Dumb article in The Times about Benedict XVI

There is a profoundly silly article by John Follain on the Pope in the last Sunday number of The Times.

The writer clearly dislikes this Pope and what he is doing.  From that point of view he couldn’t possibly write a real story for a newspaper.  Instead he focuses on the rantings of the like-minded Giancarlo Zizola and Marco Politi.

The Pope is accused of being an aloof monarch.

Stupid, if you know Joseph Ratzinger at all.

He does make one good point, which I have offered before on the blog.  The Holy Father’s secretary, Fr. Ganswein, is pretty tough about keeping things off the Pope’s desk if they can be avoided.

I would only add that there is also a group of mid to upper level curial personnel who are set against this Pope and his vision.  

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Irenaeus says:

    Basic question from a (current) Protestant — if there is “a group of mid to upper level curial personnel who are set against this Pope and his vision,” why does he not fire or otherwise sideline them? He is Head of State in Vatican City, no?

    Honest question. I see Catholics talk about papal enemies in the Vatican, and while I know bureaucrats we will have with us always, why not just take charge and, if not roll heads, move heads? How do such things work?

  2. TomG says:


    Same problem with every conservative President of the U.S. when he takes office: the bureaucracy, ever liberal, selfish and jealous of “empire”, does everything it can to block *true* progress. G.W. Bush never had a chance. Let us pray that the Holy Father’s vision will prevail.

  3. John Penta says:

    Irenaeus: The Vatican is a bureaucracy like any other, yes.

    One of the things to remember is that those same bureaucrats that get moaned about are in many cases the institutional memory of how things are run.

    It’s nice to -think- about sacking the enemies of this or that Pope or this or that policy wholesale – but if you did, the Vatican bureaucracy (which already only sort of runs) would come to a screeching halt.

    You might celebrate that, but…I assure you, your celebrations would be brief. If you think it’s bad now, watch how the Vatican would run without the core “civil servants” to keep things on track.

    It wouldn’t.

    So, in short: Sure, a Pope *could* fire their enemies, but they’re not likely to. (Nor would it be the brightest idea!) Besides, in many cases we’re talking about ‘enemies’ only in a narrow, issue-by-issue, sense. On other issues, they may well be fervently loyal.

    Finally: In many cases, while you may disagree with Card. Y or Bishop X in Rome…They’re not often at their posts because they’re political hacks. (Not usually, anyway.) In many cases, especially on spiritual matters, the Vatican scoops up the best and brightest in their fields.

    This, I will grant, is not uniform. Every bureaucracy has its clunkers. But the Vatican bureaucracy (Father Z, could you confirm my numbers here?) has only about 300 people that work for it – I think that number excludes the diplomatic corps, but could be wrong. 300, in bureaucratic terms, is tiny.

    Truly bad actors, actors with truly malevolent aims (not differing, but malevolent) do not long survive in an organization so small.

  4. Emilio III says:

    Wasn’t it John XXIII who was asked “how many people work in the Vatican” and he answered “about half”?

  5. Irenaeus says:

    Thank you — very helpful.

  6. Most of these complainers have no idea what it’s like to be 81 years old, I think. Active as Pope Benedict is, he’s still no spring chicken. Msgr Ganswein deserves a raise.

  7. Mark S. says:

    I read the full article in The Times, and found it a bit depressing. The Pope is over 80 years old. He’s been elected to a position that would tax a man half his age, at an age when probably 99+% of people would wish to spend their remaining years in a happy retirement. He can hardly be blamed for wanting some peace and quiet at times – and his desire for this peace and quiet at meal-times is the reason why he was referred to as an “aloof monarch”. Instead, he’s governing the entire church militant, with an estimated global population of 1.1 billion people. Any decision he makes is immediately criticised by whichever wing (left or right) of the Hcurchwhich is dissatisfied with his comments and decisions – plus all the negative criticism he receives from the secular world, such as the article in The Times.

    It would be really nice if we could all get behind the Pope with our prayers at the moment.

  8. paul says:

    Woe to you if the world loves you, Holy Father Pope Benedict is a holy man.

  9. Flabellum says:

    There certainly seems to be a campaign of Papal vilification going on – whether it is concerted or opportunistic is another question.

  10. Liam says:

    A number of thoughts:

    1. The Pope is a monarch, and with power. Monarchy with power does not have much purchase on the esteem of most people post, say, 1918, except in Thailand and some more tribal lands.

    2. Aloof is convenient but facile. This Pope is a different personality from his predecessor. And, if anything, I believe he has deliberately chosen to accentuate this difference in order to do something very estimable: wean people from the cult of papal charisma that flourished under his predecessor. The traditional Roman way (going back to pre-Christian times) is to be wary of marrying charisma to power. Charisma is lovely, but organizations that use it for basic fuel can become less functional when the charismatic leader departs. Our Lord, interestingly, was regularly given to preparing his disciples for a time when he would not be around in the same way. It’s an important lesson for the vitality of any organization.

    3. The recurring meme about powerful opponents in the Curia is one of those everlasting but partial realities. The idea that the Curia not only helps but hinders (of course at the same time) a pope has been a constant for centuries. The particular version of this idea nascent here and elsewhere creates the impression that there are many in power near the Pope who actively oppose his entire agenda – whereas the reality is likely less melodramatic. There are disagreements. There is bureaucratic inertia – both internally and externally motivated. There are different agendas. Curial officials have a habit of speaking like they have the Pope’s ear in a special way, and many popes (like many good leaders) have a habit of allowing different curial officials to infer he agrees with them, et cet.

  11. Make me a Spark says:

    I read some of the criticisms of the Holy Father, and it struck me that I am glad that he has time to think, pray and meditate. I would not trust a man who was more worried about what other people are saying than about what God is speaking to his heart.

    I believe that there are certain charisms that are given to Our Papa by God as part of His office, it does take faith in God to trust in that. Perhaps what B 16’s critics lack is faith in God to act through this man, and through the personality and gifts that God has given to Him.

  12. booklover says:

    “Perhaps it would be a good thing if every Christian, certainly if every priest, could dream once in his life that he were Pope, and wake from that nightmare in a sweat of agony.” Ronald Knox

  13. Nick says:

    The Times is famous for its anti-Catholic articles.

  14. Sal says:

    I once read a study which said that approximately 75% of us are extroverts. That leaves 25% of us as “introverts” or quiet types, who like a bit of “alone time” once in a while. Apart from the very valid point Liam makes that Benedict XVI is going against his predecessor’s cult of personality, he’s also by nature a quiet person, who probably does like a meal alone after a morning spent holding audiences. He strikes me as someone who might fit the monastic type of personality and this is by no means a criticism. On the contrary, it’s one of the things I appreciate most about him. It’s no surprise that the MSM would find this strange and inexplicable.

  15. Liam says:


    Well, there are two meanings of intro/extroversion. The more conventional has to do with reserve, shyness and sociability. The more technical has to do with where people get their energy from – from within oneself or from stimulation outside oneself (other people, most notably). I think our current Pope may be an introvert in that technical sense more than the conventional sense. I would not think him shy or uncomfortable with sustaining sociability – though his manner would probably strike many Americans (except perhaps old-time New Englanders) as reserved

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