Up Next: Iceland, Italy, EuroVision


Okay folks, now that I’m rested from the conclave, I’ve decided where I’m going next. Originally, my plan was only to run the blog regularly through the conclave due to my offline schedule – but due to “popular demand” and fortuitous freeing of my time, I’m staying open. At least that’s the plan for now.

I know a lot of you followed me for my attempt at playing armchair Vaticanista, and trust me I will comment regularly on Pope Francis’ appointments and reforms. However, deep down, I am not a “Catholic Issues” blogger – I’m an international politics guy.

So, with the conclave over I am re-broadening my focus to the global lever. Here are the three event’s I’m planning on watching this month – and I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

1) Icelandic General Election, April 27 

Iceland may not be a big country, but it’s a very interesting one from a political perspective. Over the last few years it’s provided some case studies in how an electorate responds to an economic crash and what happens when the population loses all confidence in the established order. Three years ago, things were so bad that the capital city threw out all of the major parties - instead electing a city government led by a joke party led by comedian-turned-mayor Jon Gnarr. This campaign has been marked by wild poll shifts, with the fourth-place Progressive Party surging to the front, the rise of the Gnarr-inspired Bright Future party, and a Pirate Party creeping toward relevance.

2) Instability in Italy

Italy’s national election was last month, but it produced an ungovernable mess that may send Italy back to the polls soon. The election “winning” left-wing coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani lacks a majority but refuses to work with right-wing Sylvio Berlusconi in a coalition. The insurgent Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo is refusing to work with anyone and puposefully trying to blow up the system – which should be expected from a party that literally ran on the slogan “F**K OFF!” The figurehead president, Georgio Napolitano, want’s to appoint an independent government of technocrats, but Berlusconi is vowing to block that option in parliament. On top of that, the divided parliament must elect a new president as Napolitano’s term is ending. Pass the popcorn.

3) EuroVision Song Contest

While it’s non-political, I have a yearly obsession with Europe’s largest pop-music contest – not least because a continent-wide televote exposes the various cultural biases and patterns across Europe. It’s American Idol meets the Olympics, and whether you like it or not, I’ll be writing. This year features strong entries from Denmark, Norway, Germany, and (shockingly) tiny San Marino.

Who wouldn’t watch  a show that produces such masterpieces as Verka Serduchka (above) - who came dangerously close to winning in 2008.

 

 

How the Third World Cardinals Exposed the Vatican Media’s Blind Spot

With Pope Francis’ inauguration this morning, we’ve reached the end of the beginning of his pontificate. In terms of church politics, his next move will be his appointments to key Vatican positions – especially his Secretary of State. That may take some time.

However, a few people like me are hanging behind and picking through the rubble of the conclave. Most people rightly move on, but the real info for those who care is just starting to leak out. It’s rough, but we have the beginnings of a picture of how the election unfolded. A solid account may not emerge for a few years, but what we do know reveals some interesting details…and strangely enough it tells us more about the sources of the Vatican MEDIA than it does about Francis.

According to both La Stampa, Cardinal Bergoglio was put on the map but an unexpectedly high number of votes on the first ballot – combined with lower-than-expected support for Cardinals Scola, Scherer, and Ouellet. Specifically, they noted that cardinals from “other continents”, specifically Asia and Africa, had decided to make him their first ballot choice. He also had a core of admirers from Latin America, John Allen lists Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga as a promoter,  and even some from Italy.

What it sounds like to me - at least on early reports – is that it may have been the Africans and Asians who gamed the conclave. I expected that Bergoglio, as a senior ex-papable, was always going to get a number of Latin American “respect votes” on the first ballot. Such votes are common on Ballot 1 – scattering to cardinals who aren’t expected to win but deserve commendation in the eyes of their peers.  These votes  usually evaporate on the second ballot as the cardinals abandon their placeholders to join the actual candidates. I have a feeling that these were the type of votes cast for “elder statesman” Bergoglio on the First Ballot by many Latin Americans and Italians.

However, from the reports, it sounds like a number of African and Asian cardinals consciously decided to glum on to Bergoglio’s ”respect vote” early, rather than fielding a token Third World candidacy. Those who voted for Bergoglio as a placeholder may have been played for dupes, with their votes used to inflate an actual candidacy aided by an organized Afro-Asian vote dump (the respect people then stayed with Bergoglio becasue obviously they thought him worth a vote in the first place).

