The pope race heats up

The conclave to select the new pope begins next week, perhaps as early as Monday. Apparently the pre-conclave meetings currently in progress are where the real politicking goes on, where informal chats take place and information and gossip is exchanged regarding the various possible candidates for the job, with subtle lobbying being part of the process.

I have little idea how the cardinals currently meeting in the Vatican go about deciding who the next pope should be. Do they think strategically, weighing where the church should be headed and what qualities the new leader needs to have to navigate the turbulent times the church is in? Do they weigh the geographical implications, whether to find someone from Latin America, Asia, and Africa where most of its members now are in order to boost further growth? Or do they find someone from Europe and North America where the church is in decline and Catholics are more openly defying church teachings and because that is where the money is and they need to try and stem the losses there? Or do they say to hell with all that and vote for the guy who runs the best campaign?

I suspect that it is the last. I get the impression that one becomes a cardinal by virtue of being good at manipulating the levers of internal politics of the Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican rather than because one is a deep thinker or particularly spiritual.

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac poll says that “American voter support for same-sex marriage is inching up and now stands at 47 – 43 percent, including 54 – 38 percent among Catholic voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.” The fact that Catholics are more supportive of same-sex marriage than the general population must be worrying.

The Daily Show provides an update on the goings on in the Vatican.

(This clip was aired on March 7, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. kyoseki says

    Oh man, it should be an actual Pope race, on foot, or maybe in popemobiles, they could pretend the winner was favored by the almighty.

  2. Andrew G. says

    The Coptic Orthodox church has a thing where they take the top three candidates for their pope, put their names into a chalice and have a blindfolded child pick one out.

  3. Karen Locke says

    I think they’ve given up on U.S. Catholics. They’re shrinking in numbers, they openly disagree with the church on many issues, and they’re pissed about the pedophilia scandal. I suspect the Vatican wishes they all would just go away. (I did.)

  4. left0ver1under says

    Good idea. The youngest would be most likely to win, and that would likely to be the most openminded and least reactionary. But given that the “enclave” is stacked with old fogeys who want the status quo, who want to socially go backwards, that’s not likely to happen.

  5. left0ver1under says

    I think we’re likely to see one of two possible “winners”:

    (1) An old-school reactionary who will clamp down harder on rules, will cover up priestly pedophilia, will oppose condoms even more, and will promote more gay-hating.

    (2) Someone not living in the past, willing to change a few things (e.g. married priests) but will agree to generally keep things as are to win enough votes. In short, a backroom dealmaker.

    The “enclave” that will do the voting selects from among themselves, no outsiders. Most of those in that group were handpicked by the last two popes, so nearly all of them are likely to be far right, extremely socially conservative, and many with skeletons in the closet.

    I’d say it’s near impossible that any significant change will happen, no admission that the cult needs to enter the 20th century, let alone the 21st. They have power in few hands, and they want to keep it that way, not wind up like the US where individual megachurches with large numbers operate independently.

    The catholic cult needs a pope who will deal in the real world, but it won’t get one. And it will only become less popular because of it.

  6. bad Jim says

    The Quinnipiac poll is on the low side of recent polls, if this is any indication. Most other national polls show a clear majority in favor of gay marriage.

  7. emmet says

    It’s always interesting to see how non-Catholics comment on Catholic things. The blogger’s post if full of admittals that he knows little about what he’s writing about but, hey, why let that stop him?!

    As to the above: Hard to “oppose condoms even more” than “they’re never to be used”, isn’t it?
    There’ll be no cover-ups of priestly paedophilia -- the Church’s systems for dealing with sexual abuse are (now) stringent.

    The conclave can actually select any unmarried Catholic male -- but you’re right, it’s highly unlikely that’ll happen (although some Catholic commentators are putting forward the names of a couple of bishops as possible papabile) and it will be one of the cardinals.

    Not sure what your evidence is for “skeletons in the closet”, but hey, even atheists who demand evidence for any claim are allowed to throw a little mud now and then to see what sticks, right? (I mean, this is the great nasty Catholic Church we’re talking about -- anything’s justified when it comes to that Evil Empire.)

    Many commentators want a new pope who’s not actually Catholic. Newsflash: not going to happen.

  8. emmet says

    They had an election last year -- after the seat was vacant for about 8 months. I was fascinated to learn of the blindfolded “guided by God” selection process.

  9. sailor1031 says

    Was just reading about the shenanigans in Rome and was reminded of that scene from one of the godfather movies where all the bosses are in a huge meeting. It’s amazing the fawning and deference by the media regarding an event that is really nothing more than the bosses of an international criminal syndicate getting together to choose a new capo di tutti capi.

