Rorate Caeli

"Benedict XVI is by himself"
The disastrous "bad governance" legacy of Vatican II and John Paul II

Published today in La Croix, the semi-official daily of the French episcopate [tip: Le Forum Catholique]:

For Philippe Levillain, an expert in the recent history of the Popes, the adaptation of the Curia to the new orientations of Vatican II greatly contributed to make its governance more complex. 

LA CROIX: In the course of History, has it become more difficult to govern the Vatican? 

Philippe Levillain: Vatican II set a new stage, by making structures more complex. Numerous committees and commissions were established, in order to apply the new axes of the Council: interreligious dialogue, health, family, justice and peace, laity. These structures were added to those that were the heart of the traditional Curia, with the classic dicasteries (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [Holy Office], Evangelization of peoples [Propaganda Fide]...). Out of this fact, the role of the Secretary of State, the number 2 of the Holy See, is henceforth one of an orchestra-man, charged with creating synergies and coordinating the whole of these actions while playing the part of an arbiter. It is extremely complex. A pope will undoubtedly not be able to do as Pius XII, who decreed that he would fill the functions of Secretary of State from 1944 to 1958. 

The Secretary of State chosen by Benedict XVI presents, from this point of view, a profile somewhat different from that of his predecessors? 

Yes, John Paul II had chosen Secretaries of State who knew well the machinery of the State, as Cardinals Agostino Casaroli or Angelo Sodano, personalities to whom he was not nevertheless particularly close. On the contrary, Benedict XVI named as Secretary of State someone very close to him, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was always his faithful companion in the Curia.

It is to be noted, however, that, while John Paul II had entrusted the administration to a "high-level servant" used to the Curia, he had also placed men of trust, Poles, in all dicasteries, creating in this way a kind of "Parallel Curia". Benedict XVI has absolutely not put in place a parallel German system. 

There is the sentiment that the Vatican suffers from bad governance, is that new? 

In reality, John Paul II left aside some particularly sensitive matters, without truly taking charge of them, and his successor partly pays the price of this incompetence. For instance, the question of the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder was left in place while his sexual deviations were known, at least partly. In the same way, he did not take serious charge of the consequences of the pedophilia cases, and particularly with the juridical questions on the way guilty priests should be treated. Or also, following the moment in which the Lefebvrist broke negotiations, John Paul II allowed the schism with the Traditionalists to take hold. 

Finally, was not the Vatican always a place of intrigue? 

Yes, but, before, this intrigue was mostly motivated by the desire to occupy positions. ... What is new today is the strong media promotion of all that surrounds the pope. This began with Vatican II, but was masterfully magnified by John Paul II. Today, the pope is by himself before public opinion.  

Philippe Levillain supervised the publication of the Dictionnaire historique de la papauté [Historical Dictionary of the Papacy], Fayard, 2006.


  1. But the Holy Father has the immediate last word.

    All other dissenting opinions in the Curia be damned.

  2. R. John3:08 PM

    The chickens is comin' home to roost. Why? Because the revolution eats its own.

  3. NIANTIC3:51 PM

    All in all another indictment of Vll and its aftermath. Just about EVERYTHING that came before was discarded. Yes, JPll was as a person a "superstar" to the world. But as Pope his long reign did nothing whatsoever to halt or reverse the "spirit of Vll" but rather kept it alive and well. And, yes, therefore his successor inherited a disobedient, ungovernable, mess. I am afraid the rushed title of "blessed" was way, way premature and imprudent.
    Many, many things need to be reversed post haste.

  4. J.G. Ratkaj3:56 PM

    The results of almost 50 years of grossly negligent leaderhip in Rome confronts His Holiness with insolvable difficulties. In addition to that the unparalleled catastrophic training of priests, even in once so prestigious roman colleges, offers only a very modest reservoir for possible future senior staff in the dicasteries.

  5. I agree with R. John. My wife and I had this exact talk last night re: Blessed John Paul II. We don't need a superstar, but someone to bring the Church back from the abyss. Pope Benedict XVI has been left to clean up the heretical mess that festerd under JPII. I say this with all due respect to our past Holy Father.

