Commentators will politely suggest that, as pope, Benedict was a great scholar and teacher. Perhaps, they'll grant—ever so graciously—that he was even well-intentioned about dealing with scandals in the Church.
But then they lower the boom: he was just in over his head when it came to managing the Vatican bureaucracy (e.g., the Roman Curia).
According to this line of that, what is really needed—i.e., what the Cardinals at the conclave really must find—is a pope who is a hard-nosed administrator.
In sum, the Church needs a bureaucrat.
Such critics will say that Benedict may have been a brilliant teacher, have written well about the faith, and have given great speeches, but, really, he was essentially wasting his energy. We don't need a theologian, we need a manager.
The narrative that seems to be emerging is this: the Church is in need of reform, especially, "reforms" in the bureaucracy of the Vatican. Benedict just wasn't able to figure out how to do this.
This grossly misrepresents Benedict's papacy. For one thing, from a management perspective, Benedict was hardly interested in "business-as-usual". Much could be said here. Suffice it to mention here a few items:
- Benedict turned heads when he appointed a woman to serve as undersecretary of a Pontifical Council—a previously unheard of move.
- He systematically revised Church law, enacting much stricter regulations on the handling of clerical cases of child abuse.
- He insisted on greater transparency at the Vatican bank, approving new norms, firing the former president and replacing him with an outsider
But Benedict's unsung role as a reformer is not the point of this post.
Instead, the point I wish to make here is this: Church reform is NOT simply a matter of personnel changes, the implementation of new policies, and the establishment of new bureaucratic structures.
Benedict was not "wasting time" by writing books about Jesus. Benedict understood that reform is only possible through personal conversion resulting from an encounter with Jesus Christ. Thus Benedict explained,
“Leading men and women to God, to the God who speaks in the Bible: this is the supreme and fundamental priority of the Church and of the Successor of Peter at the present time.” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remission of the Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. Emphasis added).Management / governance of the Church is an important aspect of bishop of Rome's job, but more important is his role as a teacher and proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seen without the eyes of faith, the Church may be understood as merely a kind of massive corporation. But that misses the essence of the Church. The Church is a mystical reality that exists to evangelize.
Benedict always understood this. That's why his number one priority was always articulating the good news. The primary task of the pope is not to be a CEO, but a teacher and proclaimer of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, long before he became pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger explained all of this to a reporter. For those frustrated that the pope did not enact more "radical" reforms, realize he always understood "reform" to be about more than organizational politics.
Let us never forget his words.
We must always bear in mind that the Church is not ours but [Christ’s]. Hence the ‘reform’, the ‘renewals’—necessary as they may be—cannot exhaust themselves in a zealous activity on our part to erect new, sophisticated structures. The most that can come from a work of this kind is a Church that is ‘ours’, to our measure, which might indeed be interesting but which, by itself, is nevertheless not the true Church, that which sustains us with the faith and gives us life with the sacrament. I mean to say that what we can do is infinitely inferior to him who does. Hence, true ‘reform’ does not mean to take great pains to erect new façades (contrary to what certain ecclesiologies think). Real ‘reform’ is to strive to let what is ours disappear as much as possible so what belongs to Christ may become more visible. It is a truth well know to the saints. Saints, in fact, reformed the Church in depth, not by working up plans for new structures, but by reforming themselves. What the Church needs in order to respond to the needs of man in every age is holiness, not management.
—Joseph Cardinal Ratinzger, The Ratzinger Report, p. 53.
I hope and pray that the Cardinals assembled in Rome remember this.