Why 68? Examining the “sweet spot” age in my conclave model

If you the list the cardinals who made it through my filter, it’s a pretty broad range. However, some have questioned whether my age range of 63-73 is too narrow. Particularly, I’ve caught some flack for setting my “ideal age” at 68, which many think is too old. It’s worth examining, especially as it deviates from my thesis qualification of “born after 1933″ (I’m now setting a birth window of 1939-1949). Contrary to people who think I’m shooting too old, I think I may actually be going too young.

Here’s why. My original thesis posited that eligible cardinals would be born after 1933, based on the idea that they would be in their early 70s if Benedict had died in 2008 when it was published (just BARELY young enough to be considered – and likely too old had he died that early).  Of course, Benedict did NOT die in 2008, and a man born in 1933 would today be approaching his 80th birthday. People that old only get elected after long-reigning popes like John Paul II or Pius XII. The age range had to come down, especially because Benedict crossed the line from “short reign” to “low-end average reign” – which changes the expectation from “young pope” to “average pope” – but what is average? Historically it’s about 65 with an estimated future reign of 15 years. Paul VI was 65, John Paul I was 65, Pius XI was 65, Pius XII was 63. However, life expectancy is going up. You can’t expect people to die at 80 or even 85. Assuming Benedict’s resignation at 85 is a precedent, an “average 15 year reign” would require a 70 year old pope. It’s POSSIBLE that the new pope could be in his 60s to match Benedict’s slightly below average reign. So, if estimated reign is the decider, then 70 should be the new sweet spot age. However, some might say life expectancy is less important than the idea that 65 is the “right age” for a pope. That would set the sweet spot at 65. I think both concerns are valid, so I split the difference and set it at 68. Also, if were picking based only on papal age or only on historical papal life expectancy, I would have  cut a 5-year range, because the historical data is pretty solid both on how old new popes are and how long they reign. However, because I’m calculating on both, I’m cutting a broader 10-year swath around the midpoint between the two

Cutting a bigger swath however does not necessarily mean more candidates. Instead, I would say that those closest to the “sweet spot” of 68 are more likely than those on the edge.

For what it’s worth, Marc Ouellet is 68, and that may not be a coincidence. Peter Turkson, however, barely makes it at 64. I will get reamed for this, but my guess is that the cardinals are more likely to go over 68 than under, for the pure cynical reason of ensuring that the new pope is not a John Paul II who outlives everyone that elected him. Hence, I’m thinking the real-life sweet spot is around 70. Ouellet fits in that prism at 68 – but Turkson falls out. One African who does fit that slightly older prism is Gabriel Zubeir Wako at 71. That may be meaningless, but since I’ve already said that Zubeir Wako could be a likely compromise candidate, it’s worth noting.

I will post lists soon showing who the candidates would be assuming different age conditions.

2 thoughts on “Why 68? Examining the “sweet spot” age in my conclave model

  1. The pope-u-lator concurs that 68 is the sweet spot for age. However “past performance is not a guarantee of future results,” and we could conceivably end up with a kid like Tagle at age 55.

    • I think Tagle’s youth does him in. Even John Paul II wasn’t that young, and he was a reaction to a one-month papacy.

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