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Front Runners Finish Last

The world’s media have a habit of seeing papal elections through the lens of secular politics. It’s understandable to a degree, but how many reporters have noticed that so few of the much ballyhooed “front runners” or “papabile” candidates have ever actually been elected pope? Modern exceptions to this might be Giovanni Montini (Paul VI) and Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). But the Vaticanologist maxim “He who enters the conclave with a white hat emerges with a red one” usually carries the day.

Space forbids a full Conclave 101 treatment here, but it suffices to say that there’s a long tradition of surprise voting patterns on the part of those who esconce themselves in the Sistine Chapel (where, presumably, no Vatican Museum staffer will rush in with “Shhhhhhhhh!” every ten minutes like they do on most other days).

During the conclave (Latin for “with the key”) there is a multi-step process of voting, praying, burning of ballots, and more voting. The trump card holder is the Holy Spirit, who guides the cardinals through each step so that the most popular man doesn’t necessarily win, nor does the one who is thought to be the “best for the good of the Church.”  

Rather, the man who becomes pope is God’s man in Rome. The rest is ecclesial tabloid material.

Cardinals know how to read, and most are avid media consumers. They notice interviews given by their fellow cardinals and can spot lobbying for what it is, no matter how subtly it is conducted. Ardently wanting to be the Vicar of Christ is not seen as, how you say, a desirable ambition. 

I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb in predicting that none of the following princes of the Church will be called Your Holiness when the white smoke trails out of that chapel chimney:

Cardinals Marc Ouellet, Peter Turkson, Timothy Dolan, Christoph Schoenborn, Angelo Scola, Oscar Maradiaga, Jorge Bergoglio, Odilo Pedro Scherer, Leonardo Sandri, Dionigi Tettamanzi, Gianfranco Ravasi, Francis Arinze.

If you want to bet, bet on the Third Person of the Trinity, and leave it at that. He’s your ticket and mine.



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