Tempted to place a bet on who will become the next Roman Catholic pontiff?

Think twice. Vegas odds-makers don’t take wagers on elections — even papal ones. And if you’re Catholic, betting on the next pope may be grounds for excommunication.

Yep. In 1591 Pope Gregory XIV issued a papal bull prohibiting the practice. (Talk about a buzz-kill.) Some experts say there is currently no valid canon law on conclave wagers. But is that a chance any good Catholic would be willing to take?

Still, none of this has stopped international bookies from taking bets.

According to Ireland’s Paddypower.com, Cardinals Angelo Scola of Italy (3/1) and Peter Turkson of Ghana (7/2) are the odds-on favorites.

Turkson, who was running even with Scola until recently, would be the first black — although not the first African — pope. His odds have fallen, some say, for appearing too eager for the job. But the whispering campaign against Turkson seems to have been generated by those who object to his comments linking the church abuse scandal to tolerance of homosexuality.

Scola has been described, by those who seek a more liberalized church, as “theologically identical to Benedict.” He has been criticized for being too much of an insider, although this may be the very reason bookmakers rank him first.

Hoping for a pope from the Americas? Hometown cardinal, Sean O’Malley, has odds of 33/1. But Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Brazil is the more likely pick — his odds are 8/1.

Hockey fans might wager on Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who received his vocation while recovering from a hockey injury. Ouellet is a so-called conservative who (surprise, surprise) supports church doctrine on abortion and traditional marriage. Recently, Ouellet’s odds have fallen to 10/1 — as those who seek to derail his prospects remind the press that his brother is a convicted sex offender.

There are even odds on Bono — yes, THAT Bono. The Catholic U2 frontman and international humanitarian comes in last, with odds of 1,000/1. Hey, anything’s possible.

Even those without financial skin in the game enjoy the pontifical parlor game.

Religion News Service has developed an online “Sweet Sistine” tournament bracket. In the “final four,” Ouellet and Joao Braz de Aviz of Brazil battle for the Western Conference title, while Scola and John Onaiyekan of Nigeria fight in the East.

Winners of these “Sacred Semifinals” will “square off for the chance to be elected the People’s Pope in the final round.”

Although it is fun to speculate on whom the cardinals might choose, the selection of the next pope is not a sporting contest. Nor is it — as the media suggest — an exercise in democracy.

The next pope will not be the winner of some grand popularity contest. He might be modern — many cardinals are now on Twitter — but he will not be politically trendy.

He will not bend to the will of the people. Rather he will strive to bend the will of the people toward God.

This is as it should be. Religion is aspirational. It is concerned not with “perspective” or self-fulfillment, but with the truth of the human condition.

And so, despite the tendency of journalists and bookmakers to view the election of the next pope through the lens of democracy or the lens of sport, the papal election does not fit neatly into either of these silly paradigms.

Journalists and bookmakers notwithstanding, the new pope will indeed be a devout and orthodox Roman Catholic. By definition, then, he will offend the political sensibilities of the liberal elite.

On that, you can bet the house.


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