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. The Anti-Christ

    You're really going to like the next Pope... My boy Petrus Romanus will have the atheists among you squealing a new tune by the time we're done. Be afraid...Be very afraid...

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

      Woo-hoo! Eschatology stuff.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  2. cvryder2000

    Cardinal Rat was NEVER the right man for the job. His prior record would indicate that. If the cardinals keep going to the conservative side, the Catholic church will exist only in second and third world countries.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  3. shoos

    The failure of transparancy in the church allows for pretending, hiding, and corruption. Teaching and spreading beliefs don't require all the formality. He was the wrong person for the job from the get-go. He should have removed himself from the position of being voted as Pope. He was in the Nazi party, yes, he was young. But he should have been more forceful as a church leader to know how children can be manipulated to their detriment by others with power. Yet he was part of the problem of hiding the pediphile perpetrators in the church. He did nothing to crackdown and clean up. Just bury and pay off the problem. That alone should have been the number one reason he should never have been Pope. He wasn't a good leader he was hiding the dirty mess just another excuse like his being in the Nazi party. Along with the pediphile problem in the Church there are a lot of gay priests. A bishop in our diocese was blackmailed $400,000+ that the Church paid for an ex male lover to hide the fact that the bishop was an active gay. The Church allowed him to retire yet they are not so nice to gays in the church. If they are going to be enforcing the rules they created, he should be excommunicated, unwelcome. The hypocracy and intolerance is a real problem with this Church. It's really sad they don't wake up and get real. Start accepting people for the way they are, help them understand this is our beliefs, do your best to be a better person. I roll my eyes now every time I read something new that is the same old crap about the Catholic Church. I choose not to have my kids being brought up with that tradition now, which is sad.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  4. Humanity4All

    There is NO RIGHT MAN for the Job. The Job itself is fake. Elecvating a human like that is plain stupid.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  5. snowdogg

    Note to Papal Electors... get somebody under 50 years old !!!

    February 28, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  6. nigella4u

    This man looks utterly evil!

    February 28, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  7. Griff

    We could all worship Mohammed or a tree or something instead.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:37 am |
  8. Michael

    It's not just celebacy; it's about getting in step with a modern world.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  9. veep

    Mr. Ratzinger was knee deep in what's now seen as one of the largest attempts in history to condone child molesting.

    ...even if they didn't intend to.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • dmoney666

      BRAVO! The Church is a global, criminal empire that has condoned and covered-up child molestation for DECADES. Its leaders need to be thrown in prison and the Church shut down. It's BILLIONS in art and real estate should be given to the poor, which the Church proclaims is one of it missions. How hypocritical.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  10. Nancy

    The news media covers the Pope like he's the king of the world! It is so over the top and consuming much of the daily news coverage ever since the announcement of his retirement. As a "recovering" Catholic: WHO CARES?!?. He's the leader of a church, nothing more and nothing less. And as someone who was raised in a Catholic household, imo, he is the epitomy of what is wrong with another mysoginistic, out-of-touch religions.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  11. latebreakingcatholic

    So good that someone like Richard is writing history with such a huge amount of knowledge about the Catholic Church and its tradition. (Intended irony).

    Pope Benedict was deeply loved by Catholics around the world, a brilliant theologan and with Christ-like leadership qualities. How much more humble could the Pope be than giving up his leadership position to ensure the Church has the most effective replacement.

    You can't measure leadership in commerical terms. He is not running a company or a newspaper. He is the actual and symbolic successor to St. Peter, the Head of the Church as appointed by Jesus Christ himself.

    However, once again, CNN performs the role of judge and jury. I wonder if the author has read any of Pope Benedict's books, writings, weekly addresses in the context of the last eight years.

    He will be remember lovingly, for his legacy and his monumental gift to the Church of handing over the papacy when he knew he would not be able to meet the physical demands of the job. Reading his leaving addresses it is very obvious that his mind is as sharp as ever.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • jeff

      Back in 1980, this pope, then the archbishop of Munich, played a role in the decision to handle Peter H.'s pedophiliac infractions internally. No police, no state prosecutor, no trial, no consequences. If there is a hell, Ratzinger will surely get there soon enough.

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

      umm.. it's called an opinion piece for a reason.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  12. LL

    I guess God either changed his mind or now prefers short-timers?

    Or, maybe he's just sleeping more these days......

    February 28, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  13. achepotle

    He didn't make much of a Nazi concentration camp guard either.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Steve

      You obviously would be a much better Nazi concentration camp guard. You certainly lie like one

      February 28, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  14. Jo

    Ask Matthew Fox!!!! He was excommunicated by this Pope!!!!

