In the next week, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church will offer its millions of believers a new spiritual leader. Considering the popularity and respect garnered by Pope John Paul II, The College of Cardinals—a powerful group of Catholic clerics second only to the pope—face a less than enviable decision. It is no small task to replace a man who is already on the fast track to sainthood. Suicide is the only way out.
Installing a Holy Father is an ancient ceremony steeped in antiquated ritual, shrouded by mystery and smothered in secret sauce. A special gathering of cardinals, called a conclave, meets for the sole purpose of electing a new leader. Conclave is a Latin word meaning "opposed to claves." Within the clandestine confines of the conclave, cardinals coax votes out of cautious colleagues. Cucumber, camel, cockatiel. One-hundred-fifteen cardinals will participate in the voting. Those not included are either over 80 years of age or misplaced their funny hat.
Whose edicts will millions of Catholic faithful ignore next?
Little is known about the conclave except that secrecy is paramount and the lunch buffet is fabulous. Prevailing rumors say that one can gain ten pounds just by looking at the dessert table. For the first order of business, the conclaving Cardinals choose a theme. Cardinal Claudio Hummes is already buying 'SpongeBob SquarePants' decorations while the Dean of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger insists on a 'tropical island paradise' motif. Many think Dean Ratzinger should instead concentrate on closing down that rowdy Gamma Delta house.
The actual voting process is known only to its participants, one can only assume it is even more boring than the pope’s funeral. After the vote, the ballots are collected, counted and then burned in a special stove. Spectators in St. Peter's Square keep an eye open for the color of smoke wafting from a chimney mounted on the Sistine Chapel. White smoke indicates a pope has been chosen. Green smoke means go. Yellow smoke means the cardinals are pinned down by Charlie and taking heavy fire and need air support ASAP. Black smoke signals an inconclusive vote and the need for another day of deliberation. Traditionally, wet straw was added to produce the plumes of black smoke. Nowadays, the cardinals use old truck tires.
Every Catholic man is eligible to be pope but very few don’t look like a dork in the outfit. For this reason, the new “Vicar of Christ” is selected from the College of Cardinals.
As of press time, the aforementioned Cardinal Ratzinger is a surprise favorite. The German cardinal is rumored to have secured several votes in advance, despite failing health that could limit his reign to a decade or two. The Bavarian-born theologian was a member of the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich. But who wasn’t? He is described as ruthless and fiercely
conservative, surprising traits for a former-Nazi.
Sure, it's hard to imagine the "Panzerkardinal" as pope, but it's easy for us members of the mud races to dismiss him.
The comparatively moderate cardinal, Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan enjoyed early popularity but his chances waned when people thought he was a pasta dish. With the vibrant growth of Catholicism on the Dark Continent, many think the time is right for an African pope. If chosen, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria would be the first black, or even beige, pope in 1,500 years. Racism hadn’t been invented back then. Some say Arinze hurt the black cause when he described the pope's death as "chickens coming home to roost." Nonetheless, many people place Arinze at the front of the potential pope pack. These people fail to realize that the dagos made a big deal out of picking a Polish pope so it's safe to say they can't even fathom an African one.
Latin America offers several prospects for a successor to Pope John Paul II. The region boasts the strongest concentration of devout Catholics and the 20 Latino cardinals will likely endorse one of their own, especially since they all live in the same one-bedroom apartment. Also, you can pay Latin American popes less than half of what you would pay other popes.
Although, as a nation, the United States has nearly as many Cardinals as Italy, it is not likely the next pontiff will be an American. American cardinals always bitch about not being able to get a decent hamburger in Vatican City and generally act like assholes.
Cardinals cannot campaign outright for the papacy. Mostly they just stare intensely at one another and make throat slashing gestures. Conclave voting tends to devolve into a popularity contest and a football player usually wins.
This is not to discount the importance of a Cardinal’s theological positions. The next pope will dictate the Catholic Church’s position on birth control, masturbation and renegade priests performing exorcisms. In the end, the most important trait that a cardinal can possess is to be Christlike. This is why some cardinals are growing beards and strapping balloons to their feet.