That may not be exactly what happened, and Bergoglio’s most vocal promoters were likely Latin Americans. Still, if a planned Afro-Asian vote dump was even PART of what happened, it explains why the media missed the boat in their pre-conclave reporting. The “Vaticanisti” mostly have their sources among the Italian cardinals – the exception being John Allen who seems to get a lot of info from the Americans. At the time, I wondered openly about whether the “Vaticanisti” were missing an African candidate because of their lack of sources among the Third World cardinals. Turns out I was half right. There was no African candidate, but the Africans and Asians seem to have planned a Bergoglio strategy in their own informal prattiche meetings (after supposedly being left out in the cold in 2005).

The Vaticanisti are very good at what they do, but they can only tell the story from the Euro-American perspective. If the Africans, or even the Latin Americans, are up to something – you won’t hear about in in the Italian papers. You sure as heck didn’t hear it this time.

What the “Francis Conclave” adds to the data for the next one

At the outset, let me say that I wish Pope Francis a long and healthy reign. I like the guy and want him to succeed.

However, as guy who is obsessed with the conclave process itself, I have new data to play with. That’s like giving a kid a new set of Legos. To be honest, I’m not so much an aspiring Vaticanis tas I am an election enthusiast (see pre-conclave entries to this blog and my others). I like conclaves specifically because they are most tradition-bound and unpredictable elections on Earth. I started looking at this one the minute the 2005 conclave ended, and I’m very grateful that Benedict’s resignation takes the morbidity out of this fascination. So, now that it’s over, what can we learn from Conclave 2013?

While the mechanics of the Bergoglio candidacy are not yet known, we obviously do know who Jorge Mario Bergoglio is. Specifically, in terms of pure data, we know that he’s 76, Argentine, and non-curial in origin.

The age point is interesting, as it blows the traditional curve by a MILE. I thought I was being generous by setting the age limit at 73, and Francis is three years over that mark. This actually goes to something I’ve been wondering for a while – whether increasing life expectancy would permanently shift us to older popes in order to manage length-of-reign. I built a bit of this into my model by setting the “sweet spot” at 68 instead of the traditional 65 and speculating that it might be more like 70. Turns out it was higher.

We have to wait for the next conclave to see if this is anything more than a fluke, but my hunch is that the age of the average new pope has ratcheted up – and by more than we expected. However, the maintenance of that trend (if it exists) will depend heavily on how the reign of Francis plays out. One thing I can guarantee you is that the Vaticanisti will be asking, “will it be another old pope?”

I lost on the age component of my model, but I won on the regional component. The idea was that the globalized, 21st century papacy has entered a process of regional rotation – with no region getting a pope twice in a given period of time. The same process occurs with the Secretary General of the United Nations. This made it highly likely that after a Polish pope and a German Pope, most of Europe was off the table. I left non-German West Europe on the table as a precaution, but I could have easily thrown the whole continent off the list – and probably should have.

Assuming that rotation continues, Latin America is now off the table, and we have three real options for Francis’ eventual successor: Africa, Asia, and North America. Oceania is also viable but not realistic due to the dearth of Cardinals there (only one at this conclave, two last time, max of three electors during JP2′s papacy).

We could potentially talk about a return to Italy or East Europe – maybe even France. However, I think another dynamic may emerge. In much the same way as global cardinals resisted a return of the Italian papacy, I suspect that they may now resist a return  to a European papacy. After all, just as with the end of Italian dominance, it seems unlikely that the cardinals will return to Eurocentrism so soon after breaking a stranglehold of more than a millenium.

One more point is that my thesis speculates on an alternation between surprise popes who act as change agents and favored candidates who act as stabilizers. Francis was a surprise, but his successor may not be – that may or may not fly in the face of regional rotation.

So, what’s going to happen next time? Clearly that’s an impossible question, but we can start thinking about WHERE the next pope will hail from. Assuming that Francis is in good health and follows Benedict’s precedent, we can assume that we have about nine years to get ready. If the rotation holds, we can brace ourselves either for the first non-white pope or the end of the American taboo. I have a few people in mind already, but only time will tell.

Having said all that – with my luck it will be a 60 year-old Frenchman.

In the meantime, I wish Francis all the best. I’m very excited to see what happens in his curia, and even more excited about who he will add to the college of cardinals. I will most certainly be tuned in as those developments unfold.

