Who'll Be Infallible?

Black Pope Cometh? Yankee Pope Goeth?

Paddy Power - Pope Betting OddsLately, I am especially intrigued by odds and probabilities. My recent fascination can be traced back to last December when I was pondering whether to pay bills or buy Christmas gifts. The ultimate decision hinged on the odds of the Mayans being right in their prediction of an upcoming Apocalypse. Not long into the deliberations, I was poking around one of those gambling websites that handicaps various events. When it came to Mayan’s predictions, the site promised there “…is a better chance of the Pope quitting or a meteor hitting Russia next February than the chances of the world ending anytime soon.” Sufficiently chastened, I paid the bills. A few days later when I showed up at the Cantrell Christmas Party with less than a full compliment of gifts I blamed it all on ‘…those sorry Mayan odds-makers.’

In February, when a pope did resign and a meteor did hit Russia, I gulped a little and re-checked the website to make sure it hadn’t used the phrase “the chances of you getting hit by an asteroid are better than the chances of world ending anytime soon.”

The science of odds-making has improved markedly since the Mayans. The scary and remarkable thing though is how often modern bookies and odds-makers are ‘dead on the money’ about everything from the Super Bowl winners to Oscar nominees to whether the mailman will be on time next Thursday.


As the Conclave of Catholic Cardinal begins, official odds on who will be the next Pope have been issued with specific probabilities of each Cardinal’s chances of becoming the next Bishop of Rome. The table below shows the odds of the favorites at the time of this writing:

Name Country Odds next Pope1
Angelo Scola Italy 7/2
Peter Turkson Ghana 5/2
Gianfranco Ravasi Italy 16/1
Marc Ouelet Canada 4/1
Leonardo Sandri Argentina 10/1
Oscar Maradiaga Honduras 12/1
Francis Arinze Nigeria 12/1

Among early listed favorites are Cardinals from Honduras, Argentina, Italy, Canada, Nigeria and Ghana. In addition to ‘the action’ given by bookies, odds-makers and Las Vegas, the reader will note that the U.S. media is also throwing around the notion that the next Pope could be from the U.S or even Africa.

The notion of handicapping Popes in the same manner as horses is not novel. It goes back more than several hundred years with the Cardinals placing their own bets as to who will be ‘next’. Nonetheless the current situation is still fascinating even to this ‘once and now recovering Catholic’, who looks upon Papal events with a wry eye —and from afar.

The writer has no inside information nor have I been able to figure out exactly what bookies and handicappers know that the rest of us don’t. Still, I figure that papal odds—these latest at least– are not based upon mathematical algorithms, scientific polling, Cape Canaveral type formulae or anything especially clandestine. Rather they are SWAGS –Stupid Wild Ass Guesses.

Cardinal Thomas CollinsGiven the sorry, scandalous, train-wreck state of affairs in the hierarchy of the Church and also extrapolating from other world events, one does not have to be a scientist or a soothsayer to figure out how things might really turn out inside the Conclave.

“Whew!” a Cardinal from South American mutters to himself. “That last vote was too close a call…two votes short.” It is lunch time and the break between the morning and afternoon voting sessions for the next pontiff. This ‘could be Pope’ has just left the Vatican Employee Cafeteria serving line and uses both hands as he carries a tray of food and walks steadily toward the seating area in the Vatican Employee Dining Room. Though in his late sixties, Cardinal Lopez is well over six feet tall and has the build of an Olympic wrestler. He wears rimless spectacles and is dressed in red and white and watches as a sea’ of other Cardinals, more than a hundred men dressed similarly in red cassocks and white surplices, separates in front of him as if he were Moses parting the waters in the Old Testament. Once there, he sits the tray on the white Formica table top that already seats five others. In a room that smells of freshly baked bread, he joins five other Cardinals, two representatives of North America, another one from South America, one from Africa and two from Europe.