  6. Adam Michael4:08 PM

    The Roman Curia would have become more complicated even if the Second Vatican Council had been handled in an utterly traditional manner. New dicasteries such as those related to the laity, marriage and family, and issues of the moral order would certainly have gained a place as these were topics to be treated in the pre-Conciliar schemas.

    Regarding the media, modern means of mass media focused positively on Pope Pius XII in the 1950s and began to center on the controversies of the Church as early as 1963 when the same Pontiff was attacked in Hochhuth's play.

    Clearly, even without Vatican II and John Paul II, the Curia would have become more complicated and media scrutiny would have increased on the Papacy. And, as we all know, complications in disciplinary action and intrigue is nothing new in Curial circles.

    I don't see many breaks in tradition documented in this article, except the increased role of the Secretary of State (Cardinal Villot, anyone?).

  7. Let's look at this from a philosophical perspective:

    1) You can know the cause from its effects.

    In the case of VII, we can't since the cause is the "Spirit of VII" and not VII itself as currently stated by the Pope.

    2) The essence of VII is that it's a valid council.

    Yet it has two material reality: One known as "the orthodox interpretation" and the other known as "the heterodox interpretation". Both being supported by the same text.

    3) By (2) we seem to have a dichotomy, because the council is a complex compound.

    The current solution for those trying to save the VII council, is to "take the bull by the horns".

  8. Pray for the pope.4:14 PM

    I too agree with R. John. I recall something similar from an audio sermon or conference. Something about evil exists because it feeds by destroying good. Once all the good has been eaten, evil begins to starve. That is probably when it turns on it's own.

    Let the cannibalism begin!

  9. P.K.T.P.5:34 PM

    Where is all this going?, I wonder.

    As to the appointment of bishops, under Benedict XVI, it has slowed considerably and, in certain months over the last three years, it almost stopped. But nothing is comparable to the virtual cessation of replacing bishops which has occurred from Spy Wednesday to the present day. He is appointing auxiliaries again and a few coadjutors after a quiet period even for them. But he rarely appoints diocesans now. It seems likely that he has, in practice already raised the retirement age to 78, replacing bishops under 78 only for grave causes (illness, &c.).

    Part of the problem is that, thanks to collegiality and the decentralisation of power, there are now nearly 3,000 dioceses in the world. This Pope is 85 years old. How can he give due attention to replacing so many bishops? The metropolitan archbishops have been weakened by the Vatican II call for each diocesan to be the apostle of his own see, and the episcopal conferences don't have powers of governance. It leaves each little bishop as the local god in his bailiwick. I'd go the opposite way: greatly enlarge dioceses and reduce their number severely, and restore the oversight of the metropolitans, giving them some teeth.


  10. Nanci6:18 PM

    When I first became a Catholic in 1996 and didn't like the modern mass, I complained to my sponsor about it. She said "the church has always had difficulties, child popes, heretics, false popes." I told her "until Vatican II, they never messed with the mass itself. It was always the Latin Mass." JPII oversaw the unbridled modernization of the mass and the subsequent falling away of possibly millions of Catholics. The chickens indeed have come home to roost.

  11. I think anyone who underestimates Benedict XVI or is inclined to suppose him without power or tactical superiority does both him and themselves a great disservice. Do you suppose that the pope is naive enough to allow to be stolen anything that he did not think he could afford to lose? Give me a break. How do you think he got where he is? Through the will of the Holy Spirit and by usin' his noggin. Let us see what he does...or does NOT do next. If I were a betting man, I know which horse I'd be backing.

  12. Interesting all of this breaks as the FSSPX Preamble is being 'reviewed' by the Holy Father. Didn't we see another blindside attack on the Holy Father when SP was released, only then it was a file on H.E. Williamson...Perhaps this is another attack on this Pontificate because of the SSPX? Time will tell.

  13. Hello Nanci,

    JPII oversaw the unbridled modernization of the mass and the subsequent falling away of possibly millions of Catholics.