Viva Francesco!

 

Analyzing Francis as the Dust Settles

Well, we’ve had quite a day, haven’t we?

I refrained from writing at length earlier, partially because I have a day job but also because I was in shock. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not on my list of 28, and there was a general consensus among analysts that he was far too old. Funny enough, he WAS on my original thesis’ list of 38, but he got cut after I revised my age range down to fit an eight-year papacy from Benedict XVI. My new and “improved” list placed him in “Tier 3″ – indicating that he met my regional qualifications but not my age range.

In terms of his regional origin and credentials, he seems perfect. He’s from the developed part of Latin America, not the Third World. He has a diocesan history, a known penchant for reform, and a warm pastoral demeanor. However, two things spoke against him. First his age blew a curve that has held strong for a century. Following an old pope with an old pope is unheard of. Second, as the chief rival of Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio was the de facto standard bearer for the “liberal” cardinals who opposed Benedict (even if he wasn’t really one of them). Hence, despite John Allen noting that he had been mentioned as a fallback papable, my jaw hit the floor when he was announced.  I had him almost totally written off, and if he did make it I figured it would be from a very long, divided conclave – not a five-ballot quickie.

However, in hindsight it makes sense. Bergoglio already had serious credentials among the cardinals, is a known advocate of curia reform, and had been papable before. In fact, I would not have been very surprised if he had been elected in 2005. In 2013, he offered the same positives, but without the risk of a long, liberalizing, Jesuit papacy.

Instead, Francis has been hired as the John XXIII of curia reform. His mandate is to use his short papacy to smash the corruption in the curial establishment, then leave. He’s expected to make a mess of the place, leaving it to a more steady-handed successor to put the pieces back together (a la Paul VI). At least that’s how I read it. Whether that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

Over the coming days and weeks, I plan to continue analyzing this election as details start to leak out. As a political analyst, I’m just as concerned with the mechanics of the vote  as its result, and I REALLY want to know who put this coup together and how. Furthermore, I want to know whether the primary opposition came from Scola or a curial-backed candidate.  Seeing as the conclave elected a man percieved as “the opposition” from last time, it’s going to be fun to see which factions joined toghether to make Bergoglio pope.

As for the Francis I papacy itself, I think we could be in for quite a ride. He clearly wanted to make a statement, both with his choice of a new name and by appearing in a simple white cassock rather than the usual finery. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have been given a divine mandate to “rebuild my church” – so the name explicitly implies that the church needs some serious TLC. He’s clearly a warm and pastoral spirit, but I have to say his remarks from the balcony were a bit rambling and disjointed. This is a polar opposite personality to Benedict XVI, who was a towering intellect and skilled theologian, but not terribly pastoral. Benedict was elected to teach and strengthen the faith, Francis is there to govern and renew the church.

Obviously, the jury is out, but at the very least I expect him to be popular. He brings to mind John XXIII, and that sort of leadership wins a lot of admirers. The big question, other than curia reform, will be what path he charts on doctrine. Obviously he’s not a huge move ideologically, but he does have a more Jesuit social justice focus. A lot of traditionalists are worried about his stance on the availability of Latin Mass to those who want it, as he apparently did not implement Benedict’s “liberation” of said mass in his diocese. Another question for me will be his choice of curial officials and cardinals – will he be the one to finally kibosh the European majority in the Sacred College?  What about the Italian dominance of the curia? Moreover, just how many Jesuits will be moving into Vatican positions, and just how Jesuit in tone will the papacy be? We may get our first hint of that in whether Pope Francis chooses to maintain a massive Jesuit symbol as the primary feature in his coat of arms (see above)

Whatever happens, it will most certainly be different, and it will be a lot of fun to watch from the outside.

 

CONGRATULATIONS POPE FRANCIS!

POPE FRANCIS I
JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO
Formerly Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina
76 Years Old

I’m still reeling from this one. Cardinal Bergoglio was on a few lists but very far down. I have him as Tier 3 – meaning he got through my regional filter but is too old for my age filter. I will have more later, but I think the cardinals have made it clear that they want a short pontificate packed with radical reform. It will be a lot of fun to dissect this as details leak out. Funny thing is I’ve been thinking of a Francis the First for this whole time – but I was thinking it would be Sean O’Malley if we got that name!

