013 at 12:25 am |
    • Tim Rigney

      Science can't explain the Big Bang. It does, however, lend credence to the concept of Intelligent Design, as more and more physicists will tell you as they gather more and more evidence for it. Get over it.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  6. Badda Bing

    You can see Satan in the face of every single pope who ever lived. There is no denying. Just look at them! CREEEEEEEPPPPPYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 28, 2013 at 12:24 am |
    • Steve

      Have you ever looked into the eye of an internet troll?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • aaaa


      February 28, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • aaaa

      agree with Badda Bing

      February 28, 2013 at 12:45 am |
  7. Bubba Rydel

    Americans have the right to worship our Lord Jesus Christ. The Catholics do not believe that The Pope is a God. The Catholics believe that he is the Vicar of Christ. He is the leader of our Earthly Church. David Letterman continues to ridicule The Catholic church and our Pope every night. He would never be this disrespectful with the Jews or with Islam. He is a bully and a coward. I call for a boycott of his show by all Catholics and by all of our Christian brothers and sisters.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:23 am |
    • Religion is


      Well, David Letterman has just become my new hero! Thank you, Bubba.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:47 am |
    • DunderChief

      Relatively Free. Relatively Prosperous. Truely Informed. Religion will continue to decline under these conditions.

      February 28, 2013 at 1:02 am |
    • Michael

      I think the founder of your Church told you a long time ago to turn the other cheek. Or do you ignor the parts of the Gospel that are difficult to live?

      February 28, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  8. Nebraska Catholic

    150,000 people showed up to his farewell Mass. Apparently some of us think he did a good job and respect his decision to step down...

    February 28, 2013 at 12:19 am |
    • Michael

      I am a Montana Catholic. I am glad the pope stepped down. Perhaps we will be fortuniate enough to get a new leader that will bring the Church into the 21st century, restore faith and meaning, and finally come back to life.

      February 28, 2013 at 1:09 am |
    • awayreligion

      Yes and society now refers to these people as... stupid!

      February 28, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  9. Robert Dahlquist

    Benedict is accused of being a poor manager. Maybe it's true, but it's a tough job. I am reminded of John XXIII's statement when he wanted to implement some initiative and it fell through the cracks. He said, "I'm in a box here." Not every initiative, however well intentioned, comes to fruition. The same is true in any organization. Benedict's administration is no different.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  10. Paul

    Who the HELL (in huge letters) is CNN to ask such a cursed question? That's like the devil of HELL asking the God of glory if He is the right one to rule the universe that He created. CNN is full of sons of the devil, men of depraved minds, condemned to eternal destruction.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • CrossCountry

      ...someone forgot to take their meds.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • Doobs

      There are meds that can help you.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Doobs

      @ CC


      February 28, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • CrossCountry


      great minds. hahaha

      February 28, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Hubert


      I see God has appointed you judge of all man kind. Tell me, what is it like to have that much authority?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • Mary Jean

      What would you suggest for a good home page with unbiased postings?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • Religion is


      Paul, you'd fit right in with those fire-and-brimstone preachers of the pilgrim days. Have you ever tried thinking for a change?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:41 am |
    • TFC

      Catholic bishops elect the Pope on behalf of the Church. The Churches belief is that that decision is infallible. For CNN to raise that question lays bare the bias inherent in the question. If you do not share that belief.. Cover something else....

      February 28, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • Hubert


      So only Catholics can talk about Catholicism? That seems like a great way to create an echo chamber divorced from the rest of the world.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:46 am |
    • sam stone

      Paul: They are a news organization. If these stories bother you, do not read them.

      February 28, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  11. Tim

    Tone-deaf? Of course, he was still using rotary dial phones.

    February 28, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  12. Martha Cecilia

    Reblogged this on The Catholic Feminist and commented:
    "This was a tone-deaf papacy." I could not think of a better way to put it. I've been reading over and over and over again different friends posts this week about how JPII taught us (the laity) how to be courageous, and how Benedict taught the laity how to be humble. Benedict and JPII taught the laity how to be blind and fearful....

    February 28, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  13. judy

    5,000 bishops, half a million priest, 1.2 billion Catholics and how many nuns?

    February 28, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • Connie

      One flying nun. That's all we really need.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Robert Dahlquist

      Even God doen't know how many orders of nuns there are !

      February 28, 2013 at 12:21 am |
    • sally

      Hey – us nones just want people to leave our habits alone!

      February 28, 2013 at 12:28 am |
  14. luvlar

    Jerry Sandusky for Pope!

