Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papal Conclaves and Elections...

This morning on NPR I heard one of the hosts of Morning Edition say, "Black smoke from the Vatican signals that the cardinals failed to elect a new pope." While technically correct, I suppose, the words created great dissonance in my ears. Then I tweeted and posted on Facebook:

In trying to report the process of electing a new pope, the media seems to be treating the process as just another political election. It is hard enough to elect a president from two candidates who have been campaigning for months (years?). However it all happens on one day, that people go to the polls, check a box and it is over. With a papal election, the process is not so simple. Every cardinal who is eligible represents very distinct constituents and now might represent all of them.

The process of ecclesiastical balloting is more about discernment than getting the job done. Having watched bishop elections in synodical and churchwide assemblies of the ELCA, these ballots are prayerful and time-consuming. They are not meant, perhaps, to be efficient. But we take the time to discern, because: 1.) candidates haven't (hopefully) been campaigning, and 2.) we hope that the continued slow process gets to what the whole body desires and gets our sinful selves out of the way. Being around the process is incredible when momentum swings toward a particular surprise candidate. There is no guarantee that the right person is always elected, but in the church it beats a campaign.

I have said to friends that I would likely use something like "Black smoke at the vatican signals that the cardinals are still considering who will become the new pope." Yes it is not as clean and neat as "failed to elect" but it speaks more about the process too. Cardinal Ratzinger took seven ballots to become Pope Benedict XVI. I would urge all to pray that the right amount of time is taken... and that whomever is chosen, the new pope is one that increases unity rather than division.

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