I usually cover political betting – a wager category whose popularity peaks every four years during the US presidential election. However, the oddsmakers at MyBookie are currently offering odds on a different kind of election, one with arguably higher stakes for much of the world.

You can bet on the Catholic Church!

More specifically, on the next person to be named Pope, as well as the papal name they’ll choose.

I last wrote about MyBookie’s “Religious Prop” markets in May.
At the time, I gave the following forewarning:

It’s also worth noting that 95% of my Vatican knowledge comes from two sources:

  • The two seasons of HBO’s The Young/New Pope
  • The DaVinci Code (which I read back in 2003)

That is just as true today. Fortunately, I’ve done a bit more reading about the leading contenders to be named the next Pope – so that should help!

Pope Francis I

The sooner you place your Pope prop bets, the better!

After all, Pope Francis is already 83 years old (and turns 84 on December 17). By all accounts, the Supreme Pontiff is in good health. Still, things can deteriorate quickly for octogenarians, especially during an ongoing pandemic caused by a highly infectious virus that primarily harms older people.

It’s also worth noting that Pope Francis has already outlived both of his parents. His father, Mario Jose Bergoglio, died at the age of 50, while his mother, Regina María Sivori Gogna, passed away in 1981 at 69 years old.

On the other hand…

As the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope has access to the best medical care on the planet – care his Argentinian parents could have only dreamed of in the mid 20th century.

You must also keep in mind that Francis is the first Jesuit Pope.

The Jesuits are an exceptionally disciplined and committed order within the Catholic Church. We can glean additional information about his lifestyle from the papal name he chose.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Cardinal, was the first to choose the name “Francis.”

Despite being a Jesuit, the choice was inspired by Francis of Assisi, the Catholic saint who founded the Franciscan religious order. The order’s Friars are incredibly devoted to caring for the sick and the poor.

Throughout his time in the Church, Francis has been known to live a quiet, simple life. As a Cardinal, he lived in a small apartment and took the bus to the Vatican rather than staying in the luxurious accommodations on-site and utilizing a personal driver. He even cooked his own meals.

I believe all of these facts bode well for Pope Francis’s longevity. This is not a man who’s ever indulged or allowed himself to be pampered. Active, self-sufficient people often live longer.

Conversely, being the Pope is a stressful, full-time job. Especially when you’re a Pope who does things like wash members of the congregations’ feet, routinely meets face-to-face with the public, and is always traveling.

No matter how healthy and active the Pope may be, the odds are strong that we’ll see another papal conclave within the next 5-10 years – probably sooner.

So, who might be replacing this groundbreaking Pope once it’s time?

Betting Odds on the Next Pope

The Next Pope Betting Odds
Cardinal Peter Turkson (GHANA) +300
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (PHILIPPINES) +400
Cardinal Marc Ouellet (CANADA) +600
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (AUSTRIA) +700
Archbishop Angelo Scola (ITALY) +750
Cardinal Timothy Dolan (UNITED STATES) +1400
Cardinal Peter Erdo (HUNGARY) +1400
Cardinal Vincent Nichols (ENGLAND) +1400
Cardinal Robert Sarah (FRENCH GUINEA) +1600
Cardinal Pietro Parolin (ITALY) +1600
Cardinal Odilo Scherer (BRAZIL) +1700
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (ARGENTINA) +1700
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (ITALY) +1700
Cardinal Agostino Vallini (ITALY) +1700
Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz (BRAZIL) +1700
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (HONDURAS) +1700
Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith (SRI LANKA) +2200
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (ITALY) +2200
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera (SPAIN) +2200
Cardinal Vinko Puljic (BOSNIA) +2200

Looking Back

Before we examine the betting lines for the next Pope’s papal name, which are the only odds listed in MyBookie’s “Religious Specials” section at the moment, let’s look at a market that was available back in May. The wagers posted above aren’t available currently, but will likely return in the near future.

Even if we can’t wager on the next Cardinal or archbishop to be elected to the papacy at the moment, we can still use the old odds to gain insight into who’s favored. Then, we may deduce what kind of papal name they may choose by learning about the individual candidates.

  • Is the future Pope more likely to be traditionally conservative or liberal?
  • Will they be young or old?
  • What will be their nationality?

All these questions will play a role in deciding their name – papal names are used to signal the direction in which a new Pope intends to take the Catholic Church, after all.

