1) A bit of commentary on the media coverage
When the American media go to Rome do they lose memory of where they came from? When an ill, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI resigned (...after years of hinting that this would happen) the tone of coverage moved quickly from surprise to “the Church in crisis” and “the troubled papacy” even as he left office with a high approval rating. Now the drama-soaked coverage has moved on to the “suspicious secrecy” of the conclave. Forget for a moment why the deliberation process is something done outside of the view of the press and public (more on this below) and just ask yourself if decisions made behind closed doors are something that should spawn suspicion or even outrage. Perhaps not when one considers that much of American “public” policy in the last decade has been produced in a similarly “secretive” manner. For example, the Affordable Care Act was largely crafted (1, 2, 3) in back room deals with lobbyists (...remember: “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it”). For years now many of the most important decisions about federal spending and the budget have been made behind closed doors outside of public view. At least the Vatican has a budget! The U.S. Senate doesn’t even bother with these anymore.
If the Church is in crisis what are we experiencing right now in the United States? This leads to a favorite excerpt from the coverage so far which attempts to explain the impact of what has come to be known as VatiLeaks: “The Vatican’s administrative shortcomings were thrust into stark relief last year with the publication of documents stolen from Benedict XVI’s desk that exposed the petty infighting, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism in the highest echelons of the Catholic Church.” So there is no “petty infighting, turf battles and allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism” in the highest echelons of Washington D.C. that should generate similar “scandal” coverage? Are there governments where these phenomena do not occur? (...there are at least 18 countries less corrupt than the U.S.!) If “VatiLeaks” is so damaging what should be made of WikiLeaks revelations of similar if not worse things about our own leaders (Republicans and Democrats alike)? The Pope pardoned the man who stole the Vatican’s documents. Bradley Manning is unlikely to get similar treatment. I also know that the Vatican’s “secrets” never included something like a “Disposition Matrix” from the Pope’s desk. Even on the more mundane things like data releases, there are times when I trust the Church’s numbers more than the U.S. government’s. I think I know how pretty well many Catholics were baptized in 2011 but I am not buying the methodology behind how many “green jobs” were created in the same year.
Perhaps my concerns about the coverage of the Vatican are off the mark. Maybe the press is treating the Vatican with the “aggressive skepticism” that it should (e.g., the Church certainly deserves this when it comes to its handling of sexual abuse cases). Maybe the United States would be better off if we saw some of the same tone that is currently used in Rome used in coverage of our own government back here at home? If we did the Vatican would likely appear to be in a state of relative calm as the next leader of the Catholic Church is chosen. But some of the reporting in Rome now has moved beyond “aggressive skepticism” toward the ridiculous. From those expressing suspicion about how cardinals could be arriving so late to others shocked by how the Vatican has “muzzled” the cardinals (...again one could argue that the Church leaders are generally more accessible to the media than American presidents are and a term like muzzling might better describe what happened to Robert Gibbs). The decision to stop speaking to the press is part of the confidentiality expected of the process.
The papacy is arguably the oldest existing governing institution of the Western tradition and the conclave is arguably the oldest existing form of voting for the selection of leadership. Although many Cardinals today speak of their choices being guided by the Holy Spirit, this has clearly not always been the case. Even Pope Benedict XVI, prior to his own election is quoted saying, “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” (see John L. Allen’s Conclave: The politics, personalities, and process of the next papal election, 2002, p. 135). Not until 1059 (with a selection in 1061) did the selection of the pope rest solely on paper with the cardinals (…monarchs and emperors would still intervene in practice). In 1179 a 2/3 rule was adopted. Much later in 1458, Pope Pius II would remark of this change, “What is done by two thirds of the sacred college, that is surely the Holy Ghost, which may not be resisted” (Florence A. Gragg and Leona C. Gabel, Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Pius II, 1959, p. 88).
An unintended consequence of this new rule was that the decision moved more solidly behind closed and locked doors. The new electoral system led to longer periods of decision—often lasting months or more. In the mid-13th century, the people and civil leaders took it upon themselves to institute reform as they started locking the cardinals in until they came to a decision (...someone want to try this with Congress around budget time?). This did not always work. With the passing of Pope Clement IV in 1268 the papacy remained vacant for more than two years. As political scientists Josep Colomer and Iain McLean describe, “the public besieged the cardinals in the episcopal palace removing the roof and allowing nothing but bread and water go inside” (“Electing Popes: Approval Balloting and Qualified-Majority Rule,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Summer 1998, p. 12). These reforms had some negative effects as Colomer and McLean note that six cardinals died at the conclave in 1287. In 2013 the food and water restrictions are gone and the ceiling side of the roof is beautiful. Yet the locks remain.
