Nate Silver – veering ever so slightly into self-parody between election seasons – charts the reigns of popes from the past 500 years:
[O]ne question is whether [the cardinals] saw his advanced age as a liability — or an asset. How might Francis’ age be advantageous? One reason is that, if he were to serve 5 to 10 years, that would actually be very well in line with historical precedent. Beginning with St. Peter in 33 A.D., there have been 266 popes in 1,980 years, or about one new pope every seven and a half years. Benedict XVI’s regime, which lasted for seven years and 315 days before ending in February, was also well in line with this historical average.
Charles Pierce thinks the conclave intentionally voted “for a guy with the actuarial tables lined up against him”:
[H]e’s 76-years old which means, quite honestly, that the man’s a caretaker, or that there is a real faction within the cardinal-electors arrayed against the idea of very long papacies on the order of that of John Paul II. The last pope, in a conclave that was a bigger fix than the 1919 World Series, was the obvious choice, but he also was 78 upon his election, and he reigned only eight years. It’s hard to imagine Francis I going much longer than that. It’s also hard to imagine that this wasn’t some kind of plan all along.
Benedict was also a care-taker, remember? But we’ll see. There are growing worries among some of my Catholic friends, experts and sources, I have to say. My concern is that the one critical thing the Vatican lost under Benedict XVI was moral authority. And an Archbishop at the very least acquiescent to a military junta that murdered and tortured countless liberals and leftists is not exactly the antidote. But notice also this US diplomatic cable from 2007 on him, retrieved by McClatchy:
“Many on the political left allege the church was complicit with atrocities committed by the state and believe the church has failed to account or atone for its actions,” the cable said. “The church has not yet disciplined nor defrocked Von Wernich but has sought to distance itself from the unauthorized, maverick operations of rogue priests. Nonetheless, at a time when some observers consider Roman Catholic primate Cardinal Bergoglio to be a leader of the opposition to the Kirchner administration . . . the Von Wernich case could also have the effect, some believe, of undermining the church’s (and, by extension, Cardinal Bergoglio’s) moral authority.”
In an earlier cable, dated May 10, 2007, the embassy noted that Bergoglio had actively opposed Kirchner initiatives despite having said “that the church would not get involved in politics.” “The government appears irritated at the cardinal’s apparent preference for the opposition in this electoral year,” the cable said.
An Archbishop taking on the role of leader of the political opposition on all the issues that fracture the Catholic church in the West: women’s rights, abortion, homosexuality, contraception. Here’s hoping that is not the Pope we will now get.