Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Papal Election 2013: Breaking Down the Odds of the Next Pope

Papal Election 2013: Breaking Down the Odds of the Next Pope

Photograph via The Sun

It’s been three months since my last presidential politics column. I broke down the top 10 most likely nominees for each party in the 2016 presidential election. I wrote similar columns leading up to 2008 and 2012, and surely I’ll write more as we near 2016. Presidential politics, every four years, is the gift that keeps on giving. But papal politics? Now that is rarified air!

With the news that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down at February’s end, we find ourselves with several weeks to break down the papal selection. Unlike presidential elections, this vacancy seldom occurs. Thanks to Pope John Paul II’s lengthy reign (1978-2005), Benedict’s resignation marks only the second time in the life of this columnist where we can break down who the next Holy Pontiff might be.{{1}}

What better way to celebrate than by examining Benedict’s potential successors? I do love lists after all. And, believe it or not, betting websites have already started laying odds on who will be the next “Vicar of Christ.” Thus, much like my presidential politics breakdowns, let’s break down papal candidates with their odds, which I found at the betting website Paddy Power.{{2}}

The Realistic Long Shots

10. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Italy)
Odds: 16/1
Betting advice: STAY AWAY!
Breakdown: The idea of winning 1,600 bucks on a 100 dollar bet might be seem tempting, considering Cardinal Bertone is an Italian who’s fluent in five languages (Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese), but the cons far outweigh the pros for this former Archbishop of Vercelli. Bertone has argued that a priest should not be obligated to contact the authorities if he’s learned of pedophilia in his ranks. Moreover, he’s been combative with the media over the Vatican’s privacy. In an era where people want more transparency and less pedophilia, you can cross this 16/1 longshot off your list.

9. Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (Austria)
Odds: 14/1
Betting advice: You’d like him, but he won’t win.
Breakdown: Unlike Bertone, Cardinal Schonborn has vehemently denounced “cover-ups” and advised “unflinching examination” of scandals involving the priesthood. The former archbishop of Vienna has also put forth some rather progressive views on Catholic-Orthodox relations, condoms to contain AIDS, and evolution as a possibility. Not a terrible 14/1 bet. To a non-traditionalist, he might seem attractive, but most members of the College of Cardinals are not progressive. Plus, Schonborn is Austrian. Coming at the heels of an underwhelming German, I think the college either elects an Italian or makes a big splash with a non-European.

8. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (Italy)
Odds: 12/1
Betting advice: Place a small bet here but hedge with a favorite.
Breakdown: The conservative Cardinal Bagnasco is on the opposite end from Schonborn on the ideological spectrum.{{3}} Being strongly opposed to abortion is par for the course, but statements likening homosexuality to the immoralities of incest and “pedophilia parties” are pretty reactionary. He obliterated Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi and other leaders for their immoralities. He’s been called an “intellectual heavyweight.” His hardline moral Catholicism might make him the most popular Italian in the conclave, and there’s a great chance that the Vatican wants to see an Italian back in the chair.{{4}} If cardinals can tolerate the outcry from liberals everywhere—and, let’s face it, they’ve done it before—Bagnasco is a great longshot bet.

The Contenders

7 (tie). Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (Italy)
Odds: 8/1
Betting advice: Not any more likely than Bagnasco, so don’t bother.
Breakdown: He’s been a cardinal for only two years. His career was slowed back in 2005 when, considered to be a frontrunner for the bishopric of Assisi, he wrote that on Easter, “Jesus was not raised, he arose.” Considered borderline heresy, the quote followed him ever since. Still, he’s well-liked and an Italian, so his 8/1 odds are well-founded.

7 (tie). Archbishop Angelo Scola (Italy)
Odds: 8/1
Betting advice: Not any more likely than Bagnasco, so don’t bother UNLESS you want to put three equal bets on all three Italians and hope the cardinals go old school; hit one of them and you could triple your money.
Breakdown: He’s not too dissimilar from Ravasi, and thus I can’t imagine one having an advantage over the other. Plus, Scola is a mere archbishop. We haven’t seen a non-Cardinal elected since Urban VI in 1378, and Urban turned out to be rather disagreeable.{{5}} If the Italians organize, they are much more likely to do so around Bagnasco than Ravasi or Scola. If I had to place them in order of likelihood, it’s Bagnasco first, then Ravasi, then Scola.

5. Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras)
Odds: 7/1
Betting advice: Not the Latino you want.
Breakdown: If coming out against pedophilia is rule number one for a papal hopeful, rule number two has to be never saying anything controversial about Jews. If you manage to break both rules, you’re probably not going to be the next pope. Even with pressure to elect a non-European to the papacy, Cardinal Rodriguez’s past dogs him.

4. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (Argentina)
Odds: 6/1
Betting advice: Place your bets!
Breakdown: Now here’s a Latino the college can rally around. This polyglot Argentinian has a résumé a mile long. Among many posts, he served as spokesman for John Paul II and was the chief-of-staff of the Vatican from 2000 to 2007, consequently earning lots of experience in the hot seat and allies in important places. The overwhelmingly Catholic Latin American countries are itching for a turn at the papacy, and Cardinal Sandri could be their guy. Plus, his age of 69 is both experienced and relatively youthful, and the cardinals in the conclave surely giggle every time they ask him how old he is and wait for his reply. This is your safest bet outside of the favorites and will pay more than any of them.

