Papal elections are always media events. And why not? There is something deliciously arcane and exotic about papal ceremonies, protocols and rituals. They have about them the scent of a Renaissance court -- not quite the odour of sanctity, admittedly -- and we are drawn accordingly to the source.

The source, of course, is Rome -- papal Rome. And nothing captures the seeming timelessness of the papacy, one of the more perduring of human institutions, than the rubrics and conventions that accompany the passing of one pope and the election of his successor.

There is always intrigue, more than a mite of lobbying and speculating, and a large dollop of gravitas around the election and never more so than when the Successor of Peter vacates his Chair wilfully and not as a consequence of his mortality. 

Benedict XVI's rare, though not unprecedented, decision to resign his office as Bishop of Rome has added to the fascination that attaches to the spectacle of a pontifical election. 

After all, it has been a few centuries since the Roman Catholic Church found itself with two men, one the current and the other the former Supreme Pontiff of the Holy, Roman, Apostolic Catholic Church, and both scheduled to inhabit the same digs. Well, not exactly the same: the new man will be housed in the Apostolic Palace and his immediate predecessor in the recently refurnished domicile known as the Mater Ecclesiae. Not contiguous, for sure, but on the same sovereign territory. Within holy shouting distance.

As we ready ourselves now for Benedict's final farewell -- upon resigning he will leave for Castel Gandolfo (the pope's summer residence) and remain there certainly until the new pope is chosen by the College of Cardinals, if for no other reason than to discourage any perception the he is an "influencer" at the conclave. He will be an influencer, be assured, but it will not because of his physical proximity.

One of the genuinely democratic things the governance structure of the Roman Church does is elect its head. That is cause for media interest. The politics of pope-making is venerable and enthralling, not nearly the sordid game the jaded imagine nor the pious exercise the devout would have, but a human exercise in which, Catholics believe, the Spirit works. That is cause for media interest.

Add to all this, crisis, scandal, and sharp departures from the norm and you have more than media interest: you have a media bonanza.


Dr. Michael W. Higgins is CTV's Papal commentator. He is also:

  • Vice President for Mission & Catholic Identity, Sacred Heart University
  • Chief Consultant, for “Sir Peter Ustinov’s Inside the Vatican” 6-part series
  • Author of Bestsellers: Power and Peril: the Catholic Church at the Crossroads , (HarperCollins, 2002) and Stalking the Holy: In Pursuit of Saint-Making (Anansi, 2006)
  • Author of Award-winners: Heretic Blood: the Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton (Stoddart, 1998) and Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical sex Abuse Scandal (Novalis, 2010)
  • Past President of St. Jerome’s in Waterloo & St. Thomas In Fredericton NB