The Vatican Needs A Nate Silver

John Allen Jr. can’t predict the next pope:

Benedict XVI has set the stage for an election in which the cardinals have some room to maneuver. By separating the end of his papacy from the end of his life, Benedict has ensured that the run-up to the ballot will not be dominated by the sort of elegiac commentary that always follows the death of a major world leader, and that loomed so large in April 2005 when the cardinals had to pick their way through throngs of emotional mourners in Rome.

In effect, Benedict XVI has created a situation in which the cardinals can move in a somewhat different direction, if they’re so inclined, without seeming to speak ill of the dead. All by itself, that makes this papal election, and the choices for Catholicism it crystallizes, both harder to handicap—and more fascinating to watch.