“Airlines usually upgrade cardinals to first class and offer them champagne,” says Catherine Pepinster in The Guardian. When the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church flew into Rome for this week’s funeral of former pope Benedict XVI, the prelates probably chose to “forgo the fizz as a sign of their mourning”. But it’s hard to imagine they have also refrained from the “whispers and politicking” that typically happen at such gatherings. Chance are, the whole thing resembled “an episode of Succession”.
Benedict’s resignation in 2013 means there is no need to appoint a new pope. But 86-year-old Pope Francis is frail: he recently underwent bowel surgery and needs a wheelchair for public appearances. And many of his reforms, such as his acceptance of indigenous culture blending into Catholic ritual, have angered traditionalists. So a lot of cardinals will already be scheming to replace him. The official line is that when prelates enter the conclave to elect a new pope, the Holy Spirit “guides them in prayer to find the right candidate”. But in truth, the job is secured through political-style “lobbying” – for which Benedict’s funeral offered the perfect opportunity.