    February 28, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Steve

      What?? Now that's a new one. Did you pull that out of thin air?

      February 28, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  15. Joe

    Quite ironic/illuminating how secular news extols anti-bullying while marginalizing this great and holy man of God. cnn.com

    "Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me." Matt 5:11

    February 28, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • flickerman

      Great and holy man of God?! To whom are you referring? There are many. Paul Newman comes to mind.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  16. Randy, San Francisco

    The question is irrelevant when it comes to the Catholic Church. Regardless of who is Pope, changes to the culture and bureaucracy evolve very slowly. The primary goal is to preserve the power and authority of the church at all costs, even if it is detrimental to individuals. Just look at the cover-up child abuse by pedophile priests.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:22 am |
  17. SuperDave

    He was perfect! He covered up pedophilia, allowed murderers to atone their sins by walking into a wood box once a week and be cleansed via confession, continued to promote the religious zealotry that is the Catholic Church. He followed the centuries old tradition of this "religion".

    February 28, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  18. Mike Andrews

    Thank God for the Catholic Church and this pope. He is a saintly man who did his best. The vast majority of Catholics and non-Catholic Christians believe he did a fantastic job of teaching and sanctifying the world.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • God

      No we didn't....

      February 28, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Jo

      I hope you do not represent most Catholics!!!!!!

      February 28, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      How do you sanctify the world? You cannot make the whole world holy by waving you magic wand a sprinkling water on it.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Mike Andrews

      Sorry, but we sure did. Read the polls: Pew, Gallu etc. Benedict XVI is a scholarly, good, faithful man who tried his best and, by most rational accounts, did a great job. The vitriol for this good man is really intended for the Church, and she's doing quite well too.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Mike Andrews

      RichardCranium: Hey, relax on the snark. Catholic theology tells us that all Catholics are called to sanctify the world. That would include the pope. Sanctifing the world means making it a better place because God calls us to.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Marsha

      "SuperDave", I am not catholic but I am a Christian. I have NEVER heard of any Christian thinking he can sin and not have to pay the consequence. We are forgiven by God, that is true. But God will not keep us from consequences. That is how we learn. Unlike the Catholic, we Christians do NOT believe that a Pope, Priest etc, can absolve us of anything. We don't need that "Wooden box" someone spoke of. We do NOT confess our sins to man, but to God. God alone can forgive. My best friend is Catholic, I've known her all my life. She also does not believe that she is able to sin without consequence.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Mike Andrews

      Jo: I don't represent anyone but myself. But I can safely say that the vast majority of Catholics who have been polled on the topic believe that Joseph Ratzinger has done a heckuva job. He's a brilliant fellow who has imparted much insight on the nature of God and Jesus Christ. No enlightened person could state to the contrary.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Madtown

      Catholic theology tells us that all Catholics are called to sanctify the world
      Yes of course. All religions state that theirs is the most holy of missions, the "best way", the "only way" to God, however they like to phrase it. What are they supposed to say? Why is catholic theology correct(to you), and all other theologies that teach the same thing(from a different perspective) incorrect?

      February 28, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Mike Andrews


      Gosh, who said that Benedict XVI isn't a sinner? Aren't all men and women sinners? That's what the Church believes, so we agree on that point. You sort of question the sacrament of reconciliation. That's okay by me. 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. St. John Chrystosom, an early Church father, wrote: "Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.’ Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding; but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? ‘Whose sins you shall forgive,’ he says, ‘they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.’ What greater power is there than this? The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40; John 20:21–23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven" (The Priesthood 3:5 [A.D. 387]).

      The great weight of authority, scripture and tradition substantiate the sacrament of confession. If that's not for you, no problem here. But let's agree that rejecting it is at least a doubtful rejection of Christ's own declaration to the contrary.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Sanctify - is that latten for bug-ger?

      Sanctify – is that latten for bug-ger?

      February 28, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  19. John Stockton

    I always thought this guy looked REALLY creepy! Absolute power corrupts absolutely. These devine robed creepers have zero oversight and I shudder to think about all the things they've done that we HAVEN'T heard about! The world would be a much better place if this abusive archaic cult were to fold (along with the islamis!)

    February 28, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  20. realbuckyball

    The man for the job ? Obviously not. Anyone who read any of the Vatileaks articles in the Italian press knows what a weak and poor administrator he was. Eventually Bertone won what he wanted, as Camerlengo, and has it now. He was a German academic with no admin experience, and was completely in the dark with respect to the shenanigans at the IRW, (the bank). The question is can ANYONE actually get control of the forces operating there now. I doubt it.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • lol??

      The Diverse Beast is havin' the same problem.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:38 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.