FAQs: Electing a new pope
In this day and age, there is more too it than a puff of white smoke
Q. Can you please explain what the heck is going on in Rome?
A. Well, Pope Benedict XVI retired, and now Catholic cardinals from around the world are congregating to elect a new pope.
Q. When was the last time a pope retired?
Q. No, before that.
A. July 4, 1415. Gregory XII stepped down to head off on a hot weekend with his brother-in-law’s sister’s seamstress’ pool boy in Sardinia.
A. Rumor has it.
Q. Which makes Benedict the first man in 600 years able to say he used to be pope?
A. Don’t care who you are, that’s always got to be the cherry on top your resume.
Q. Does the former pope still get to call himself Benedict XVI?
A. Nope, he’s plain old Joseph Ratzinger again. But he’s always been Ratzy to his friends. He was bestowed a new title: Pontiff Emeritus. And still gets to kick off his red loafers in a Vatican villa.
Q. You think that might prove to be a bit embarrassing should the former Vicar of Christ ever decide to step out on a date?
A. Tell me about it. It’s one thing for your parents to hang around while you watch television, but a couple of thousand folks praying 24 hours a day? As romantic as a tornado watch in a trailer court.
A. Exactly. “Want to come back to my place?” takes on a whole new meaning. Could take some of the sting out of being fallible again.
Q. What does he do now? Write a book? A little consulting for some downtrodden cult?
A. Maybe, but knowing the Catholic Church, he probably had to sign at least a three year non-compete.
Q. How many popes have there been total?
A. The numbers get a little sketchy around the Dark Ages, but best estimates have the next pontiff being the 266th Bishop of Rome.
Q. Is it true the Catholic Church is fast-tracking the election process?
A. Yes, they’ve thrown themselves into a frenzy of hyperactivity. Which means accelerating all the way past erosion right up to snail’s pace. For instance they have yet to meet to decide when to convene.
Q. Who gets to vote for the new pope?
A. All cardinals under the age of 80 not currently under indictment are allowed to vote.
Q. Which leaves how many?
A. About 8, 9. No, actually, it’s around 115.
Q. How does this vote work?
A. For the first seven rounds, a 2/3rds majority is required, after that just 50 percent plus one. In the past, members of the College of Cardinals have been deadlocked for up to three years, which would make a great miniseries. NBC should jump on this.
Q. What’s the deal with the smoke?
A. After each vote, the ballots are burned. If no winner is picked, a chemical is added to make the smoke black. If there is a winner, no chemical added — smoke remains white. Green smoke is just some priest encouraging Romans to recycle.
Q. What kind of shot do Americans have?
A. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Really, does it always have to be about us?
Q. I’ll ask the questions here. Any idea who will be elected?
A. Most likely a guy. Probably some cardinal. Brazil? Stay tuned.
The New York Times says five-time Emmy- nominated comedian and writer Will Durst “is quite possibly the best political comic working in the country today.” E-mail Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.