    No, that was Paul VI.

    John Paul II's failure was that he did so little to rectify it (or made it worse, as in the case of his approval of "altar girls"). As with so many other things,he inherited a disastrous situation in 1978. His response was not to fix the messes, but to evangelize. Which left the scoundrels in place at the local level (and the curia) to undermine whatever good he might have accomplished "on tour."

  14. Kevin B.9:20 PM


    As much as he did that was worthy of criticism, I still have sympathy for John Paul II. If he had taken bold steps to root out the scoundrels he'd have been faced with a schism of apocalyptic proportions. There was still much he could have done that he didn't do of course, but we shouldn't be too quick to judge any pontiff.

    As much as I would rejoice to see Benedict or his successors start hurling thunderous anathemas, it's not going to happen. The sickness is too deeply rooted and too widespread. For better and for worse, the elements within the Church which are still sound have resolved to wait on the biological solution as Father Zuhlsdorf calls it.

  15. Those who expect a "biological solution" are placing their hopes on a geographically limited view of the Church.

  16. Clinton R.9:48 PM

    If not a 'biological solution', then what solution is there, New Catholic? Are the end days near, will the Church Militant continue to wither down to a remnant? May the Lord have mercy on us. +JMJ+

  17. Adam Michael10:05 PM

    Kevin B.,

    The refusal of Church officials to use the anathema, is itself, a sign of the sickness. By refusing to combat heresy through ancient discipline, Church leaders are leaving the sheep as victims of the wolves and are distancing the Church from her claim to be the Church of the early Fathers, who used such discipline.

  18. Whatever one's opinion of the highlights of Benedict's pontificate so far is, a review of the pontificate up to this point, its successes and failures, I think leads us back to the days immediately following Benedict's election and what seems to be more and more a fundamental error. He needed to clean house while he was young (relatively speaking). Not just by sending men like Sodano packing immediately rather than keeping them around the customary length of time, but also by streamlining the bureaucracy. That certainly would have made it easier to ensure that Benedict could have put his own people in place even if they were too few to staff every office in the bloated mess he inherited.

    Would such a program of reform have been tolerated. I'm not qualified to say, but I like to think it would have turned out better than what we have today.

  19. Hmmmm....10:35 PM

    Can any pope associated with this breakdown rightly be called "Magnus"?

  20. Reason #4980 to thank God I was never tasked with an office of the Church

  21. Prof. Basto2:32 AM

    NC: Those who expect a "biological solution" are placing their hopes on a geographically limited view of the Church.

    Indeed. Two examples from Brazil:

    1) I know a priest that is in his 30's and was ordained last year who likes to behave like a rockstar at Masses.

    2) My niece was baptized without being anointed with Chrism, and the Baptism of infants was preceded by the 10:00 a.m. Children's Mass, in which the Eucharistic Prayer II was read only in part (nothing about the Pope or the Bishop), and in which a child entered the sanctuary with a "skateboard" and children read the Gospel.

    The strange ideas that first appeared elsewhere arrived here late, and they may be dying elsewhere but are still in their full force here.

  22. Peterman2:33 AM

    Last year as I drove around western europe during the week when JPII was declared "blessed", I saw massive banners with the man's image all over the Cathedrals and Churches in France. My thought was that they were really desperate to have people jump on the "saint" bandwagon. I don't see that that bandwagon has picked up much speed

  23. Prof. Basto2:34 AM

    Q: "Can any pope associated with this breakdown rightly be called "Magnus"?"

    A: No.

  24. Peterman2:36 AM

    "R. John said...
    The chickens is comin' home to roost. Why? Because the revolution eats its own"

    "The revolution is like a bicycle.."

    "Revolution flows from the barrel of a gun."

    Sorry, just for fun I thought I'd throw out the communist slogans :)

  25. St. Celestine V.

    I have no further comment.

