The Politics of the Papacy
Now that Pope John Paul II has passed away, our esteemed pundits will waste no time handicapping the process of choosing his successor. Are you ready for Bill Schneider, Judy Woodruff, and Wolf Blitzer giving their blessed opinions regarding smoldering ideological schisms, crucial "swing voters" within the College of Cardinals, and the like? Me neither.
But I can't help but believe that the papal election will bear an eery resemblance to our Supreme Court selection process. Indeed, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to argue that this will be the mother of all confirmation battles. For example, the College of Cardinals will almost certainly be divided between nominally "left" and "right" factions jostling for influence. Also, the candidates for the Papacy will have to satisfy a "litmus test" for key issues such as contraception, homosexuality, and such. Perhaps most importantly, no matter who becomes the next Pope, a large faction among worldwide Catholics will inevitably be disappointed.
That's why I agree with Steve Gilliard that it's useless to mouth platitudes about how "God chooses the next Pope." Whether we like it or not, this will be an inherently political, as well as theological, process. Indeed, even those of us who aren't Catholic should pay attention to this process because as a political force, the Catholic Church, and the Pope in particular, still exerts tremendous power. Just ask John Kerry.
UPDATE: Election law expert Rick Hasen over at TNR is already thinking along these lines,in discussing the changes the Pope instituted in 1996 that are, strangely enough, almost exactly the same as the "nuclear option" Senate Republicans plan on pursuing.