An oddity: an instant book dedicated to an event that has yet to happen.
If you’re a betting person, writes National Catholic Reporter Vatican correspondent Allen, don’t put your money on an American succeeding John Paul II as pontiff. In the spectrum of odds, “the only probability determined by geography is that the next pope will not be from the US. The Vatican prizes its diplomatic independence too keenly to risk it by electing a superpower pope.” The chances are good, he adds, that the next leader of the Catholic church will be a non-Italian: the 456-year-old Italian monopoly on the papacy was broken by the current pontiff, and of 133 voting members of the College of Cardinals that elects the pope, only 23 are Italian. With all those handicaps and cautions in mind, Allen goes on to survey the field, writing of strong and weak candidates, picking his 20-odd favorites, and long-listing the rest of the eligible cardinals. Every cardinal who enters the conclave, he cautions, is eligible and cannot be written off; those who would lay odds on what he calls “the upcoming papal sweepstakes,” he warns, “shouldn’t allow themselves to trip on their assumptions” and try to outguess the powerbrokers within the Vatican walls. Allen’s roster of candidates and their qualifications will be the strong selling point of Conclave. Breathless though the prose is, it conveys much that is of use, including, for instance, a thorough discussion of just what the job of pope entails (settling squabbles and traveling a lot) and how popes get elected in the first place.
For Vatican watchers, a good reference to have on hand when the smoke next rises over St. Peter’s Square.