Electing a Pope in the Modern World

Eight years ago, I was sitting in my trigonometry class at St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, La. While I usually dreaded the math class, that day was different. That was the final day the 2005 papal conclave – the first in my lifetime – which elected Pope Benedict XVI. We watched the white smoke billow out of the Sistine Chapel live right there in my class. Little did I know that I would experience another rarity (a papal abdication) and another conclave so soon. Nor did I realize how much would change.

Just like the most recent Olympics and presidential election, the digital world we live in makes this papal election quite a different animal than it ever was before. Consider the following:

This papal conclave also brought to the forefront the idea of campaigning for certain candidates. Although the church works very hard to maintain the secrecy of the ballots and the conclave, it seems that the more connected we are, the more speculation there is. I found several interesting articles on this phenomenon:

o   If you’re interested, here’s the final bracket developed from more than 40,000 votes.

The church hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years, so I didn’t count on social media, citizen journalists or the 24/7 news cycle altering the process or the outcome. Still, it made for quite an interesting conclave, and it sure was fun to feel like a participant…even if it is just part of the Fantasy Conclave! Unfortunately, I was nowhere close to winning the fantasy league. Not many people were. Only 0.7 percent of participants, or 41 people, chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Only six correctly predicted that he would be chosen on day two, and no one was anticipating that he would choose Francis as his papal name. But I guess congratulations are in order for Michael Brennan of Wisconsin, who officially won and gets bragging rights for the remainder of Pope Francis’ tenure!