Day 2: Scola Gets His (Only) Shot

Conclave 2013 is officially underway! Ballot #1 is in the books, and those of us outside the Sistine Chapel can only guess at what has just happened. However, we probably have less guesswork about what will happen tomorrow. Day 2 will determine not only the prospects of the leading papable, but also the chances of the papacy returning to Italy for the foreseeable future.

All of the Vaticanisti are convinced that Angelo Scola, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan, will have the first ballot lead. I’ve seen postulations in the 35-40 vote range, at least 10 votes clear of Odilo Scherer, who is said to be in second with around 25.

Scola falls outside my model’s top tier due to his Italian nationality. He has had support for years, but I’ve always thought that he would be a weak front-runner, a placeholder vote, and a stalking horse. That theory gets put to the test tomorrow. If there’s white smoke at any time on Wednesday, Scola is the only realistic person who could walk out as pope.

Conversely, if the smoke is black tomorrow night, I think we can declare the Scola candidacy dead – along with any Italian hope of taking back the papacy

The Scola candidacy is based on institutional strength and superior early numbers. He’s not the most charismatic candidate, he’s a little on the old side at 71, and he’s Italian – none of which work in his favor in a competitive election. If he is to win, he has do it by scaring off the opposition with a show of force. That requires a big early lead that snowballs quickly – a la Ratzinger. If he plateaus or loses votes on the second ballot, he’s toast.

The question then becomes whether he has that type of support. A week ago, I read reports that Scola was sinking as Scherer and others rose. However, Marco Tosatti of La Stampa reported today that Scola’s presentation in the General Congregations was so powerful that it “cast a spell” on the other cardinals. If that’s the case, it would explain a last-minute firming of Scola’s support, but it doesn’t say whether there are more people ready to push him to victory.

Regardless, we will know by about 2:00 Eastern tomorrow. If Scola doesn’t make it by the fifth ballot, then he doesn’t have the momentum he needs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he really should wrap it up in four. If white smoke goes up late after five full ballots, I would say there’s a 50-50 that Odilo Scherer will emerge, not Scola.

In fact, five ballots might be just enough time for Marc Ouellet or even Sean O’Malley to leap-frog Scola (if Scherer under-performs early). If it goes into Thursday morning, I think we’re firmly  into Scherer-Ouellet territory, with THEIR chances growing thinner after that.

Still, we shouldn’t really talk about later ballots until we know they will happen. Right now, the moment belongs to Angelo Scola – let us see what he does with it.

 

One Day More: First Ballot Picture Emerges

Well folks, we’re less than 24 hours away from the beginning of Conclave 2013. In a few days, all of us prognosticators will know how our predictions turned out. Today we got our first hint with the emergence of a consensus picture of the first ballot from the Vaticanisti.

Most of the insiders seem to agree that Angelo Scola will get the early lead with between 35 and 40 votes. Behind him will be Odilo Scherer with about 25, followed by Marc Ouellet with around 12. John Allen takes it a step farther by adding America’s Tim Dolan and Sean O’Malley as potential early runners, as well as a second tier of potential candidates consisting of Cardinals Schonborn, Ranjith, Bergoglio, Tagle, Erdo, and Ravasi. Of all these, three make the top 28 list from my model: Scherer, Ouellet, and Ranjith.

Of course, by the time they lock the Sistine Chapel, this incomplete picture will be at least 48 hours old, but we work with what we have.

My model places Scola outside the top tier in terms of electability, and I’ve seen reports that he’s falling rather than rising. However, if he hits 40 on the first ballot, there’s a chance that he could steamroll to victory. The cardinals seem to be publicly indicating that they are unsettled, so Scola’s support may be a mile wide and an inch deep. A key nugget of info is that Scola is reported to have American support, and a good base in Europe, not just Italy. My gut is that 35 votes is not enough for him to be viable long-term – but above 40 maybe. The big thing for him will be stomping the curia-backed Scherer early, which may be complicated  if an American candidate emerges to siphon Scola’s U.S. support. In the event of a deadlock, Ouellet might be postioned to run up the middle – but he may have trouble holding onto his votes after a disapointing early showing.

All three of the frontrunners have paths to victory, but as you can see, there are also a number of ways for the whole thing to self-destruct. Anything beyond that breakdown is conjecture, with a number of names floating and new names that could emerge. I personally am keeping a close eye on Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka, as he is the only second tier candidate listed by Allen who also made my top 28. I’m also looking for the emergence of an African candidate, as the conspicuous lack of known African papabili makes me wonder if the Vaticanisti simply lack sources with the less-accessible African cardinals.

