We're all stocking up on beer and chips and cases of altar wine for next week's conclave and celebratory smoke signals. How to while away the hours till the college of cardinals gets together Monday to pick a new pope? Well, you can dip into the beer and chips early, or you can place online bets on the outcome of the papal election. Or both.
Paddypower, an Ireland-based wagering site, is taking bets on which cardinal will become the next pope. The current favorite (now at 7-2, down from earlier quotes of 11-4 and 3-1) is Francis Cardinal Arinze (to use the traditional R.C. title) of Nigeria (he'd be the first pope from Africa in 15 centuries). Interesting that of the top 10 on the Paddypower list, just three are from Italy (and five of the top 13 listed candidates are Italian). The non-Italian betting favorites are from Honduras (No. 2 on the list), Germany (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a conservative Vatican insider), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Portugal. Personally, I think the next pope will be Italian; the Vatican has had its fling with flamboyant outsiders for awhile. If you're looking for a long-shot to fund the kids' education, try Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, one of several cardinals listed with the longest odds of 125-1. Hey, that's better odds than the lottery, at least in California.
Paddypower also has some side propositions if you're really determined to lose some money: what name the next pope will take, how many days the election will take, and -- best of all -- will the next pope fulfill a medieval Irish prophecy foretelling the end of the papacy?