By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
As the College of Cardinals met in conclave to elect the next Roman Catholic Pontiff, eighth-graders at St. Edward School learned about the historic papal election process and held their own mock conclave.
By Wednesday afternoon, their fourth day of voting, the students had not yet reached a two-thirds majority. But the frontrunner was Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of Sao Paulo.
“We’re really going through it pretty much to the letter,” said Charlie Shircliff, a veteran teacher of religion and history whose classroom is decorated with posters of past popes and dozens of statuettes of saints. “I started teaching a unit on papal elections seven or eight years ago when Pope (Emeritus) Benedict was elected. I did some research and I really got into it. I think it’s really intriguing. This is an electoral process that’s been in place for centuries.”
Shircliff’s unit on papal conclaves began about two weeks ago when he narrowed the field of likely candidates to 14. Then his students learned about each of the candidates and studied issues facing the church today. This part of the process is similar to the cardinal electors General Congregation meetings which were conducted prior to the conclave.
The classroom conclave, designed to be as akin to the real one as possible, began on March 8. Voting by one religion class was held in the morning and the school’s other religion class cast ballots in the afternoon.
Spencer Karpinsky opened the morning conclave as its camerlengo or chamberlain and wore the “choir dress” of a cardinal — including the scarlet cassock, mozzetta (scarlet caplet) and a pectoral cross. In the afternoon religion class, Garrett Bunch played the role of camerlengo and led the second round of voting.
Students cast their ballots from an antique wooden kneeler placed in the middle of the classroom. A silver chalice with a paten on top sat on a table in front of the kneeler to receive their votes.
As the students knelt and laid their ballots — made to look like the real conclave ballots — on the paten, they prayed, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one whom before God I think should be elected.”
After the prayer, they tipped the paten containing their ballot into the chalice and then replaced the paten.
After the votes were cast, class “scrutineers” counted the ballots and called out the names written on each ballot. As they did this, one scrutineer passed a needle through each ballot and threaded them together. The class also has revisors who double-checked the ballots and the camerlengo also kept track of the voting.
The whole process took about 25 minutes. The morning class last week cast the most votes — 9 of 26 — for Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The total votes from both classes will be combined to determine if one candidate receives a two-thirds majority. Shircliff said he allows voting to continue for up to five days.
After they cast their ballots, students in the morning class discussed their selections. A majority of the students said they based their choice on what they learned about the candidates, though three students said they voted for the candidate they expect to be chosen in the real conclave.
Jackson Williamson said he selected Cardinal Turkson because, “I think he’d be better for the job and I think the Catholic Church needs to look at the Third World.”
Matthew Coontz said he selected Cardinal Turkson, “because he knows nine languages.”
Garret Bunch, who is in the afternoon class and served as its camerlengo, said he voted for Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
“I thought that his strengths outweighed his weaknesses,” Garret said. “He could help guide the church through and after all these scandals. He wasn’t involved in the scandals over the past few years. And he was very pointed about the sex abuse scandal, too.”
Spencer, the camerlengo for the morning class, said he voted for Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State.
“I think he’d be a good leader. He’s already the Secretary of Vatican City, so I think he’d already know what was going on around Vatican City.”
Both boys said theyd learned a great deal about the papacy during their studies.
“It was fun learning everything about the Vatican — they have a bowling alley — and about what the popes like to do,” said Spencer.
Garrett added, “We have had two skiing popes.”