On the religion beat, it doesn’t get any better than a papal election. The international media go bonkers with speculation on who’s up or down in the cardinals’ secret maneuvering to select the next occupant of Peter’s throne, accompanied by sidebars on the arcane process, and culminating in those twice-daily gatherings in Peter’s square to watch for chemically-induced white smoke.
Analysis of the papabile (“pope-able”) personalities often turns out to be amusingly off-base. (You can forgive the Religion Guy for noting that Time magazine was the only major medium to name John Paul II as a prospect in 1978, because total credit goes not to yours truly as the New York religion writer but to crackerjack correspondents back when the weekly operated a Rome Bureau.)
By contrast, contemplate the journalistic beauty –- and boredom –- in picking a new head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”). If reporters have the time this week, they can already update their prepared articles on the man who will take charge upon the death of President Thomas S. Monson, who turns 88 on August 21.
(At the church-owned daily Deseret News, Monson was an ad executive and later general manager of its parent publishing and printing firm. The church operates without professional clergy so that, remarkably, its doctrinal authorities have secular careers minus the academic training in theology expected of the average Protestant parson or Catholic parish priest.)
As Godbeat veterans will be well aware, the new president is automatically the man (yes, necessarily a male) with the earliest date of admission into the LDS church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It’s as though the longest-serving cardinal would always become the next pope.