Thursday, June 23, 2005

Behind the Election: Pope Benedict XVI

Inspired by Lena's continuing assertion that the new Pope is evil, I took it upon myself to investigate the true story behind his election. What follows is a dramatic recreation of that fateful day based on thousands of hours of interviews with well-placed sources within the Vatican.


The Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals watched anxiously as the three tellers tallied the votes. It had been a long day, and he'd worked tirelessly to build consensus amongst the members of the conclave. By no means were they an easy bunch. Many of the men held fast to their beliefs about the direction the vote should take, and for a long time it appeared that no amount of persuasion would move them. He'd pleaded, cajoled, and in some cases even resorted to outright threats.

Finally, the results were confirmed, and the Dean stood before the Cardinals and proudly announced "Habemus prandium"1

"We'll start with an antipasti of marinated asparagus, roasted peppers, zucchini, pecorino cheese and fennel with calamari, along with Bruschetta with tomato, basil and cheese. For Primi Piatti , you'll have a choice of Mezzemaniche pasta "Carbonara" or Spaghetti alla buttera ( aglio, olio, peperoncino, rosso d'uovo), for Secondi Piatti we'll have Fresh seasonal fruit and Assortimento di formaggi al piatto.2

Hoping to make one of the older Cardinals feel useful, he asked him to dispose of the slips of paper they'd used to vote and he set about placing the order. The day was already half over and they hadn't even begun the papal election process, but the last thing he needed was a hungry group of Cardinals arguing amongst themselves. The last time that happened so many of them had dammed each other to hell that the new Pope spent the majority of his first year in office hearing confessions and granting Holy Absolution to the Cardinals.

The men sipped espresso and played cards while they waited for the food to arrive. The chapel took on a relaxed air as everyone calmed down after the heated exchanges that dominated the morning and slowly returned to their normal, peaceful selves. Suddenly, a roar erupted from the faithful who had gathered in St. Peter's square to await the announcement that a Pope had been elected. The Cardinals looked at each other quizzically, but the Dean realized with dread what the sound meant.


He hurried over to the Cardinal to whom he had given the voting slips. Trying his best to sound casual he asked the old man, "Erm, what did you do with the ballots I gave you?"

The Cardinal gave him a gummy smile and said "Well, I noticed it was a little chilly in here and you know I've never been one to waste anything, so I started a fire and burned them so we could warm the place up a little."

The Dean closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and said a quick prayer. He took a deep breath, mustered the last reserves of his patience and asked, "Now this next question is very important, so I need you to think hard for a moment before you answer. When you set them aflame, did you make sure to mix in some of the chemicals we keep next to the furnace to make the smoke black?"

The man thought for a moment, then his face lit up. "No, I didn't." he said proudly "I remember thinking that I wanted the smoke to be pretty and white. I thought the crowds would like it since it looks like little angels flying out of the chimney. Judging by the cheers we just heard, I think I was right."

This was a disaster. The Dean knew that by now the news that a new Pope had been elected would have been broadcast to the entire world. There was no way they could admit their mistake, for the last thing the Church needed right now was another scandal.

Thinking quickly, he checked the biographical data on the active Cardinals. He knew exactly what to look for: someone old, but not too old; someone well known, but not inclined to make sweeping changes to the Church doctrine; and someone who could tide the church over for a few years before he politely died to make way for the next man. Only one cardinal fit the bill - the 78 year old former archbishop of Munich, Germany, and current prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Joseph Ratzinger

The Dean called the conclave to order and explained what had happened. He told them of his proposed solution and, after a very brief debate, they realized that there was no other viable option. All that was left was for Ratzinger to accept, which he did after a moments hesitation.3

The new Pope was then asked to choose a name. After Adolf, Heinrich, Fred, and Jerry were all discarded, he finally settled on Benedict XVI because it was also the name of his favorite style of eggs.4

After the Cardinals, came forward to offer congratulations it was time to introduce Pope Benedict XVI to the masses. In keeping with tradition, the oldest Cardinal stepped out on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, said "Habemus papam"5 and introduced the new Pope - at which time Pope Benedict XVI stepped forward to bless Rome and the world.



As the Dean looked on, he felt relieved to have averted one crisis but at the same time he couldn't help but wonder he had triggered another, larger one.

"I just hope" he said to himself "that this turns out better than the last time the world saw a German on a balcony waving to an adoring crowd."

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1 "We have a lunch"

2 Of course he said all of this in Italian and I speak very little Italian so I wasn't able to translate all of it. Besides, do I have to do everything for you guys? There must be like a thousand free online translators out there for crying out loud. Would it kill you to show just a little effort here? I'm not asking for much. After all, I slave away over a hot keyboard all day, ignoring the work piled on my desk to give you fresh blog entries. The least you could do is show some appreciation. I'm not asking for much. Flowers once in a while might be nice, or a dinner and a movie, or even something as simple as a nice comment or two just to show that you still care and that you don't take me for granted.

3 He actually used that moment to ask two rather pertinent questions. (1) Do I get to die of natural causes? and (2) Do we still get to eat our lunch? Assured that the answer to both questions was 'yes', he accepted.

4 Eggs Benedict. Get it?!?! How clever is that? Erm...for those of you that don't know,
Eggs Benedict is a delicious dish consisting of slices of toast or halves of english muffins topped with poached eggs, smoked bacon or ham (traditionally Canadian bacon) and hollandaise sauce.

5 "We have a Pope."6

6 What he actually said was "Ego utor laboro" or "I have to use the bathroom" However, nobody really understands Latin any more so the media reported it as "Habemus papam." Besides, the journalists had already written their stories by that time and after being confined to Vatican City during the Pope's funeral and the conclave, most were anxious to get back to drinking heavily.