The following comes from a February 20 story in the Weekly Standard by Joseph Bottom, former editor of First Things.
….Some of the difficulties Benedict faced when he became pope derived from his Polish predecessor and the peculiar, fascinating way John Paul II seemed more to wear the papacy than rule it—administration by personal charisma. When John Paul II took office in 1979, he immediately perceived that he had been elected to lead an entrenched, recalcitrant (and mostly Italian) clerical bureaucracy in Rome—and a church outside of Italy that was still weak from the changes of the Second Vatican Council, locked in battles between conservatives, who thought the texts of Vatican II broke the church, and liberals, who thought the spirit of Vatican II required breaking even more.
John Paul’s solution was simply to do an end run around both his problems. He carried the papacy with him, rather than leaving it in Rome with the bureaucrats, and although he found a few people to help him with theological applications (notably Joseph Ratzinger), he mostly ignored the Roman world and used his personal staff as a kind of shadow Vatican—more real, as the years went by, than the Vatican itself. What’s more, he used the canons and decrees of Vatican II in a parallel way. Ignoring both armies of theological combatants in those 1970s-themed struggles, he ran around the world proclaiming directly to the people that Vatican II didn’t mark any break at all—but was, instead, a fully orthodox, fully intelligible flowering of the church’s long tradition.
As strategies for sidestepping the problems of his moment, both of these were brilliant and effective. Unfortunately, they also left the problems themselves unaddressed: time bombs waiting for his successor. For Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.
And off with a boom they duly went. A church bank so incompetently run that the Bank of Italy finally prohibited all electronic teller transactions on Vatican territory, in an effort to stop the local criminals who were using them to launder money and cash in on stolen credit cards. A household staff who were pilfering papers and selling them to journalists and souvenir seekers. A press office that lurched from crisis to crisis like arsonists in firemen’s clothes—apparently incapable of not pouring gasoline on the fires they were called to put out. The aftermath of the Regensburg lecture in 2006, for instance, in which the pope was accused of insulting Islam, ought to be mandatory reading for press secretaries in how never to behave….
To read the entire story, click here.