  10. Corvus illustris says

    “The conclave can actually select any unmarried Catholic male …

    Is marriage actually an impediment to ordination or consecration, it the wife agrees to separate and live chastely? St Peter is supposed to have been married with kids (although Mrs Peter’s reaction, let alone consent, is not recorded). There are also more recent examples. Canon law could rule it out, but that would seem disrespectful to the original sitter in the chair of St P.

  11. Corvus illustris says

    Watch this to see the sort of people who vote in those polls.

    Please don’t confuse exaggeration for comic effect (these interviews represent a select subset) with reality. My extremely Catholic brother, who not merely attended but sang (Sundays and holydays) at cathedral masses until he became seriously ill, sees secular marriage-equality and gynecological questions as matters outside ecclesiastical competence (and views the church’s attempt to control these secular matters as misguided and unlikely to end well). The notion that he is an outlier among USAmerican Catholics would require proof--and trying to define away the problem with “these people aren’t really Catholics” doesn’t wash.

  12. left0ver1under says

    I may not be a vatican insider, but neither are you. And unlike you, I check facts instead of speaking from ignorance. If you’re a catholic and not an atheist, why are you trolling the FtB?

    Eighty four of the 120 current cardinals were appointed by Ratzinger:

    Ratzinger isn’t going to appoint anyone who promotes condoms or women and gay equality. He has punished those who did, and protected the priests and bishops who committed crimes:

    How a pope is elected, which matches what I said:

  13. Corvus illustris says

    Are you quite sure about the numbers here? Your last link gives the number of cardinal electors as 117 and states that 114 of them were JP_2-appointments. JP_2 was in office a long time, B_16 not, so their count seems plausible. If the link’s numbers are correct, or even if yours are, things look to stay unpleasant, and lines will get harder. The Reformation historian Diarmaid MacCulloch characterized JP_2 as a “Counterreformation Pope,” one whose concerns were chiefly obedience and power-politics (by the early 17th c. these guys were on their way to the Thirty Years’ War). Ratzinger’s public pronouncements were comparatively mild; IMHO the next one’s won’t be. Public mea culpas will be replaced by public Papal threats of the kind that the US has so far heard only from bishops.

  14. Aliasalpha says

    A pope triathlon: foot race followed by swimming laps around the Vatican leading to a pope mobile race akin to go-karting games like mariokart. Ideally it should feature the same cheating power up kind of thing, papal contestants can drop mini-crucifixes like caltrops, hit other racers with bibles and when all else fails, whip out the holy hand grenade of antioch

  15. emmet says

    In the Latin (Western) church married men can be ordained and ordained men can’t marry -- with exceptions for some ministers converting from some other Christian denominations. In the Eastern church married men can be ordained. Priestly celibacy is a changeable discipline, not an immutable dogma, although for the last millennium it has been the norm.

    Sure, Peter was married, but since the 800s celibacy has become more and more a part of the theology of the priesthood.

  16. emmet says

    I don’t dispute any of those facts -- I’m not sure what you’re complaining about. Of course I’m not a Vatican insider. I was just commenting on your slurs against men you know nothing about -- is calumny part of being “good without God”?

    You wonder if the new pope will oppose condoms even more -- not sure how you can oppose something more than a blanket ban.

    What real proof do you have of your accusations against Benedict? What do you make of his many and tireless actions to uncover and remove sex abusers in the clergy?

    Trolling? I think your definition of trolling must be fairly strict -- I made a few comments and asked some questions. I wasn’t aware this was an atheist-only corner of the internet -- seemed like public space to me. Especially if there’s Catholic stuff being talked about -- isn’t that an invitation for Catholics to come join the discussion? Or do you just like atheist voices in a wee echo chamber?

  17. emmet says

    This is something I don’t really get -- all the jokes about child abuse on atheist blogs. I mean -- come on!

  18. emmet says

    Don’t have time to have a look it up but I think the other guy’s numbers are closer to the mark -- 115 electors and about 80 appointed by Benedict. Don’t forget they can’t vote past 80.

  19. emmet says

    But to be Catholic is to give assent to Catholic dogma, surely. If a person doesn’t do that then they can claim to be culturally Catholic, or nominally Catholic, or whatever adjective they want to apply, but they can’t claim to be thinking with the Church. It’s interesting, significant even, what their views on dogma are, and the Church’s leadership should lsiten -- but the Church isn’t a democracy -- the teachings don’t change according to the whim of the people.

