Pope Hopefuls vs. Spread

We’re all stocking up on beer and chips and cases of altar wine for next week’s conclave and celebratory smoke signals. How to while away the hours till the college of cardinals gets together Monday to pick a new pope? Well, you can dip into the beer and chips early, or you can place online bets on the outcome of the papal election. Or both.

Paddypower, an Ireland-based wagering site, is taking bets on which cardinal will become the next pope. The current favorite (now at 7-2, down from earlier quotes of 11-4 and 3-1) is Francis Cardinal Arinze (to use the traditional R.C. title) of Nigeria (he’d be the first pope from Africa in 15 centuries). Interesting that of the top 10 on the Paddypower list, just three are from Italy (and five of the top 13 listed candidates are Italian). The non-Italian betting favorites are from Honduras (No. 2 on the list), Germany (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a conservative Vatican insider), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Portugal. Personally, I think the next pope will be Italian; the Vatican has had its fling with flamboyant outsiders for awhile. If you’re looking for a long-shot to fund the kids’ education, try Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, one of several cardinals listed with the longest odds of 125-1. Hey, that’s better odds than the lottery, at least in California.

Paddypower also has some side propositions if you’re really determined to lose some money: what name the next pope will take, how many days the election will take, and — best of all — will the next pope fulfill a medieval Irish prophecy foretelling the end of the papacy?

Embalming the Pope

In further search of the truth about papal embalming practices, I found what appears to be a nice feature story Reuters did in 2001, when Pope John XXIII was disinterred to be put on public display. The story says that the pope himself directed that he be embalmed, and the job fell to a young doctor named Gennaro Goglia:

“… Goglia, now 78, still vividly recalls how a Vatican car picked him up at home on the night of June 3, 1963, hours after Pope John died of stomach cancer. Goglia, then a specialist in anatomy at Rome’s Catholic University, did not even tell his family where he was going.

“Before John died he entrusted a custodian to see to his funeral. John recalled that the body of his predecessor Pius XII was preserved so badly in 1958 that the four men standing guard in the Vatican had to be changed every 15 minutes because they could not stand the stench. The custodian, also a doctor, got in touch with Goglia. After they arrived, Goglia and others were taken by private elevator to the papal apartments in the apostolic palace. They had to wait about an hour while Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu made a bronze death mask.

” ‘Manzu walked out and we walked in,’ Goglia said.”

The best line in the story: “Yes, it was just a body,” (Goglia said). “It didn’t have to go to a beauty contest but it was the body of the pope.”