The Papal Games Commence


Lainie Rowland, Co-Editor-in-Chief

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came the arduous task of selecting a new Pope: a new leader for Catholics around the world and a man to represent them. If the stepping down of Pope Benedict XVI was dramatic and sensational, as the media noted, then the choosing of Pope Francis was akin to the arrival of the messiah (or am I getting my monotheistic religions confused again?).

The selection of a Pope is a highly orchestrated affair, garbed in tradition and ceremony. There’s the exciting emergence of the smoke from the chimney: is it white or is it black? The media speculates about contenders, reviewing their histories and their pasts (sometimes less than clean). Meanwhile, drones attack in the Middle East and rape is finally getting attention in India. Instead however, the media scrutinizes the papabile front-runners and the election process is torn apart from head to toe. (Side note – technically any adult Catholic male can become priest. But the odds of that are slim to none).  During the election period, I saw flow charts presented, prospects announced, and, my personal favorite, half-joking suggestions to just choose Hunger Games style. Many of the networks use the hype around a new Pope as a ploy for ratings, and thus allow the election to become more of a human interest story than a real news story.

The media hype surrounding the selection of a new Pope is overwhelming. Understandably the process is a difficult one, but to politicize it and romanticize it cheats the people who watch the news to stay informed on all matters. Were it a democratic election it would make sense, considering voters need to be informed and aware. Even then, the media hype can be harmful and politicize and polarize the election further, as we have seen. However, the election of a pope is not meant to be a glamorous ordeal, one reminiscent of TV shows like the West Wing and Game of Thrones.

The election of a Pope shrouded in secrecy for a reason. While I do not know nor understand the reasons and influences of Cardinals, considering I am not one, I do feel as though the coverage of the papacy intruded on my personal ability to be an informed citizen. As a purveyor of news sites such as CNN and regular reader of the New York Times, the papal coverage can become frustrating. The ploys used to advertise the selection of the Pope are reminiscent of the hologram correspondants used by CNN or the manicure camera at awards shows: petty and superficial. The fact that it has been reduced to a political game of speculation and has been blown up by the media in such a way disrespects the very serious tradition that the choosing of a new Pope represents.

Yes, thrill and glamour sells in media and journalism. Picking a new Pope is a high-stakes game and therefore media coverage is inevitable. But toning it down a little never hurt anyone, Pope or no Pope.