[March 2009: Please visit this page for my latest work on “The Next Pope After Pope Benedict XVI“.]
Wagering on papal elections is an age-old and somewhat beloved tradition originated by the Romans prior to the midway point of the 1st millennium. Since then huge amounts of money have changed hands on the outcome of papal elections and of late, the new assumed name chosen by the pope elect.
Paddy Power, Ireland’s premier bookmaker, has taken the art and sport of betting on papal elections to new heights.
As I discuss on page 5 of my ‘Pope Names‘ book, Paddy Power displayed uncanny prescience when it came to the April 18, 2005 conclave to elect the successor to the long-lived, iconic Pope John Paul II. They had the name ‘Benedict’ as their top pick at 3:1, and had Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who did become Pope Benedict XVI, as their second favorite papabile at 9:2. Getting both the name that would be assumed and the right cardinal, that close, was pretty impressive.
I am currently reading Father Andrew M. Greeley’s “The Making of the Popes 1978,” which deals with the two papal elections that took place, in quick succession, during the second half of 1978 following the death of Pope Paul VI. On page 113 he talks about the odds being offered in London (and I assume that he might be talking about Ladbrokes) prior to the first election in August. The smiling, truly charismatic Albino Luciani, the Patriarch of Venice, who would glorify the papacy for a fleeting 33 days as Pope John Paul I isn’t mentioned in the list of papabile that had been assigned odds.
Right now they have another Venetian Cardinal Angelo Scola as the 6-1 favorite.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, from Nigeria, who in 2005 was the Paddy Power’s top pick (at 3:1), just ahead of Cardinal Ratzinger, is also on the list. He is, however, now the 5th pick at 10:1.
Angelo Scola is the only Italian in Paddy Power’s top 5.
It is now 30 years since there has been an Italian pope. That seems long but is by no means a record. During the Avignon period in the early 14th century there were seven French-born popes, starting with Clement V (1305-1314) and ending with Gregory XI (1370-1378), whose reigns in total lasted just under 74 years. But there had been a one year interregnum prior to Clement V’s election. So in reality there had been a 75 year period without an Italian pope.
Betting on the next pope, when the current pope is in good fettle would appear to some as ghoulish or irreverent. But to be fair this is a ‘sport’ nearly as old as the papacy. It is just that with the Internet, it is slightly more ‘in your face’ than it probably was even in 1978.
Benedict XVI was elected three days after his 78th birthday. That made him the 5th oldest to have been elected in the last 500 years. [The dates prior to that are not reliable enough provide accurate statistics.] Now, in 2008, at 81, he does not make the ‘top 10’ as one of the oldest popes in the last 500 years — the oldest during this period having been Leo XIII who was 93 years old when he died, after 25 years as pope, in July 1903.
Both Benedict XVI and John XXIII quipped about the potential brevity of their papacies when explaining their choice of name. Jon XXIII mentioned, rightly, that most of the previous popes named ‘John’ had had short pontificates. It is indeed true that the 21 popes named ‘John’ had papacies that were below the ~7 year average for all the popes.
Benedict XVI noted that Benedict XV had but served briefly — for 7 years and 4 months. The 17 popes named ‘Benedict’ also come in below the ~7 year average — even below that of ‘Johns.’ If you are interested in the exact statistics you can find those on page 81 of my ‘Pope Names‘ book.
Hope this helped. Thank you for your time.