The Favorites

3. Cardinal Francis Arinze (Nigeria)
Odds: 9/2
Betting advice: Run, don’t walk, away from this bet.
Breakdown: Paddy Power is just trying to sucker you in. He was considered the favorite in 2005 when Pope Benedict was elected to succeed John Paul, and he’s an experienced African Catholic that could quite visibly show that the Church is modernizing. Three problems, though:

  1. His position as favorite in 2005 was nearly eight years ago. He’s 80 now—at the absolute upper limit of qualification.{{6}} I doubt they want to tempt that kind of turnover.
  2. There’s another more realistic African in the College (we’ll get to him soon).
  3. Arinze, like Bagnasco earlier on the list, has delivered hurtful, anti-homosexual rhetoric. With another African in the field, Cardinal Arinze is not your bet.

2. Cardinal Marc Ouellet (Canada)
Odds: 7/2
Betting advice: He may not be Paddy Power’s favorite, but he’s mine.
Breakdown: He might not be European, but as a Canadian, he’s as close as it gets. He’s perfect for a slow transition away from a solely European papacy. His age of 68 is not too young and not too old. He speaks six languages fluently (French, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German), and his North American background combined with extensive mission work in Latin America has ingratiated himself to the entire Western Hemisphere. Unlike other contenders, his history is void of controversy while still espousing all traditional Catholic doctrine. His only major apology was not for himself, but for the Church’s spotty history before him. Ultimately, Cardinal Ouellet’s biggest roadblock might be Cardinal Ouellet. In 2011, he spoke of how he was not interested in the job, citing the papacy’s demands as a “nightmare” and the position as “not very enviable.” If you ask me, what better qualification for His Holiness than humility and a lack of desire for power?

1. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (Ghana)
Odds: 3/1
Betting advice: A strong contender, of course, but little yield on the bet. I advise against it. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
Breakdown: He has all the advantages of fellow African Arinze, but with minimal pitfalls. He could be an African face on a previously monochromatic office. He’s successfully walked the tightrope on hot-button issues like homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, framing his language to be both traditional and respectful. At 64, he’s relatively youthful, but I do wonder if that could work against him if any current non-contender wants another crack at the position in a decade or so. He also speaks English, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew, while understanding Latin and Greek. He’s Paddy Power’s favorite for a reason.


1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan (USA). Odds: 25/1

2. Cardinal Daniel Dinardo (USA). Odds: 100/1

3. Cardinal Francis George (USA). Odds: 200/1

(In case Construction’s largely American readership was curious, those are the listed American cardinals on Paddy Power. Only Dolan, clearly, is remotely a contender. With 11 electors, the Americans trail only the Italians in terms of total number of qualified cardinals. If the 11 get on the same page, who knows? Maybe Dolan—one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world last year—has a shot.)

4. Richard Dawkins (United Kingdom). Odds: 666/1
(Having a little fun, are we, Paddy Power?)

5. Bono (Republic of Ireland). Odds: 1000/1
(How is he LESS likely than Richard Dawkins???)

Final Advice

I advise three bets:

1. Bet equal sums of money on Bagnasco, Ravasi, and Scola. If an Italian wins, it will be one of them. By betting equal sums, you’re guaranteed to come out significantly on top if any one of them wins, perhaps tripling or even quadrupling your investment. In fact, you’d make more money on this route than by placing a successful win bet on Turkson, the favorite. I’d much rather have the three contending Italians than one Ghanaian.

2. If you’re looking to just bet on one man and not hedge at all, Oullette is your guy at 7/2. A 100 dollar bet gets you 350.

3. Longshot: It has to be Bagnasco at 12/1. The math is easy there. Ten dollars gets you 120. Just an 85 dollar bet could land you over a grand.

Only 16 days until the conclave. Catholicism doesn’t get much more exciting than this!

[[1]]The resignation factor is particularly rare. Not since the end of the Great “Western” Schism (1378-1417) have we seen a pope step down. Coincidentally, earlier this month, I wrote about the cause, events, and resolution of the Great Schism. Only three times, incredibly, has a pope resigned before this one. I wrote about the 1415 resignation of Gregory XII, which was the third, and in that column I also noted the 1294 resignation of Celestine V at the likely behest of his successor, the later pope-napped Boniface VIII. The only other resignation on record was that of another Benedict—Benedict IX—who became the first such abdicator in 1045. Thus, our current Benedict becomes only the fourth pope in history to give up his massive hat.[[1]]

[[2]]Note that these odds, like odds in the sports world, might slightly change over time as the action comes in. After giving my betting advice at the bottom of this column, surely the odds will heavily swing.[[2]]

[[3]]Granted, having two Catholic cardinals being on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum is like calling the night sky and fresh tar on opposite ends of the spectrum of things that are black.[[3]]

[[4]]Before Benedict and John Paul, all popes dating back to 1523’s Adrian VI were Italian. Moreover, take a look at these cardinal statistics. There are 118 eligible electors (cardinals between 60 and 80). Of those 118, a plurality—28—are Italian. In second place is the United States at 11 and then Germany with only six. The “Italian Bloc” is as influential as blocs go in the College of Cardinals.[[4]]

[[5]]A.k.a. insane.[[5]]

[[6]]Only cardinals between 60 and 80 are eligible, and only they vote for the next pope from among their ranks. We have 118 qualified cardinals for this upcoming vote.[[6]]