Choosing a Pope in the Internet Age

A reader of this site recently sent me an email bringing up a couple of interesting points about the process by which a new pope will soon be chosen after John Paul II, arguably the most “mediatized” pope ever (see a related post by Joi Ito on his blog here). This is the first time that a new pope is being chosen in the age of the Internet. What might this mean for the process, if anything? She writes:

  • The choice of the next pope–one of the most influential leaders in the world (spiritual leadership and influence over about 1 billion people)–is one of the least transparent processes around.
  • 117 people get together in the Sistine chapel to decide on the new pope.
  • 114 of the 117 were chosen by the just-deceased pope (indicating a lot of value convergence–and also a tendency towards conservatism). [You can read more about the process here at the BBC.]
  • Little is known about the candidates (most of this information is available in scattered local media). No single (as far as is obvious) source exists to share this information with the broader public.
  • The voting mechanism: 2/3 majority required, but under rules brought in by the previous pope, a simple majority can waive this rule and thereby a simple majority can vote in the next pope.
  • Now suppose someone built (a) a wiki to pool information about the candidates and (b) an online and SMS feedback system to register the global point of view.
  • If such a thing were to happen would this be a good thing for (a) the Roman Catholic church, (b) for the Christian community, (c) for the world?

I know very little about Roman Catholicism, but these seem like interesting things. I add some corollary questions below:

  • Even if there is no room for anyone’s opinion but the presumably-divinely-chosen 117 in the actual election of a new pope, would it be possible to influence their opinions with a massive show of popular preference for one of the “papabili” (main candidates)?
  • How can the internet be used (by the 117 themselves) to make the process of pope-selection more transparent to the public? Would they want it to be?
  • Could the 117 make use of the internet to help them make their decision? By taking stock of public opinion, for example, or by inviting objections to a particular candidate’s election?
  • Would more public involvement in the election of a new pope, even if just as spectator to the heretofore secretive processes of selection, contribute to greater commitment to the new pope, or might it have the opposite effect by demystifying the divine in some way?
  • What are the theological details of catholicism which speak to these issues?
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