I guess that all we can do now is hold on to our hats…and play some mood music.

Maybe not the MOST appropriate tune – but given the attitude out of Rome, it seems to fit.

How to Get Elected When No One is Electable

It seems that we’ve entered a pre-conclave lull. The action has settled down (or rather gone underground), and the cardinals have their game faces on. Hence, topics are harder to find than you might think. However, this down time has given me some time to think, and I’ve realized something: almost all of the cardinals are unelectable.

Let me explain: My model assumes biases against Italy, the USA, Germany, and East Europe – but people are floating other potential biases that could be in play, and I think they may be right.

Specifically, there seems to be a growing consensus among the global cardinals that it’s time for a non-European pope. However, there have also been rumblings that the European cardinals may be uncomfortable handing the keys to a Third World pope, who might decide that re-evangelizing Europe is hopeless and counterproductive.

The biggest block in the non-European First World is the Americans – and their election is subject to a taboo. So, if we assume that Europe, the Third World, and America are all off limits, we pretty much eliminate everyone.

There are a few ways of threading that needle. One of the few options is a Canadian pope, which is a large reason why Marc Ouellet’s stock has risen so high. Another is to throw the ball to the developed parts of Latin America, which seem less scary than Africa or Asia. This gives us the Scherer candidacy from Brazil.

But let’s say those two options flop – which is entirely possible. What happens then? The only possible answer is that, when nobody is electable, an “unelectable” candidate must win. So, how does that happen?

My guess is that at some point, someone is going to hit a tipping point that forces at least one block of cardinals to swallow tbeir deeply-held biases (regional, ideological, or organizational). That may be a truism, but it begs the next question of where the tipping point is. I think it may be rather low – 30 or 40 votes. To show you why, let’s use an example featuring my favorite stand-in, Cardinal Alencherry (alphabetically the first name on my list of 28, no other reason)

In a conclave split multiple ways, let’s say Alencherry starts getting a slightly bigger chunk than everyone else – after which the Africans realize their candidate is done. He gets 32 votes as the African forge a Third World alliance. That’s not much, and the majority is hesistant to back an Indian pope – but he at least ties the front-running Scherer. On the next ballot, the Americans realize that the O’Malley candidacy has stalled at 20, they want an anti-curial choice and they jump to Alencherry – he goes over 50 and into the clear lead.

At this point, Alencherry still is under a majority, and one could argue that Europeans will block him to avoid a Third World pope. Yet, I think that most of you would agree that Cardianal Alencherry is about to be elected. The snowball is rolling too fast. In the next two ballots, the European cardinals are going to “give in to the Holy Sprit” and make Alencherry into Pope Thomas I. You can repeat this scenario for an African, an American, or maybe even an Italian.

Winning does not require you to get the undying support of people who oppose you. It merely requires enough support to convince them that they can’t stop you (even if they technically can). This can be done easily if one “unelectable” cardinal “maxes out” his support from cardinals who aren’t biased against him. That, by itself, will intimidate those who DO hold such biases, especially when those people are supposed to be listening to the Holy Spirit.

It may not be an elegant scenario, but this is not an elegant race, and someone has to win.

Defining a “Realistic” Papable: Why My Model Eliminates Known Front Runners

Yet another report circulated today that, for the first time, the election of an American pope is a “realistic” possibility. This time, it was bolstered by the inclusion of La Stampa‘s Andrea Tornielli, one of the world’s leading Vaticanisti. Tornielli is one of the best in the business, but is he right? My model shoots down that possibility, as well as the election of an Italian. Yet, both Americans like Sean O’Malley and Italians like Angelo Scola seem to be very much in the running. How do I square that circle?

The answer is simple. My model is not built to tell you who the candidates will be. It’s built to tell you which candidates can actually win election as Pope. The Vaticanisti can tell you which cardinals have a lot of support, but large blocks of support do not necessarily equal electability.

Scola and O’Malley (Tier 2 candidates in my model) are both likely to receive votes, as are Tier 3 candidates like Luis Tagle and even Tier 4 candidates like Tim Dolan. However, all of those people have at least one mitigating factor that will give the other cardinals pause. Scola runs into the idea that many cardinals oppose returning the papacy to Italy, O’Malley will cause concern that breaking the American taboo will alienate Third World believers. Dolan is even worse in that he brings both the American issue AND an age issue given his youth.

