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Papal Elections 101: A Panorama of the Papacy
Ann Schmidt, NYU Florence student
La Pietra Dialogues
November 28, 2013

By now the entire world knows that Pope Francis was chosen by the College of Cardinals.

But how and why he was picked remains mostly a mystery.

Tuesday evening, La Pietra Dialogues held an event on the papal elections, giving students an opportunity to glean some clues, get different perspectives and insights into the history, process, and significance of the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the conclave that followed. There were four speakers on the panel who each spoke of different aspects of the current events, none knowing that the next day Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina would be elected Pope Francis I. 

History Professor Matteo Duni spoke about the historical context of papal elections in the past, leading up to the foundation of the conclave and its development into the process that is used today. Professor Duni also spoke on the few resignations of the past, stressing that most resignations were due to political pressure or crisis.

Father Scott Murphy then spoke of the conclave as a “thoroughly human process” which needed to be assisted by the Holy Spirit through the Cardinal’s “spiritual discernment.” He also explained that Pope Benedict’s resignation was a positive one, showing the importance of a prayerful life, as well as giving the Cardinals a chance to get to know each other without the emotional stress of mourning.

Professor Joshua Tucker followed as the third speaker who described the voting procedures of the conclave and the possible consequences of the conclave voting process. He explained that because there were no declared candidates and no limits to the number of rounds of voting, the process could potentially go on forever. He explained that a more likely alternative to that is the chance that a “second choice” or a “compromise candidate” would become pope if there were two opposing groups of voting Cardinals.

Professor Robert Shrum then spoke on the effects of the papal election in the political realm by explaining that the next pope should be more involved and personal in the mission of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been continually losing followers, which has been attributed partly to Pope Benedict’s lack of visible leadership in the Church. A more human pope would improve the number of the Church’s followers, according to Shrum.

During the question and answer session following the panel, a student asked the panelists who they thought would be the next pope. Father Murphy described a pope who would change the approach of evangelizing, but didn’t offer any names. Professor Shrum and Professor Duni gave Scola’s name as the most likely according to Italian newspapers, although Duni also mentioned that those thought to be most likely don’t often become pope. Professor Tucker just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

However, it seemed that no one knew exactly who would become the pope until the name Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, after only five voting ballots in the conclave. Now the speculation surrounding who is over, what Pope Francis will do is the new question at hand.

 
 
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