Lopez takes each of several food items from the brown tray and sets them on the table: a calzone, two slices of cheese pizza, a small dish of creamed spinach, and for desert, two scoops of spumoni. The others, already half finished with their meal, dart their eyes mirthfully back and forth at each other. It’s as if they were all in on a joke that Lopez does not know about, but if the afternoon’s vote goes their way, he will the new Pope — and the object of the most practical of jokes. “The food here is great,” he says in somewhat broken English. “Never thought I’d taste anything better than paella but pizza is terrific. I’ve gained six pounds since the start of the Conclave. Anyway,” he says getting to the his important point “I sure wish you guys would quit horsin’ around. Enough is enough. That last vote was too close for comfort. You guys had me go’in there for a minute. I was lucky though…two votes short. Listen, I don’t wanna be no Pope. No way.”

“Whatdaya mean you don’t wanna be no Pope”, blurts one of the Europeans. “There’s a bunch of us who are count’in on you to fix everything.”

“Fellas, I can see the Spaniard’s point…” interrupts the other Cardinal from Europe.

“I keep tryin’ to tell you guys,” says Lopez. “I’m not from Spain. I’m from…”

“Yeah, yeah…ok. Wherever it is you’re from, you have to speak Spanish, don’t cha. It’s all the same as far as I’m concerned,” says one of the North American Cardinals. “Anyway, like I was trying to say, the Spaniard…er, uh Lopez here is right. There IS a bunch of stuff the new Pope has got to deal with.right away. I mean he’s got this godawful number of priests who can’t keep it in their pants. The new Pope needs to castrate every goddamn one of them pedophiles. In public. I’m not kiddin’. After that he’s got to deal with the bunch of Catlicks who want to change all the damn rules. Women priests my ass…Priests that want to marry? Idiots. Heck, my brother’s been married for years. The wife is always on his ass about one thing or another. His kids are always in some kinda mischief. Bill collectors calling. And  that ain’t the half of it. Lately every Catlick in the world–all 1.2 billion of ’em — has a Facebook account and wants to be your damn Facebook ‘friend’. Benedict told me about it the last time I was in Rome. Said Facebook was a just a real pain in the patootie. His words, not mine. The old man told me Facebook was always giving you stuff to do… notifications, messages and invitations to play ‘Angry Birds.’ Said he started to call that Zuckerburg character to complain about it but he figured Zuckerburg wasn’t a Catlick and wouldn’t care. If ya ask me, its the biggest reason Benedict finally said to hell with it all. Having a Facebook account with a billion friends is like having a wife with infinite long ‘honey-do list’. Hell, I’d be better off being married. Any of us would be. Who needs it all? Being a pontiff just ain’t my cup a’ tea either. I see exactly whatcha mean Lopez.”

Yankee-go-homeThe other American Cardinal interjects “Me too. There’s helluva lot more to deal with as a Pope than I have to worry about now. And believe me, there already not enough hours in the day to do all the crap I gotta do. I already have to deal with celebrity Catlicks like that Mel Gibson. Then there’s those Kennedy’s, the most notorious Catlick family in America….always wanting something special. One month it’s an annulment, the next month it’s something else. Makes me sick!!! I wish those damn Kennedy’s were Baptists. Then they’d be somebody else’s problem… like Creflo Dollar or maybe Joyce Meyer….somebody other than me. Would you believe the Kardashians came into the office other day—all of ’em– just before I left for the Conclave? Said they wanted to convert to be Catlicks. I told ’em ‘Aw hell naw’…no efing way’. I gotta enough embarrassing Catlicks as it is. I referred ’em to the Rabbi down the street. Anyway, if being Pope is any more work than I got now, I want no part of it either. Fat chance of a Yankee Pope anyway. Our chances are about as good as the chances of Tony Romo ever winning a damn Super Bowl.”

“I’ve heard about those Kennedy’s,” says the older Cardinal from Europe. “Benedict himself  told me that the Kennedy’s were secretly lobbying to make JFK and Bobby saints,” he says speaking nearly flawless English. “From what I heard about them two Irish boys and all their womanizing, I told Benny I didn’t hardly think so…sainthood just ain’t in the cards—no time soon. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I don’t want to be Pope either. The benefits are great…I love the meal plan and all, but I just don’t see me moving to Rome, not at my age. Just between us, I got my eye on a great little retirement situation in the South of France. I appreciate the thought if any one of you is thinking of voting vote for me but I also just gotta say no to being Pope. What about you? It’s been a long time since one of you black people was a Pope.” he says as he turns to his right, addressing one of the ‘could be Popes’ from middle Africa.