Any one of those candidates could, under certain circumstances, draw 20, 30, or even 40 votes. Yet, all of them would have a hard time getting to 77. There may even be other concerns that would narrow it further, but I went with what the available data and best thinkers suggested.

That doesn’t mean that a non-Tier 1 candidate cannot be elected. If no one outside the top  tier had a chance, I wouldn’t need a four-tiered ranking system. However, in raw data terms, Cardinal Alencherry of India (an unknown) is more likely to win election than Cardinal Scola. The reason is simple: Scola offends the known sensibilities of a many cardinals, whereas Alencherry does not. A Scola candidacy is highly probable, but anti-Italian bias makes it likely to crash. Alencherry is far less likely to become a candidate, but on the off chance that he does, there’s nothing in the data to stop him from getting to 77. So, he is indeed a more likely pope than Scola.

As for the Americans, they do have a historic opportunity here. First, they are likely to get their first serious papable – which is an accomplishment in itself. Second, they have used the media to annihilate the idea that the world would not welcome an American Pope. In fact, it now looks like the Italian street is practically begging for O’Malley. In my opinion, this does make an American pope possible, and I’m treating O’Malley as an “honorary Tier 1″ candidate. That said, taboo is taboo, and it’s known that cardinals have voiced support for the “no superpower pope” rule. So, even with the change in perception, O’Malley’s nationality remains a stumbling block. That won’t change, and for that reason he cannot be placed in the top tier.

 

 

 

And now we wait…

We’re nearing the point where all we have left to do is wait. All of the Vaticanisti (and armchair Vaticanisti such as myself) have talked ourselves blue in the face about candidates, grand electors, who’s voting for whom. Yet, in the final approach, it’s a bit hard to come up with anything original to say. All we can really do is read tea leaves and try to build a picture of how things will look on the first ballot. Even that is getting harder, given that the curial leaks are less telling in a “Curia vs. the world” vote. In a left-right fight, both the left and right have roots in the Curia, which is where you find leaks. Now, people still hear things, but there is precious little strategy leaking from the “world”  side of the fight.

Frankly, the time between now and Tuesday will likely be a bit of a lull before a furious second wave of post-conclave analysis. Frankly, I’m more excited about getting leaked data after the conclave than any current reporting. The politics being played right now is very important, but the details will only leak after the new pope is enthroned.

Two things we can look at are the timing of the conclave and the situation in the media. The timing is very good for the anti-curial forces. There had been talk of a Monday start – which itself would have been acceptable to global cardinals who worried about being forced to vote before they could gather the necessary information. Tuesday pushes it back another 24 hours, which means that they will have more than enough time to piece together their strategies.  It’s a win for “the world”, even if that world is presently disorganized.

The other thing to talk about is the media situation, which is more important than many people think. While the conclave itself is isolated from television, newprint, and the internet – the media tone BEFORE the conclave is impossible to avoid. It helps shape the mindset of everyone who goes in, and can influence the voters. Surprisingly, the overriding media narrative going into this conclave is the perceived “silencing” of the Amaerican cardinals’ press conferences as a way of responding to leaks – which the Americans weren’t involved in. This is not just the primary story, it’s  the only story.

According to John Allen, this turn of events has made the Americans “folk heroes” to many in the Vatican – and not just the media. According to Allen, the American cardinals are the cat’s meow, “in the press corps, among diplomats, in religious houses and clerical residences and other ecclesiastical venues in Rome.”  Far from driving only the media narrative, they have successfully hijacked public opinion among the day-to-day Vatican “workforce”. In what is shaping up as a battle between the curia and reform-minded archbishops, the Americans have firmly cemented their status as the leaders of of the peasant revolt.

That doesn’t mean that Sean O’Malley will become pope, and it doesn’t mean that the anti-curial forces will win (although I think they have a very good chance). What it does mean is that they have succeeded in setting the tone for the whole election, a drumbeat likely to continue through the weekend and into the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday.  Furthermore, they’ve likely ensured that the opposition “campaign operation” will have a distinctly American flavor. Whatever happens, good or bad, will be at least partially a reaction to “the American show”.

That’s what we know. As for the rest of it…well..buckle your seatbelts and brace for impact.