[Paleopsych] NYT Op-Ed: Holy Rollers and Papal Perfectas

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Mon Apr 18 19:13:23 UTC 2005

Holy Rollers and Papal Perfectas

    MY mother voiced many moral dismissals in her time, the chief of
    which ran, "That fellow - he'd bet on two flies going up a wall!" Oh,
    what in Heaven can she be thinking now, from her ringside seat up
    there near God, as she watches Paddy Power, Ireland's best-known
    bookie, run the odds on the papal conclave that begins in the Sistine
    Chapel today? "Simony," I imagine she'd cry, referring to that rarely
    discussed sin of "traffic in sacred things." And, in her encyclopedic
    way, she would then cite a 17th-century papal bull that explicitly
    forbade betting on the transition between pontiffs.

    But Mother would evince no surprise; nor, I expect, does anyone in
    Ireland, a country where, often, to bet is to live.

    First a piece of Irish wisdom: you should always listen to a bookie.
    For they have a saying, "Money tells a good story," and somewhere in
    their odds is a kind of science-fiction existentialism that decrees
    that we, the people, know everything. In other words, betting patterns
    often make for good, unconscious soothsaying.

    Therefore, if the smart money is telling it right, the next pope will
    be one of the following three men: Joseph Ratzinger, the 77-year-old
    German who is dean of the College of Cardinals; Carlo Martini, 78, the
    former archbishop of Milan, perhaps the world's most powerful Roman
    Catholic archdiocese; and, on their heels, Jean-Marie Lustiger, the
    78-year-old former archbishop of Paris who, Mr. Power's helpful Web
    site says (with questionable historical accuracy), would be "the first
    converted Jew ever elevated to the papacy."

    These three eminences have been leading the field for days, with odds
    quoted along a range from 3-1 to 7-2. Another early favorite, Cardinal
    Francis Arinze of Nigeria, has at last glance dropped back to 8-1; and
    the money moved to Cardinal Cláudio Hummes from Brazil - two weeks ago
    he was 12-1, but now one can get you only eight on the Latin American.

    So, how did the favorites race to the front? Usually a bookie takes
    his measure from a combination of recent performance, street smarts
    and insider information. So far, much of the $200,000 or so Mr. Power
    has received has gone on Cardinal Ratzinger. His strong showing comes,
    it seems, from an Internet rumor that the German's kingmakers had
    already, even in the last days of the ailing John Paul II, collared
    half of the votes of the 117-member college. Stay with that word
    "rumor"; that may be as solid as it gets because, for another
    favorite, Cardinal Lustiger, we need a jab of true faith.

    This good man surged from long shot to front-runner in a matter of
    days. The impetus? Well, ahem, it started some time back, in 1139 to
    be exact, when an Irish saint called Malachy received (in a vision,
    naturally) the identities of all future popes. And here we have a
    deeper, more worrying problem. St. Malachy prophesied that only two
    popes would preside after the pontiff whom his adherents recognize as
    John Paul II, and that the second-to-last would be born a Jew. "Smart"
    money? Hmm.

    Growing up in Ireland, I lived among relics and racehorses, in farms
    where the limestone bedrock made for beautiful monastery walls and,
    deposited as calcium in the water, great equine bones. I profoundly
    understand this bizarre combination of sacred and profane. As a child
    I watched opportunistic men peddle cigarettes and ice cream where
    people flocked to see statues that bled, smiled or trembled in local
    miracles. And every parish priest worth his salt had a horse or a
    piece of a horse. Today, it seems, all those forces have fused in me
    to the point where I can scarcely resist a stake.

    Yet, once a Catholic always a Catholic, and before I step up and put
    my money down I have to recognize that I'm up against unseen forces.
    Meaning, how can I consider anything as a safe bet when divine
    intervention remains a factor in the conclave?

    Still, were the lure of gambling to overpower the fear of God in me
    (and, God knows, it might), I'd have a crack at a few of the
    outsiders. For instance, at 25-1, Angelo Scola is an interesting bet;
    he's the patriarch of Venice, speaks several languages (including
    English) and is only 63 years old. And have a look at the Argentine,
    Jorge Mario Bergoglio, also showing strongly at 12-1. And though he is
    not even given odds (in Irish racing parlance, a "rank outsider"),
    Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia is a very effective Vatican
    operator and truly worth a piece of my money; after all, in 1977 Karol
    Wojtyla was such a long shot he had scarcely left the paddock before
    the others were round the first bend.

    In the end, of course, those who want to play Paddy Power's game will
    have to be careful as to whom they openly fancy; as every Vatican
    watcher knows, "He who goes in a pope comes out a cardinal."

    Obviously, mutterings of "sacrilege" and "irreverence" have been heard
    in old Hibernia. (Even though there may be a fine point of canon law
    as to whether Mr. Power is actually making bets or merely taking
    them.) Have no truck with such killing of joy, I say - God may not be
    a gambler, but isn't that because he never felt the need? And, anyway,
    who invented forgiveness for human frailty? He hasn't yet struck down,
    so far as I can tell, any of these holy rollers.

    But if you still feel it's sacrilegious to bet on these contenders,
    you can have a theologically safer flutter on the name of the next
    pope: Benedict (3-1), John Paul (7-2), Pius (6-1), Peter (8-1) and
    John (10-1) are among the favorites. An 80-1 outsider of outsiders is
    the name Damian (which would give shudders, I guess, to moviegoers who
    remember "The Omen"). Or you can bet on the number of days this
    conclave will take - one day (14-1), three days (5-4) or six days or
    more at 7-1.

    THERE may be more to come. On Saturday, in Rome, Mr. Power set up his
    stall to shout the odds across St. Peter's Square. Soon enough, some
    men, whom he described to me in a phone conversation as "the
    undercover police," moved him on; he was, he said, "minutes away from
    the slammer." He's been taking hundreds of bets, though, from the
    Italians, and waiting to see how much he eventually will have to pay
    out on what he calls "holy smoke." Even my mother would, I think,
    smile at that coinage - but she might not let God see her.

    Frank Delaney is the author, most recently, of "Ireland: A Novel."

More information about the paleopsych mailing list