Rock paper scissors“Don’t be looking at me. My Momma didn’t raise no fool. I have no interest in the Pope gig ,” the tall black Cardinal pleads. You guys ever notice what the Western world does to people of African descent who get elected to high office? Look what happened to that Obama over in America. How long will my before folks start protesting and calling me a socialist? How long before that Donald Trump mofo demanded a copy of my Baptismal Certificate that proves I’m really a Catholic? Which one of those right-wing radio idiots plants the idea that I’m secretly a Muslim?! ‘Who needs that s^*t? Nope, the Papacy ain’t for me. I’ll be just be content to take my happy ass back to Africa. At home, I’m used to fending off lions, tigers and even Robert Mugabe. Any of that is better than having to deal with all of that ‘Donald-Trump-Fox-News-secretly-Muslim-nonsense. Maybe Angelo here will do it. Hell Angelo, you already live in Italy, closer to Rome than any of the rest of us. All you’d need to do is put your stuff in one of those small European U-hauls jobs and lug it up here. That’s really what gives you Italians an advantage in becoming Pope in the first place. Me? I wouldn’t even know how I’d get my all my stuff up here from back home. And you know, once you accept the gig, you can’t leave the Vatican. You have to start Pope-ing right away. Anyway, It’s not for me. Nope, don’t want to be no Pope. I think Angelo here is the man. He could be Pope Reluctant the First….”

One doesn’t have to be Nostradamus or even Nate Silver to figure out the Pope position is a hot potato and that not everyone wants to be a pope, the next Pope or even (as we have witnessed) the last or most recent Pope. Considering the Church’s long going scandals and the general state of world affairs,  a drawing of straws, a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors or musical chairs might be the best way to figure out who is successor to Benedict XVI.


While I figure that the bookies are ultimately right in the fact that the next Pope will very likely be from Europe, there is a part of me that secretly hopes for one of African guys. These hopes arise not out of any Affirmative Action scenarios. Rather, I figure that having an elected black Pope at the same time there is a sitting black POTUS will be interpreted by some folks as a ‘ sure as hell’ sign of the Apocalypse. There will also ironic and even crazy phenomena that would accompany such a confluence of events such as a spike in the world wide sale of guns and ammo as we witnessed with inauguration of Obama in 2009. The rest of us could use the laughs a result of all this ironic, apoplectic and ‘run for the hills’ behavior.

In the final analysis, I figure the bookies know that the Cardinals won’t do anything radical –no matter how urgently they need to do so. Ancient, two thousand year old institutions don’t easily or willingly change their trajectory. Normally that kind of thing requires…well, some Act of God.

Maybe the bookies and odds-makers also subscribe to my theory. Specifically,  given the Church’s historical unbending, unyielding unwillingness to change, before a Pope is elected from outside Europe the College of Cardinals would  just as soon elect a Protestant. Of course, that scenario would satisfy my fun loving sensibilities since the answer to the age old question “Is the Pope a Catholic?” would be, for all time, different…and for once really, really interesting. Talk about odds–probably about as good as the chances of an asteroid buzzing planet Earth on a recent February Friday.


© Copyright 2013 Will Cantrell

1 Source: Paddy Power. www.paddypower.com

Image Credits: First photo is from Paddy Power from their website (promotional photo/fair use); Photo of Cardinal Thomas Collins is congratulated by other cardinals during a consistory ceremony in Saint Peter Tony Gentile/Reuters is from the National Post story "Newest Canadian cardinal Thomas Collins joins elite group within Catholic Church"; Yankee go home by Anne97432 via Wikimedia Commons and used under creative commons license; Rock paper scissors licensed by LikeTheDew.com at YayMicro.com; the featured image is from the Vatican Press Office - Elecnco Cardinali Elettori via Servizio Fotografico L'Osservatore Romano.
Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.