March Conclave Madness: Sweet Sistine!


The general congregation of cardinals is now in progress and the Sistine Chapel has been closed to visitors. Almost all of the 115 eligible cardinal-electors have arrived in Vatican City, which is a precondition for setting the date of the papal conclave to choose a new pope. Amidst the rampant media speculation and baseless prognostication it’s worth taking a more lighthearted approach to the question of who will become the next successor of St. Peter.

Therefore, we present for your enjoyment, the March Madness-Vatican Edition: 2013 Papal Conclave Challenge.

Many names are in the news and in the air in Rome as possible choices, or papabili, but as often as not, the man who is elected is as much of a surprise to the general public as the end of the previous papacy itself. Therefore, it is somewhat appropriate (if perhaps rather irreverent) then that we compare the election of the next pope to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In both cases, there are always surprises and upsets that even the most knowledgeable handicappers never saw coming:

Papal Bracketology

Papal Bracketology — Click for full-size version!

The bracket above is a compendium of the more well-known cardinals that have been mentioned in the news as well as several that haven’t. Like the NCAA, cardinals that have made headlines are top seeds in their respective conferences. However, every year there is a 7- or 8-seed that makes it to the elite eight or the final four much to the astonishment of the self-proclaimed experts. People who win their office pool for NCAA brackets always seem to be the ones who make these unlikely choices out of sheer luck.

In our fictional tournament for the Summus Pontifex, there are also some dark horse candidates like Cardinals Bagnasco, Cañizares, and Ranjith who have solid experience and credentials, but just like the tourney, they will have a tough time getting past the strong favorites like Ouellet, Scola, O’Malley, and Erd?. Meanwhile there are some longest of long-shots who might make it as far as the Sweet Sistine, but probably have no realistic chance of becoming pope, such as Arinze, Dolan, and Bertone.

Then of course, there are the 3- or 4-seeds that will be knocked off in the first round by a sweetheart like those mentioned above. Cardinals like Tagle, Schönborn, and Turkson are darlings of the press, but they really don’t stand a chance. Just as in college hoops, there are always contenders that get a lot of hype but don’t put the necessary points on the scoreboard and get an early trip home. Nevertheless, they are included in the bracket for the sake of completeness.

Although the papal conclave is similar to the NCAA tournament in that both are likely to have some upsets, the latter is a euphoric non-stop rush of adrenaline, whereas the deliberations of the former are somewhat less energetic, although not less in intensity and attention to detail. Even cardinals who stand no chance of being elected to the papacy are at the top of their game, as it were, and fortunately for us, the papacy is not a single elimination contest.  The princes of the Church will carefully and prayerfully make their decisions in each round of voting until by divine Providence they settle on the one man who will become “first among equals.”

Still, to pass the time while we wait for the white smoke to rise above St. Peter’s Square and the bells of Rome to peal, why not have a little fun with the process? Fill out your own bracket and see how you do. Due to the cardinals strict vow of secrecy, we may never know which names were considered in the early rounds of voting, so the only pick that really matters is who will become the next Vicar of Christ.

With that in mind, good luck and enjoy!


Joshua Bowman (@prolixpatriot) joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved from his beloved native Virginia to Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities in these pages and on his personal blog, The Prolix Patriot.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


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Joshua Bowman joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved back to his beloved native Virginia from Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities.

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