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Has the Pope Been a Failure?

To the Editors:

In “The Bishops at Bay” [NYR, August 15], Garry Wills is mistaken in his recollection of what Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., and I said about John Paul’s papacy on the television program we taped with the professor. As I recall, the host read a quote from papal biographer George Weigel in which Weigel predicted that the Holy Father would one day be known as “John Paul the Great.” The host asked us panelists if we agreed. Neither Fr. Fessio nor I called John Paul’s reign a “failure,” as Professor Wills alleges. Fr. Fessio declined to answer the question, and I said that yes, history would judge John Paul favorably, but his serious failure to govern the Church effectively—of which the current sex scandal in the American branch of the Church is a particularly heinous example—would mar his legacy. I would not have called the Pope’s reign a failure, because on balance, I do not believe it to have been.

Rod Dreher,National Review
Washington, D.C.

Garry Wills replies:

Mr. Dreher said the next pope should dismiss all the American bishops, who were mainly appointed by this pope. Is that a sign of failure? Father Fessio said that the Pope is supposed to be priest, prophet, and king, and that he has failed as king, as ruler of the Church. Watch the tape.

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