Joe Lavin

April 19, 2005

"I'd Like To Thank the Members of the Conclave…"

By the time you read this, we may have a new Pope. Or you may be stuck watching hour 786 of the search for a new Pope on cable. ("Next on Fox News, why that cheese-eating French cardinal doesn't have a shot!") As part of my continued attempt to analyze stuff I know nothing about, today I would like to discuss the papal conclave. I don't know why, but somehow the whole selection process fascinates me. It's partly because of the mystery and secrecy inherent in the process, partly because of the grand historical significance of the event, and partly because I just like to watch a good pennant race. I don't know about you, but I'm rooting for the guy in the red hat.

Over the last week, there have been many predictions, all from people who have shiny credentials and/or books about the Vatican, but who, just like me, have no clue what will happen. I'm not going to make any predictions myself, although despite all the talk of a non-European Pope, my money is still on the Cardinals choosing some old Italian guy.

Actually, I don't have any money riding on this, but many others do. According to the BBC, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power and several other bookies have released odds on all the major candidates. Power says that Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria is the favorite with 3-1 odds. Just behind him, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany is at 9-2 and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of France is at 5-1. The odds are changing frequently, but for the latest updates you can check out their site, Oh, and if you're Catholic, you might want to go to confession after placing your bet on a papal trifecta.

Paddy Power himself even showed up in St. Peter's Square to tout his odds on the new Pope. He wasn't there long though. He was soon asked to leave by Vatican security. As far as the Vatican is concerned, offering odds on who will be God's next representative on earth doesn't exactly get you on the next train to Hell, but it probably gets you to the station.

There are many other interesting rituals during a conclave. Of course, the most famous of all is the Sistine Chapel's chimney with its white smoke revealing that a new Pope has been elected. This time, CNN even has a special Chimney Cam in the bottom right hand corner of the screen all day. Yes, in this time of satellites and the Internet, the media is still stuck staring at a chimney for 12 hours a day. Considering that yesterday some news organizations incorrectly reported that the smoke was white, it's clear that the media hasn't really come all that far since the last conclave in 1978. It's still pretty tough to figure out whether gray smoke is more black or white. Then again, that's what you get when you don't use your chimney for twenty-six years.

Before the conclave, each Cardinal vows an oath of secrecy; what happens in the conclave stays in the conclave. The penalty for breaking this oath is excommunication, which should make any Cardinal think twice before leaking early results to the bookies. Secrecy is paramount. Not only do security experts sweep the Sistine Chapel for listening devices, they also install several anti-bugging devices under a fake floor.

After the oath of secrecy, a Conclave starts when a Vatican official calls out the words extra omnes which means "everyone out" in Latin. I love this. In fact, this is a phrase I'm going to try to use more in my everyday life. When I'm sick of people hanging around me, I'm just going to yell out "extra omnes," and maybe then I can get some peace and quiet.

Finally, when elected, the Pope must immediately choose a new name, although this hasn't always been so. A Sixth Century Pope called Mercury was the first to do so when he chose to be called John, and in 996 Germany's first Pope, Bruno, asked to be called Gregory V. After that, all Popes chose a new name, and so a one thousand year tradition was essentially begun by someone who just didn't want to be called Bruno anymore. There are even odds on which name the new Pope will choose. Benedict leads the pack at 3-1, with John Paul (7-2) and Pius (6-1) close behind. (Fans of The Omen will be disappointed; Pope Damian I is in last place at 80-1) I was thinking of putting money down on this myself. However, the same site is also offering odds on which name Britney Spears will give her baby, and I'm worried that I might get the two mixed up. Just my luck, I'll end up putting all my money down on Pope Madison I by accident.

©2005 Joe Lavin

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