When mortals elect a pope
MANILA, Philippines – Before an image of the Last Judgment, cardinals chant to invoke the Holy Spirit's help, and swear to vote with prudence in electing the man they call “His Holiness.”
Catholics believe the selection of the pope is divinely inspired. Human factors, however, play a significant role in reaching the required two-thirds of votes in the conclave.
What factors affect this 700-year-old tradition? Rappler lists down 3, including a bandwagon effect, the impact of media, and various political interests.
In the conclave, cardinal electors repeat the voting process whenever no candidate gets the required number of votes. Experts say the first round of voting, such as the one held Tuesday, March 12, tends to remain inconclusive because votes get divided among a huge number of candidates.
Based on a study conducted in 2006, cardinals tend to change their initial votes in favor of winning candidates. The prelates base this on vote tallies, which scrutineers read aloud, and private conversations among themselves, according to the study “The Papal Conclave: How do Cardinals Divine the Will of God.”
The author, the University of Sydney's J.T. Toman, based the study on data from 9 modern conclaves.
“For those cardinals that change their voting behavior, they are influenced by both the vote counts and the nightly conversations. However, in unifying the cardinals to one winner, the dominant force is the observed vote counts,” Toman wrote. (Read the entire study below.)
'Bishops gossip, too'
In secret pre-conclave meetings, individual bishops expose their stance on Church issues, revealing, in the process, the profile of their ideal Roman pontiff.
This year's cardinal electors, for instance, discussed Vatican transparency – a telling sign, especially after the Vatileaks controversy during Benedict XVI's papacy.
Quoting Vienna's Cardinal Franz Konig, however, veteran Vatican watcher John Allen Jr said “virtually all of the real work of the conclave is done in behind-the-scenes meetings of 3 and 4 cardinals, perhaps over glasses of wine and cigars, as opposed to any of the formal events.”
Allen also said cardinals form different interest groups, with some of them gathering in private "to form strategies and identify candidates." Recently, he said 4 "camps" divide the cardinals – the governance, the pastoral, the Third World, and the evangelical camps. (Watch more in Rappler's video report below.)
Prelates, too, discuss things other than the sacred.
“Bishops gossip just as much as everyone else,” said Edinburgh Archbishop Keith O'Brien in an interview published on The Guardian.
“I would say to Cardinal Winning, who's so and so, who's that guy down there? ... I saw Tettamanzi (Archbishop of Genoa, one of the favorites) and I said, 'Who's the wee fat guy?' I know the famous ones, like Martini and so forth. Yes, bishops do talk about it,” O'Brien said.
And who doesn't read and watch the news?
Media affects cardinal electors, too – some of whom, in fact, express openness to becoming pope through media interviews.
Lists of papal contenders also come from the media. An outsider when it comes to the Vatican bureaucracy, Manila's own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle received huge exposure from international news agencies like CNN and the Washington Post.
“The press is more than a passive medium through which players in the conclave process speak to one another; it also exerts an influence of its own through the kinds of coverage it chooses to offer, the content of the analysis it provides, even the choice of which cardinals it profiles as papabili,” Allen wrote in his book Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Elections.
Holy Spirit, freedom
What role, then, does the Holy Spirit play in such a political process? Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in a television interview, as quoted by Allen, that he doesn't believe the Holy Spirit handpicks the pontiff.
"I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked," said Ratzinger, in apparent reference to previous popes who engaged in corruption, for instance.
"I would say that the Holy Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather, like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus, the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote," said Ratzinger, who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI.
"Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined." – Rappler.com