… Everything about this papal conclave has me completely fascinated. I can’t recall, but was there this much internet coverage in 2005? I distinctly remember dragging an old black and white television from our office kitchen to watch at my desk while I worked. My boss is such a patient man. I also recall cursing that old thing because all smoke looks white on a little black and white tv screen. That was about as technical as things got, for me anyway, the last time the conclave met. My how times have changed. Did we really get this advanced in eight short years or was I just hopelessly out of the loop?
Now there’s an app for your smart phones so you don’t miss a single news article, every major news outlet offers online streaming of their video coverage, Cardinals are blogging, uploading photos, and tweeting. This new technology has enabled information to come directly to us at a second’s notice and has practically allowed us to virtually be in Rome… goodness, it’s all very, uh, voyeuristic.
For example, eight years ago I did not known what the oven where the votes are burned looked like. It looks like this, by the way…
Weird. I pictured a black pot bellied stove. Or maybe some gilded Baroque fireplace. But you see… the veil of mystery lifts a little with each picture. Is that good or bad, I wonder.
Good in that it leaves less room for vicious speculation, I suppose. See… there’s no Vatican assassin living under the floor boards and influencing votes. Bad in that media competition to get the inside scoops and photos encourages leaks and aggressive reporting tactics. As a result the Vatican had to issue a media black out barring the Cardinals from communicating with the press. Or probably more accurately, barring the press from accosting the Cardinals.
But I must admit, it is all really very amazing. We get to see pictures like this, of an Italian carpenter laying down the flooring inside the Sistine Chapel, that we might not have been able to see before …
And videos like this…
So the intense coverage is a double edged sword. On the one hand I love the coverage because it has allowed us to learn new things about the process of electing a pope. Mostly though, I love how all this attention sparks curious questions from non-Catholic friends and family. Never before, at least to my memory, has the process been so public. When the media covered the death of John Paul II it shined a bright spotlight on Catholicism and people who would never have given the faith a second thought found they couldn’t escape the media coverage… and grew curious. Curiosity led to investigation. Investigation led to Truth, which in turn moved and converted souls. Maybe that will be the case this time as well while the media thrusts the conclave into the limelight.
Then on the flip side, media sources had declared their favorite “pick”, depending on their own political or personal agendas, mere days after Benedict announced his abdication. I like this or that Cardinal because they’re traditional, from my country, liberal, blah blah blah. As if the Holy Spirit cares about our personal or geographical preferences. Does anyone give the Holy Spirit credit anymore? No, let’s campaign for “our guy” and create facebook fan pages*. Hey, if you can correctly predict the name of the next pope you’ll even win a shiny iPad.
The Holy Spirit is not impressed.
And you don’t think the Cardinals see these news stories and read the “predictions” of who will be our next pope? The technology has made it impossible for them to be completely oblivious. I would like to believe that the Cardinals are above influence and are humble enough to not let being already crowned by the media affect their humility, but they are human after all. And so are we, the outsiders gazing in. We can’t resist our affections for “our guy” and it’s this desire and excitement, as these are exciting times indeed, that compels us to root and cheer from the sidelines… and sneak a few peaks when we can.
I believe the Church was right to initiate the media black out. It’s also right to remove from the Cardinals their access to iPads and phones when the conclave begins next Tuesday. The decision of who will be our next Pope must and will be decided by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit alone. All the other media noise and chatter must be silenced so they Spirit can do it’s work and be the only influencing factor in the decision. Period. If it means sacrificing all the wonderful pictures and transparency for the sake of mystery than so be it.
We have a strange notion about truth and transparency that I don’t agree with. The media has declared all things transparent to be true. This is good for them; it keeps them employed. Have you ever noticed that when a person refuses to comment to the media they are painted by that media outlet as having something to hide. Only liars have something to hide. As if people, never in the history of our time, have ever openly lied. No. Keeping things from the public is automatically considered hiding. Hiding is a bad thing. As if the truth can’t still be true behind a closed door. Truth is not determined by the location in which it is revealed.
Because of this ridiculous notion we have about being transparent, retaining mystery is lost on the media and most of the public as well. But Catholics are intimate with the notion of mysteries therefore not knowing everything, down to the grittiest detail, doesn’t unnerve us to the point of suspicion and doubt. Personally, I think transparency is arrogance. Pure arrogance. We do not have the right to demand every detail of the conclave. While the images of the process are fascinating they are not owed to us nor do we deserve them.
Eight years ago when Pope Benedict was elected I found out at the same time the rest of the world did, as I watched from the outside. I had very little knowledge about the process of electing a pope. It was a foreign, secret process who’s mysteries I was not privy too. And yet, despite that, I still managed to be happy and hopeful about Pope Benedict just the same. I didn’t need all this transparency then and we don’t need it now.
Besides, over half of what the secular media reports about the Catholic Church is bias and inaccurate anyway.
*Cardinals not responsible for fan pages and campaigns started by individuals not associated with them. I want to make it clear I am no way implicating any Cardinal as campaigning for their own cause.
Related Link Worth Reading: No one expects Frodo for Pope; where Fr. Longenecker discusses the likelihood of the most unassuming pope. To which I agree. The Holy Spirit might elect for pope the man the media and public ignores the most.