  26. Martinus10:17 AM

    Might I ask what Celestine V has to do with this? I seem to recall he's the one who abdicated the papacy but I hardly think that's the right thing to do for our Pope now. On a sidenote i must say I concur with what has been said about the 'magnus' that is now so commonly associated woth JPII. One must never try to judge a pope but the untold loss of faith en desacralaisation that happened under his watch pretty much excludes the possibility he will ever be canonized. The good God would not allow such confusion. I think.

  27. Cosmos11:45 AM

    JPII was who he was. The 20th Century has been such a mess that it is nearly impossible to know what would have happened under different leadership. In many ways, JPII seemed to be the right man for the times.

    (1) He put the brakes on the hyper-liberals by giving the "conservatives," as watered down as the term had become, a champion that confounded the world. IN other words, he stopped the narrative that history was inevitably with the progressives. That gave many people the courage to reclaim their faith, and, hopefully to grow in it.

    (2) He understood his primary enemy was the militant, totalitarian, atheist communism that was spreading all over the world, not the theological divisions of the Church. His incomplete successes against that exterior enemy opened the door for his successors to turn their eyes to the problems of the Church which were potentially larger, but also less immediate.

    (3) He was undoubtedly a man of prayer with a great devotion to our lady. He clearly loved Our Lord.

    Do we need to declare him "the Great." I don't think so, but I do not think he deserves so much easy criticism.

  28. Trajan12:21 PM

    "The strange ideas that first appeared elsewhere arrived here late, and they may be dying elsewhere but are still in their full force here."

    The same can be said of the Church in Africa and Asia.

  29. Prof. Basto12:32 PM


    I will give Hidden One the benefit of the doubt.

    In mentioning St. Celestine V, he is not supporting the absurd Italian calls for the resignation of the reigning Pope, Benedict XVI.

    His mention of St. Celestine may just be a reference to a person that was holy, that was a saint, but that was a bad pope.

    Thus the mention might be aimed at Blessed John Paul II.

  30. I'm with Cosmos for the most part. The only reason he is criticized so much by trads is because he isn't by mainline Catholics; Liberals had plenty to say, but they seemed to be relatively clear from popular/media attention (unlike today).

    JPII left a good legacy with the laity, and a pretty awful legacy of bishops and cardinals. But, when everyone is sipping on VII kool-aid, it could be hard to find/make orthodox bishops. Its all above my pay grade. I guess we'll find out in the general judgement.

  31. Hi NC,

    please bump the following petition link in support of Pontifex Maximus et Magisterium.

    Deo gratias

  32. Hello Kevin B.,

    If he had taken bold steps to root out the scoundrels he'd have been faced with a schism of apocalyptic proportions.

    I don't know about "apocalyptic." But I agree that it's likely that he would have faced a significant, open schism on the Left.

    Of course, the approach he ended up taking ended up with a de facto, undeclared schism anyway. That might well make it easier to salvage some souls and institutions once the tide rolled back in, it also puts others in danger by giving the appearance of Church approval to heterodox teachings and blasphemous practices.

    It's easy to forget, as traditionalists, that the real revolution was staged under the benevolent (or indecisive) eye of Paul VI, not John Paul II. The nightmare that most of the Church had become in 1978 would have been a terrible situation for any pontiff to deal with, even had he been Cardinal Siri. Nonetheless, John Paul II has to answer for the men he appointed, and the actions he took, and the actions he refused to take. And I think it became clear, even to Wojtyla himself in his last days, that he significantly underestimated the damage done by not taking a more vigorous hand in Church governance.

    Hello Prof. Basto,

    An excellent point you make about the "biological solution." It's certainly well underway in the United States. But you don't even have to look as far away as Brazil for counter examples; just ask any of our Canadian confreres here.

    As bad as things are stateside, we have it pretty good here in terms of the quality of new priests and episcopal appointments, relatively speaking. Things are much further behind in many conferences abroad, unfortunately.