    February 27, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  15. Ninjitsu

    The non-religious are doing a great job of showing how different this would would be without religion.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
    • Ben

      Seems like this world has experienced both, and changes are never far. You seem uncertain by the way you write.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:03 am |
    • April

      The pope is a Nazi, and he was around when they had Hitler Youth Group!!!

      February 28, 2013 at 12:16 am |

    I wonder where he hid his gold he stole from other countries poor while in power? Do you think he hid it with his stash of Nazi gold?

    February 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm |
  17. rotorhead1871

    well......he is going to be around for the debrief.....hope he has thick skin and boy bishop close by!!

    February 27, 2013 at 11:43 pm |
  18. Mario D

    OK – quick Google search of every person quoted in this article will turn up that they are all somewhat anti-Catholic or have past history of openly criticizing Catholic church. The author of this article did not write a fair article to say the least. I am a Catholic and the time in the church right now is awesome! You on the outside looking in have no idea what is really happening here. You have really got to "walk a mile in a man's shoes" as the adage goes....really saddened by all who quickly dismiss Pope Benedict and the Catholic church in hand over few problems. Please while you are quickly dismissive of the Pope and church, please apply your criticisms to any, and I mean any other organization and leader of said organization....won't find one better than the Catholic church – anyone out there realize it is one of the longest living organizations with continuous line of leaders with a rite of succession alive on the planet....not many been around longer. Not one standing government is older than this church – yep not one. Where are the critics to acknowledge such a simple fact in balance to the bashing?

    February 27, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • rotorhead1871

      organized religion is the travesty....taking peoples money and selling them god.....how pathetic....

      February 27, 2013 at 11:44 pm |

      1,000 year Reich eh?

      February 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
    • The Flamingo Kid

      You have to be one of the most DELUDED people walking the face of the earth. The Catholic Church is nothing but an organized crime ring that has been guilty of crimes against humanity for over 2000 years. This "Church" is going to fall and it is going to fall hard. When God brings judgment against this den of Satan there will be NO EXCUSES for those who CHOSE to remain DESPITE knowing of the "church's" sins. Now is the time to get out.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:07 am |
    • Puckles

      The Catholic church is going down and all its supporting members are going to do down with it. You support and give your $ to the largest ped ophile ring in the world.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • James M

      Well, what you're saying makes too much sense Mario. Thus, most of the people reading it will ignore it and continue in their mindless rants against the Church, making conclusory statements such as, the abuse scandal was caused by priestly celibacy, while ignoring the fact that there are significantly more cases of child abuse in public school system and even the family.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:18 am |
    • Badda Bing

      The fact that this "church" has been around so long and has been able to get away with all of its MANY atrocities just goes to show you how high up the corruption goes. This "church" is a joke as are those who are "proud" to call themselves Catholics.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • Michael

      You are very simplistic in your view of the Catholic Church. The RCC has been around for perhaps 2000 years. Most of the North American Indian tribes and their spirituality/religions are well over 5000 years old , with understanding of God just as solid as that of the Roman Catholic Church. Are you so blinded by your loality to your church that you can't face reality?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:28 am |
    • skytag

      Kind of sad that you think how long it's lasted is proof of anything. Actually, it is an example of something studies have shown, which is that the more ritual and sacrifice a church or religious commune requires the longer it lasts.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • Washingtonian

      Who can afford his shoes??

      February 28, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • sally

      Gosh Washington, it's Catholicism, not Kardashianism. You just have to kill a witch.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • skytag

      James: Public schools are secular. It's not actually an impressive accomplishment that there is less abuse by clergymen than people working in the public schools.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:46 am |
  19. hellatight

    I find it amusing 'papist' rhymes with 'r@pist'.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  20. nevaeh

    Yes, He is being a good Pope. His resignation is an act of humility, actually a revolutionary act of humility. But people full of pride will not understand it because the concept of humility is totally foreign to them.

    February 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm |

      He is quitting before he goes to jail.

      February 27, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Puckles

      LOL!!!!!!!!!!! You are deluded!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      February 28, 2013 at 12:17 am |
    • Michael

      The truth is, we probably will never know why the pope is resigning. The Church in Rome has lost the trust of many, if not most people. You think people have lost the concept of humility. What they have lost is trust in the Pope and company, and for very good reason.

      February 28, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • Tim Rigney

      No, submitting himself for prosecution at the International Court of Justice would be an act of humility. Do you realize that they're getting ready for an armed conflict if they come to the Vatican to try to arrest him? Those guns that his guards have are *not* unloaded. You need to sit down and realize what the guy's done and accept it.

      February 28, 2013 at 9:51 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
About this blog

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.