Pope Watch 2013

Saint Peter as Pope
Saint Peter

Saint Peter probably would have thought it quite miraculous that the vote for his 266th successor would be viewable live around the world. Meanwhile, on Twitter, “Pope” and “Sistine Chapel” are trending worldwide. CBC News is keeping track of Twitter and Instagram activity around the papal conclave on their pretty “pilgrim’s eye view” page (which, I just found out, was created by my good friend Adam Hooper).

Some people are having fun trying to predict the outcome of the vote. AJ at Dataparadigms has built a cute app called Next Pope that shows the odds of the most popular candidates being elected pope, according to an online bookie (his post about the app is here). Use the slider at the bottom to show more or fewer candidates on the chart. Until it was abruptly and strangely shut down the other day, Intrade had a prediction market going. And most hilariously, Religion News Service was holding a tournament called “Pope Madness: Sweet Sistine” – Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Nigeria squeaked by as the winner, beating out Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet (HT Raphael Bouskila).

Pope Madness: Sweet Sistine (Religion News Service)
Pope Madness: Sweet Sistine (Religion News Service)

Obviously, given that everything about this voting process is completely closed, any predictions that correctly choose the next pope will be lucky guesses. The Jesuit Post has an amusing article entitled “Predicting the Pope, or Vatican Paging Nate Silver,” which boils it down to this: “Catholics will be praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Whose plans tend to toward inscrutability. Chances are that other prediction styles won’t reveal much more.”

Nate Silver’s blog, FiveThirtyEight, is not making predictions for this very reason, but it has posted an article on all the betting that’s going on, and it mentions how betting on the next pope is nothing new: “In 1591, Pope Gregory XIV forbade Catholics from betting on the election of a pope or the length of a pope’s term in office.”

And last, but not least, the New York Times has a really creepy composite image of all the cardinal’s faces, which I think mostly serves to point out the fact that the cardinals are predominantly old and white. The stats at the bottom of the page are interesting – I didn’t know that the Catholic Church was another institution where developing regions are underrepresented. In North America and Oceania, there are about 6 million Catholics for every cardinal from the region, whereas in Africa there are 11 million, and in Latin America, 25 million. And of course, there are 600 million female Catholics who are represented by zero female cardinals.


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