  33. From St Pius X to Pius XII a 50yr disciplined control of the Church
    from Rome prevailed, it seems by Divine Providence, that saw the emergence of Modernism, WWI, Depression, WWII, Communism. That all began to change with Bl. John XXIII and the Council. Apparently the latter did not take PUBLIC PROPHECY OF FATIMA into account in calling the Council, as if HIS PLAN FOR THE CHURCH WAS BETTER THAN HEAVEN'S! The Council itself DID do some good things, BUT IT DISTRACTED EVERYBODY FOR 50YRS FROM THE PROPHECY FROM HEAVEN, which if followed, would have seen the Era of Peace start a generation ago. Paul VI was a weak pope, JPII saw the future conflict with Evil and thought to evangelize, Benedict is a glory to the Church for his teaching, but RULING IS NOT HIS FORTE, NOR HIS PREDECESSOR. The NEXT POPE will be the one to lead us through the schism just about now breaking out, world change and persecution before the Era of Peace Promissed by Our Lady will occur. According to prophecies through private revelations the next pope will be very strict and holy, restoring the Tradition of the Church, which he will be able to do because of the privations the Church will endure, IN WHICH THE CHURCH WILL APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN DESTROYED, Then the VICTORY FROM HEAVEN WILL SAVE HER PURIFIED. The next 10yrs are going to be unbelievable.

  34. A Young Priest3:05 AM

    Many of you attack Pope John Paul II. But what about the fact that he brought many people to faith in Christ - including me - people who, without his influence and teaching, would have been lost forever in sin and degradation?

    And what about the fact that exorcists have said that the demons themselves hate Pope John Paul. If the devils hate John Paul, than surely John Paul was a good servant of the LORD?

    BTW, I say the TLM every week as often as I can and prefer it to the NO. But I also call John Paul "The Great."

  35. I agree with young priest. The FEW imprudences of John Paul the Great were NOTHING COMPARED TO HIS GREAT ENGAGEMENT WITH THE FAITHFUL, HIS MANIFEST LOVE OF PEOPLE. A SAINT IS CANONIZED FOR HIS LOVE OF GOD, which in this life can co-exist with some misjudgments of prudence, that were few. Most of the imprudences were already done,as some have stated above, under Paul VI, who came to rue in his later years their occurance

  36. JoshD4:34 PM

    I think it is important to note as many have previously that Bl. JohnPaul II likely was the right person at the right time. He was not perfect, and he will indeed answer for his choices. However, I believe the Church was led by the Holy Spirit to embrace his leadership and evangelization to help people recognize the authentic teachings of the V2 Council after such insanity from the previous 10-15 years. However, I also believe that that evangelization is now bearing fruit in Benedict's ministry. The two papacies are a truly great representation of the true "hermenutic of contiunity" in terms of the authentic purposes and teachings of V2.

  37. Picard8:19 PM

    A Young priest:

    How can you call sbd. "the Great" that did not fight Communion into the hands and introduced this sacrilegiouse form in his own diocese, Rome, himselfe?!?

    As you mention demons (not the most trustworthy sources, btw.): demons - f.e. those of Annelise Michel [if I remember right], but also others [allegedly, of course] - said clearly that the modern hand-Communion is from the devil and evil.

    So are the demons contradicting themselfes? (Perhaps as diaboli and liers, they are?! Aren´t they?! Or....)

    So, you see...?!

  38. Picard8:33 PM

    pete (and others):

    JPII did not only do some prudential missjudgments.

    1) He, as Benedikt XVI, held some real error (or heresy): religiouse freedom - that was condemned by the oridinary magisterium and so infallibly condemned

    2) Introduced the sacrilegiouse hand-Communion into his own diocese, Rome.

    3) Did apostatory acts, as kissing the Koran, wishing that Allah may bless the Islam/Muslims, etc.

    4) Prayed, as also Benedikt still does, the modern Good Friday prayers for the Jews that is implicit heretic and apostatic and at least promotes heresy (the wrong concept that the Jews do not need to convert and haver their own way of salvation), gives scandal, spreads confusion.

    And btw. why are you (esp. Young priest) so sure that you got your faith through JPII? And can you be sure that not much more people would had become Catholic, if we would have had a totaly Catholic Pope? or got a deeper faith? Etc..


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