This is a guest post by Herb Silverman.
Tradition is important to the Catholic Church, but even the Church sometimes changes procedures when it becomes beneficial to do so. With that in mind, I propose blending the current method of choosing a pope with the method adopted by another venerable tradition that has been mostly scandal free. I speak, of course, of the Miss America Pageant.
Since the pageant began in 1945, there have been 92 Miss Americas chosen, but only 4 popes elected. The first Miss America, Bess Myerson, was a Jew as was Peter, considered by the Church to be the first Pope. And, of course, Jesus was also a Jew. Another interesting similarity is that throngs of adoring fans follow Miss America for as long as she reigns, just as adoring Catholics do the pope. There are Miss America protesters just as there are pope protestors, but both have learned to handle protesters by disarming them with a smile and a hand wave.
So here is my proposed procedure for electing future popes.
To maintain tradition, we allow the cardinals — to be explicit, I mean the Catholic prelates, not the baseball team — to narrow the pope vote down to ten candidates. Then we bring in a panel of non-cardinal and non-clerical judges for the real business of choosing the next pope.
Since papal attire is just as important and elaborate as Miss America attire, the ten finalist cardinals will parade in front of the judges wearing their traditional outrageous costumes. We absolutely want our next pope to look stylish in his uniform.
Then the ten finalists will display a papal talent. For example, one might perform an exorcism on stage. Another might bring out a bottle of wine and turn it into blood.
Of course, the judges will need to question the pope candidates on stage, just like Miss America candidates. I can think of a few relevant questions I’d like answered. For example, “How many penitential Hail Marys would you require for a priest who molests a child?” Or “How do you think you will feel the moment you are transformed from fallible to infallible?”
When the panel of judges retires to make its decision, the announcement procedure will be a bit different. We will abolish the racist tradition of white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel chimney to signify the traditional election of a white pope, or black smoke if the white pope is not yet elected. In this era of tweeting popes and diversity, we will instead display a big smiley face if a pope is chosen and a little frown face if he is not. Once a smiley face is shown, we will wait half an hour to let the outside cheers subside. We will then add to the anticipation by showing white smoke if a white pope is elected and black smoke if the chosen one is a pope of color. The very next day the new pope will go on all the morning TV shows around the world and take call-in questions from viewers, which he will answer infallibly.
I think this bit of 21st century modernity would add some delightful fun to the anachronisms of antiquated 1st century theology.
Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston. He is founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry and was founder and faculty advisor to the College of Charleston student group Atheist/Humanist Alliance.