Photo: Saint Peter, first Bishop of Rome


If there is one institution that knows real politicking it is the Catholic Church and this was certainly seen this week with the election of a new pope. It has been great fun to watch with the media attention from for example the guardian with choose your own pope pontificator and is there white smoke. Twitter and other website like the pope alarm joined the papal election watch as well.


The excitement is understandable with the resignation of Benedict XVI, the first pope to do so in over 600 years (maybe this signifies a return to antipopes as well?). The ancient election of the conclave has changed little since its first modern incarnation in 1276; no communication with the outside world, burning of the paper votes and food abates to nothing after 8 days. There is nothing like the imminent prospect of starvation and death to help the indecisive, which was learned after the conclave of 1268-1271.


Although very few laws change with the Catholic Church after all the church is about tradition and will always be at odds with change and modernization (The Smithsonian predicted in 1989 that by 2000 there would be women clergy), it surprising that the election rule has changed several time in the last two decades. Pope John Paul II in 1996, when it changed from a two third majority to a majority rule (50%). In 2007 it was reverted back by Pope Benedict to a two third majority so that the elected pop will likely be a compromise candidate.


A total of 115 cardinals were eligible this year as cardinals over 80 aren’t allowed to be part of the cardinal-electorate. This rule meant that the dean of the college cardinal, 85 year old Cardinal Angelo Sodano couldn’t participate. Another notable cardinal missing from the conclave this year is Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien who had to resign shortly before the cardinal summons due to allegation from fellow priests of inappropriate action. So that the final breakdown of cardinal-elector was 67 were appointed by Benedict XVI, and 49 by his predecessor John Paul II.  In terms of geographical background, 60 were European and more specifically one third of those were Italian. Outside Europe- 19 came Latin Americans, 14 North Americans, 11 Africans, 10 Asians and one cardinal from Oceania.


The elections only took two days, which shows that Pope Francis from Argentina was a straightforward choice for most elector-cardinals.  There had been speculation that the Catholic Church would choose a pope that represented the growing percentage of people in the faith (the Catholic Church constituents) outside Europe. This specifically meant looking at either an African pope or Latin American where the Catholic Church is still strong.


The conclave is secret and there is no open campaigning on the part of the cardinals. Therefor vetoing of the papal candidate by the public and media only happens after the pope is elected.  Media has been in a flurry about Pope Francis past and what kind of pope he will be. There has been some reports that he might have turned a blind eye to the military Juntas while a priest in Argentina. He also interestingly enough has links to Communion and Liberation(CL) which also has close political relations with Berlusconi: “CL helped put Silvio Berlusconi on Italy’s political map two decades ago by drawing a crucial swath of Catholic supporters to his side, particularly in wealthy northern regions such as Lombardy.”


It would seem that secular and catholic politics run deep in Italy and are not so easily divided. For those who want to try their luck in the next papal elections here is a quick guide.