Re-Opening for Papal Election Season

This blog has been dormant for a while, and for good reason. I have a full time day job and a now night job writing for Twitchy.  It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing more than ever, just not here.

However, a lot of my friends have asked me to re-open specifically for the upcoming election of a new pope. I wrote a thesis in college which contained some semi-radical ideas about how to predict the results of papal conclaves, and this is the opportunity to test those theories. You can read my original thesis online as published by the UCCS Undergraduate Research Journal.

Essentially, the idea was that the outcomes Papal conclaves, even the surprising ones, could be determined by simple factors. The length of the previous papacy, the regional biases in the process, and ideological divisions among cardinals are all factors that narrow the field. It is not possible to determine who the next pope will be, but may be possible to build a profile and eliminate the cardinals who don’t fit.

At the time, I postulated that cardinals born after 1935 would be the main choices, based on a 5-7 year reign for Benedict. I also eliminated, based on various regional concerns, multiple regions of the world. The easiest elimination was the German speaking world that produced Benedict XVI, so as not to give the papacy to the same place twice in a row. This was followed by Poland, and by extension the Slavic world of John Paul II. After this, I eliminated Americans based on Vatican taboo against a pope from the reigning superpower. Perhaps most controversially, I eliminated all Italians based on the fact that a large number of cardinals are not prepared to hand the papacy back to Italy after finally breaking the Italian monopoly in 1978. That gave me a list of 38 names at the time.

I ran some similar calculations today with only minor edits. Since Benedict lasted eight years instead of my maximum seven, I cranked my “born after” date from 1935 to 1939. This is a bit arbitrary, but after an average length papacy (longer than expected), I think we can reasonably expect an average-age pope. Average historically is about 65, and I set my top age at 73 as a check to control for existing life expectancy. From there I cut a ten-year swath to a low-end age of 63 (born 1949), the same age that Eugenio Pacelli became Pius XII. I did eliminate people younger than that, as popes that young are usually only justified by very short papacies indeed.

Otherwise I applied the same regional constraints, with the exception of four  odd eliminations. I took the liberty of removing and extra two people due to involvement in ongoing scandals, and another two known to have plotted against Benedict XVI’s 2005 election and therefore in the ideological minority. This gives me a list of 28 names – fewer than I expected, and a very interesting list indeed. I will spend the next month finessing this list of potential popes. Hope you all enjoy it.

Preliminary List of Candidates – Based on pre-determined conditions, not accounting for speculation in the media.


11 thoughts on “Re-Opening for Papal Election Season

  1. Dear Adam,

    Love your post…only missing one thing: the Holy Spirit. I know, I know…that’s the “Catholic” thing but if you look at the history of conclaves in full, you will see an X factor that you couldn’t predict. Just sayin” Love you for following Always Catholic on Twitter, Thanks, Sofia God love you!

    • Oh, I think you’re entirely right. Note that the list is very long and only covers the raw political calculations – which the cardinals admit come into play. However, the actual selection is going to come down to the X factor you talk about – data can narrow the list but not make the call. For what it’s worth – speaking on a religious level as a non-Catholic – I have no problem with the idea that the Holy Spirit influences papal elections. G-d is everywhere and cares about everything – so I guess you could say he influences all elections, not just popes. However, I don’t think that should preclude legitimate scientific inquiry into the nature of the process itself. G-d is after all a god of order.

      G-d bless!

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    • I’m not missing him. He is conclusively eliminated by the model – he’s a German speaker and therefore cannot succeeced another German speaker. He is ranked as a Tier 2 candidate (fits age qualifications but eliminated due to geography.) Again, this is not a specualtion list, it’s a data-model. I apply the conditions to my database, and print what it spits out. Regardless of media, my model rules out Schonborn.

  4. I thought I was the only one who spent countless hours of making lists like this applying various statistical and miscellaneous information. Thank God I am not alone! However, I never eliminate anyone. I proposed a few years ago that country of origin will become less and less a factor as we become more connected globally through social media. If you could send me your email, I would love to send you my charts. I also developed “Leadership Styles of Popes” and I identified 5 styles and toying with a 6th. In addition to a M.Div. in Theology, I am working on a M.S.O.D. (Master of Organizational Dynamics) at the University of Pennsylvania and I have been using the Roman Catholic Church as the subject of my projects.

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