Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Fine Art of Papal Prognostication

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Fine Art of Papal Prognostication

Article excerpt

A famous saying about conclaves holds, "He who goes in as pope comes out a cardinal." The suggestion is that someone who is widely tipped as a candidate is ipso facto doomed. Like so many bits of conventional wisdom, it contains a grain of truth but becomes nonsense if it's pushed too far.

Considering the last five papal elections, the clear favorite won twice: Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was the front runner in 1939, and became Pius XII. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini was the man to beat in 1963, and became Paul VI. Twice a middle-of-the-pack candidate prevailed: Cardinal Angelo Roncalli as John XXIII in 1958, and Cardinal Albino Luciani as John Paul I in 1978. Only once did a complete bolt out of the blue occur--Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1978 as John Paul II--and that was because everyone assumed the next pope would be Italian. The fact that someone is widely mentioned does not guarantee election, but neither is it meaningless.

Hence the fine art of papal prognostication falls somewhere between scientific rigor and the use of a Ouija board.

With that in mind, I have been working since the October consistory, in which 30 new cardinals were created, on revisions to my book Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election. The main task was to reconsider the list of top 20 candidates I put together in the summer of 2001. Since that time, one of my candidates died, another turned 80, and the fortunes of others have waxed and waned.

What I opted to do this time is to offer a "Top 10" list, along with a second tier of "Fifteen to Watch," which I believe better reflects what cardinals today are thinking. …

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