2) A bit of analysis of malapportionment
One of the other themes that is getting some attention in the press is the disproportionality between where the voting cardinals are from and where Catholics reside around the globe (...we showed what this looks like in Vatican statistical regions in a previous post). Many assume this disproportionality is new or getting worse. Both assumptions would be incorrect. The regional disproportionality between the global Catholic population and the College of Cardinals in 2013 will be only slightly different than it was in 1958 and at both of the 1978 conclaves. In the figure below we show a commonly used measure of disproportionality (i.e., the Loosemore Hanby Index) for five world regions (e.g., Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Oceania). If the percentage of voting cardinals from each region were the same as the percentage of the world Catholic population in each region, then disproportionality would measure 0%. In 2005, there was a disjuncture of approximately 27 percentage points between the voting cardinals and Catholic population across regions. Disproportionality was highest for the 1922 conclave (40 percentage points), when cardinals from the Americas were unable to make the voyage to Rome by sea in time to vote. The level of disproportionality for 2013 is just at the average it has been in nine previous conclaves in the last century.
Does it matter? To the degree that the College of Cardinals represents the spirit and will of the world’s estimated 1.1 billion Catholics one might make a comparison of the College of Cardinals as being the Vatican’s equivalent of the early U.S. Electoral College (prior to 1836). With this metaphor we would say that College of Cardinals is not truly representative of Catholics around the world as an assembly because it is “malapportioned.” The Electoral College has a slight tilt toward the smaller states because each state gets a number of electors equal to the sum of its delegations in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, and only the House is apportioned on the basis of population. Malapportionment in the College of Cardinals is more severe than it is in the U.S. Electoral College and slightly weaker than in the U.S. Senate (currently 35% using the percentages of the voting eligible population in each state and 2% of senators representing each state). The College of Cardinals under-represents some regions of the world, in ways similar to the how the United States Senate under-represents large states like California and New York.
This disproportionality is often counter-weighted by other issues. For example, even though Italy has the most cardinal electors it also has more of the candidates considered to be a likely selection. Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown, notes that “current evidence…indicates that the Italian cardinals are split.” When this is the case it may be more likely for a non-Italian to be selected—even when they make up the potentially largest regional faction of voters.
3) A bit of prediction
It is said (and often quoted) that “He who goes in a pope comes out a cardinal.” John Allen has argued that this is “actually nonsense” (p. 158). He does so in a book, written before the 2005 conclave, in which he does not include a Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his list of 20 frontrunners and reasons his possible selection as “improbable” based on his “informed observations” involving discussions with other Vatican experts, analysis of Church history, and his personal conversations with cardinals. Allen notes in this same book that sociologist Andrew Greeley had designed a more formal computer forecasting program to try to predict the outcome of the second 1978 conclave. This failed badly. None of the seven top “contenders” identified by the program, according to Allen, were seriously considered at the conclave (Allen did no better in predictions closer to the 2005 conclave).
I don’t have my own program but there are certainly a lot of easily accessible sources I can aggregate to come up with a meta-list of top “contenders” for 2013. Below is the compilation of candidates that are being most widely discussed by Vatican experts along with the favorites from betting lines (“wisdom of crowds”) and even an interesting “buzz meter” endeavor by New Advent measuring online activity about cardinals. Using this aggregated “model” it would seem that the likely candidates include (...certainly should not be a surprise to many at this point!):
- Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan
- Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
- Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa
- Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., Secretary of State, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church
- Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America
- Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology
- Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila
- Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
- Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary
- Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute
- Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo
- Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., Archbishop of Vienna and Ordinary for the faithful of the Byzantine rite in Austria
- Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of New York
- Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Boston
Conclaves on the other hand, like a lot of collective social decisions, are inherently unpredictable (see Duncan Watts’ brilliant book, Everything is Obvious: Once you know the answer, 2011). I won’t be shocked at all if the selection is not one of the men listed above (...anyone recall a Cardinal Wojtyła?). But if I was considering putting money on a few of the candidates above the political scientist in me (for a variety of reasons) might lead me to consider Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Sandri, and Cardinal O’Malley for a wager (...the “prohibition” on a U.S. selection may now be a relic of the Cold War). Note this short list is entirely my own (...no predictions from CARA are forthcoming!). After gently “knocking” Greeley and Allen I thought I’d flatter them both with a bit of imitation. I fully expect similar results—especially when I have pointed to 3 cardinals when they chose 7 and 20, respectively. I’m being even more foolish.
Photo above courtesy of Moyan_Brenn from Flickr Commons.