Rod Crosby on “A POPE FOR OUR TIME?”

Rod Crosby on “A POPE FOR OUR TIME?”

What’s the best betting on the Papal Election?

Electorate: 115
Total Europe: 60 (Italians: 28)
Total “Developing World”: 40
USA: 11
Canada: 3
Oceania: 1

Winning-post: 77

For the ninth occasion in the past 100 years, all eyes turn to a makeshift chimney installed above one of the most beautiful buildings in the smallest independent state in the World…

As usual, it’s an odd election. To choose the longest continuously-elected leader on the planet, who also happens to be Europe’s last absolute monarch. The electoral system is rather sophisticated – or byzantine – depending on your view. A supermajority of 2/3rds is required – needing 77 out of 115 votes to be elected, and just 39 to be blocked. Almost all of the candidates, in their hearts, do not want the job, and the handful that do will almost certainly be passed over, for displaying the terrible sin of ambition…

More than ever before, the organisation now in search of a leader is in a state of crisis, for reasons which need not be recited here. Moreover, for almost 20 years it has been led by an elderly European in visibly declining health, with the most recent incumbent abdicating – for the Catholic Church, an almost unprecedented act in the past millennium…

Will they elect another elderly stop-gap, or does Benedict XVI’s example now open up the chances for a much younger man, something the Cardinals have shied away from usually before? Indeed, is there a subliminal message from Benedict? “See, I can break the rules, and so therefore can you…”

At the risk of excommunication, let me survey the betting opportunities…

The bookies’ two front-runners, Angelo Scola and Odilo Scherer, are both acknowledged as lacklustre candidates.

The first, a 71 year-old theologian best known for his impenetrable sermons, is an Italian, and many might balk at the return of the papacy to Italy after a break of just 34 years. Remember, it took 455 years to wrest it away in the first place… But at least Scola is touted as “The Reform Candidate”, whatever that is supposed to mean. (Note: the Italians, now with just 28 votes, have neither the strength to elect, nor block, any particular candidate.)

The second, 63 year-old Scherer, whose name and visage point to his German ancestry rather than his Brazilian nationality, is allegedly just a pawn in an unholy plot by the Curia, to elect a weak pope who they can control, with the help of the votes of dupes from the Third World. He also has the unhelpful middle name of Pedro, which – if you are familiar with certain prophecies – might well frighten the passengers…

Next up, Canadian Marc Ouellet, a 68 year-old francophone, who has repeatedly talked of his fear of the crushing burden of the job, and has stated for him the prospect of being elected Pope is “a nightmare.”

Passing over Peter Turkson, 64 and Tarcisio Pietro Bertone, 78, who I am
surprised to see feature anywhere in the lists, we then reach a wide-open field.

    A little history may help at this point. Almost like clockwork since 1878, every election has alternated between producing a favourite, and an almost complete surprise.

    In 2005, 1963, 1939, 1914 and 1878 the Cardinal Electors played it safe, while in 1978 (twice), 1958, 1922 and 1903 they were prepared to “roll the dice”, often in order to break a deadlocked conclave.

    If this pattern holds, 2013 will produce a (late) surprise…

Could the surprise be the first non-European pope in 1,282 years? [since Gregory III, a Syrian elected in AD 731] After all, two-thirds of Catholics now reside outside of Europe, forecast to grow to three-quarters by 2050, although it must be noted that Benedict, in terms of cardinal appointments, has tipped the scales back towards Europe since 2005…

In possibly the last “inside intelligence” we are likely to receive, French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, 62, was quoted (Monday) as saying:-

“Last time there was a figure with real weight, three or four times more so than the rest of the cardinals. We’re talking about Joseph Ratzinger. It’s not like that now. Therefore, the choice has to be made among one, two, three, four … a dozen candidates. Right now we don’t know anything; we have to wait for the results of the first ballot.”

Other cardinals have recently expressed a preference for a Third World Pope, from Latin America in particular.

Incidentally, while a fat pope may not necessarily follow a thin pope, there does seem to be a relationship between the length of the previous reign and the age of the successor. Young(ish) popes follow short reigns, and vice versa. Around 64 years of age is indicated this time. (although that’s not far from the long-term average in any case)

Before examining some long shots, is there anything else we can bet on? Length of conclave is one. Three days or more looks a good bet (dutching Paddy Power’s odds), as does the age of the pope to be between 60 and 70 (dutching various bookies’ odds).

If white smoke isn’t seen by close of play on Wednesday (around 7.30 pm UK time) that would suggest deadlock, indicating it’s time to lay the favourite(s).

Then where? If you fancy a small flutter for generous odds of up to 100/1 on Betfair you could do worse than the following possibilities.

Joao Braz de Aviz (Brazil) 65 years. Smiling, avuncular, and charismatic. A champion of the laity, and of the poor, with some Curial experience. A “people person”, comfortable with women. According to the Italian Press he won a standing ovation from fellow cardinals on Saturday for tearing a strip off Bertone and the misdeeds of the Curia – which may have been a late move for the top job from this dark horse…. Ticks most of the required boxes, but may be too “left-wing.”

Robert Sarah (Guinea) 67 years. The “first” Black Pope? (at least since Gelasius I in AD 492) An orthodox conservative. A quiet, behind-the-scenes figure – but an effective operator who is well-respected. Head of Cor Unum, which oversees all the Church’s charity work. Papal envoy to disaster areas, such as Haiti, after the earthquake, and in the run up to the conclave, to Lebanon to meet Syrian refugees.

[Albert] Malcolm Ranjith [Papabendige Don]

(Sri Lanka) 65 years. An ultra-orthodox disciple of Benedict XVI. A polyglot who speaks ten languages, Ranjith has experience as a bishop and a nuncio, as well as two stints in the Roman Curia. May be seen as too “right-wing.”

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