    You call your brother “extremely Catholic” but don’t define what that means.

  20. Thorne says

    emmet seems to be saying that, if they don’t follow the Church’s teachings then they’re not REALLY Catholics. But if they DO follow the Church’s teachings then it’s just the fallibility of humans that make those teachings seem bad, right?

    But I have to disagree with you, emmet: the teachings DO change according to the whims of the people. Eventually. That’s why they now have mass in the common languages of the people. That’s why it’s no longer a sin to eat meat on Fridays. That’s why the Church has eliminated the concept of Limbo. Because the people made them change. Oh, sometimes it takes a few hundred years, but when the people start voting with their wallets, keeping their money out of the collection plates, believe me, the Church will listen! And change.

    To paraphrase: “We all know the Church is never wrong. But sometimes they’re a little weak on being right!”

  21. Corvus illustris says

    This is turning into a hijack of the thread, which I deplore; but briefly: it is possible to assent to Catholic dogmata while arguing that the hierarchy, in attempting to demand obedience in matters of political prudence in democracies, is exceeding its competence (cf. Bellarmino vis-a-vis Galileo on celestial mechanics). In legislation for a diverse society one has to consider maintaining the “peace of Babylon,” for one does not live in the City of God. Garry Wills has discussed this subject at length.

    Personally, I enjoy watching you guys cavort. (If only the real-world consequences weren’t so serious … )

  22. Corvus illustris says

    Apropos counts: your “whispers” link gives 117 electors, 50 due to JP_2 and 57 due to B_{16}. I thought JP_2 would have had time to pack the vote better. (Old mathematicians never retire, but they don’t count much any more.)

  23. emmet says

    Sure, if you want to read it like that. I don’t think someone who claims to be Catholic but doesn’t give assent to what the Church claims is true can claim to be a Catholic who understands what it is to be Catholic.
    Surely they’re a dissenting Catholic -- and my question then is, why dissent? Either what the Church says is true or it’s a monstrous, absurd lie.
    The Church can’t be right in its claims about God being real and wrong in its claims about bread changing into Jesus Christ, or about contraception being always and everywhere wrong. I don’t understand how a person can be involved in a religion they think might be mistaken in something it claims to know without doubt -- that’s what makes a person “not really Catholic” I guess. So I wouldn’t say to someone, “You’re not truly Catholic” but I would ask the question of what being Catholic means to them and point out how that might not line up with what the Church says being Catholic means.

    Your examples of changes in the Church don’t stack up. Limbo was never a doctrine, and so was never “eliminated”. The people didn’t make it change -- it fell out of favour with theologians, basically. Same with Mass in the vernacular -- not really the whims of the people. It wasn’t like there was a groundswell of cries for change -- it was more of a top-down thing.

  24. emmet says

    Sure. Key word is “assent”: as in, “I don’t understand this fully but I trust the experts, and thus can sign up for it.”

    I wouldn’t bother with much Garry Wills says. As Barron points out in this video, it seems like Wills doesn’t believe Christ is divine -- if that doesn’t disqualify him from calling himself Catholic, what does?

  25. Thorne says

    Perhaps the term “whims of the people” is not the right phrase. Maybe “reality” works better. Whether or not Limbo was dogma is beside the point. I was taught, in 12 years of Catholic school, that unbaptized babies who died went to Limbo. Taught by priests and nuns in religious classes. So what happened to all those unbaptized babies when the Church decided that there really was no Limbo?

    And I was still in the Church when they started switching over to English in the Mass, and while my memory is dim I can recall the controversy brought on by people saying they felt out of touch with the Church and the hierarchy changing over in order to keep butts in the pews. Not all that different from when the Church condemned, and executed, people for translating the Bible into the common tongues, but eventually had to concede the point, because of the will of the people.

    As for doubting the teachings of the Church, I don’t think there are too many Catholics who doubt the validity of the theological doctrines. But when it comes to intervening in real life, such as contraception, or declaring the world to be the center of the universe, or any of the other claims which batter futilely against the walls of reality, people will believe what they want to believe, and if the Church doesn’t agree those people will leave, whether for another religion or no religion at all.

  26. Corvus illustris says

    The level of general interest in this subject can be deduced from the implicit 50 + 57 = 117 that has drawn no comments on a theoretical-physicist’s blog. The correct B_{16} number is 67. Nonetheless, I counted only sufficiently-young electors. There’s little ideological difference between the last two popes.

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