In August, a book titled The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates was published. In it, the author, Edward Pentin, a longtime Vatican correspondent, highlights 19 cardinals with the highest probability of succeeding Pope Francis.

Betting Tip:

Of the past six papal conclaves, only twice has a favored cardinal won. Two others were huge surprises, and the last two were from the “B list.”

Pentin thinks the next Pope is likely to be more conservative.

“I think the fact that (the new Cardinals) come from the peripheries adds an interesting element, a surprising element, perhaps,” the author told Raymond Arroyo in a television interview.

“The Global South, where these new cardinals come from, tends to be more conservative.”

He added: “I think, as the Roman saying goes, a fat pope follows a thin one, and I think we may well get the pendulum swinging back towards a more conservative pope, as that’s what usually happens.”

If Mr. Pentin is correct, the winning Cardinal will probably be one of the holdovers from Pope Benedict, many of whom have sparred with Francis over the latter’s theological priorities. He names Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, Robert Sarah of Guinea, and retired archbishop Angelo Scola as early favorites who fit this description.

Cardinal Sarah would be the first African Pope since Pope Gelasius I in 492 AD.

“A lot of people here and elsewhere see him very much as a prophetic voice,” Pentin told Arroyo. “Someone who is speaking very much to the people at a time when the Church doesn’t have so much of a strong voice.”

Another frontrunner is Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State.

Despite being connected to a Vatican financial scandal, Parolin is an influential figure in Rome. He’s also responsible for a secret agreement between the Catholic Church and China regarding the appointment of bishops.

Between China’s growing influence on the world stage, Vatican history, and the growing schism in the Church – conservatives vs. Francis’s more progressive promotions – I strongly suspect the next Pope will hold more conservative religious views while representing something new and exciting for Catholicism on the surface.

Cardinal Sarah makes a ton of sense in that regard. While he’d return the Vatican to pre-Francis theological priorities, he’d be the first African to hold the position in millennia – giving the Church newfound excitement on the continent.

Assuming the next Pope is more conservative than Francis, we can expect them to choose a more traditional papal name – it won’t be a “first.”

Betting on the Next Pope’s Papal Name

Papal Name of Next Pope Betting Odds
Leo +330
Francis +330
John +400
Pius +400
Benedict +750
Gregory +750
Paul +900
John Paul +1000
Clement +1000
Boniface +1400
Innocent/Blessed Innocent +1400
Stephen +1400
Alexander +1700
Joseph/Joesephius +1700
Urban/Blessed Urban +2200
Celestine +2200

So, what are the most common papal names?

There have been:

  • 21 John’s
  • 16 Gregory’s
  • 15 Benedict’s
  • 14 Clement’s
  • 13 Innocent’s & Leo’s
  • 12 Pius’s
  • 9 Stephens
  • 8 Urban’s
  • 7 Alexander’s
  • 6 Adrian’s & Paul’s
  • 5 Celestine’s, Nicholas’s, and Sixtus’s
  • 4 Anastasius’s, Eugene’s, Honorius’s, and Sergius’s
  • 3 Callixtus’s, Felix’s, Julius’s, Lucious’s, Martin’s, Sylvester’s, & Victor’s
  • And a bunch more 1 and 2 use names you can find on this Wikipedia page.

Benedict (+750)

While “Benedict” is one of the most popular papal names, I believe we can eliminate that option. It was the name taken by Francis’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who resigned in 2013. Pope Benedict XVI was the first to resign from the position since Gregory XII in 1415.

He cited deteriorating health as the reason. However, I strongly suspect there’s more to this story than the public is aware of. Almost all Popes die in the position; there hadn’t been a resignation in nearly 600 years. Whatever the real reason may be, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to take up the name so soon.


Francis (+330

I also feel comfortable predicting the next Pope won’t pick Francis II. As mentioned previously, the current Pope is already a controversial figure in the Vatican, and I’m betting on his successor being more conservative.


Leo (+330)

MyBookie has Leo listed as the favorite, alongside Francis at +330 odds. The last time the name was used was in 1878 by Leo XIII.

Here are some notes about his papacy:

  • Italian;
  • Issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum (a letter to all Catholics that addressed the condition of the working classes and discussed “the relationships and mutual duties between labor and capital, as well as government and its citizens”);
  • supported Christian democracy against Communism;
  • had the third-longest reign after Pius IX and John Paul II;
  • promoted the rosary and the scapular and approved two new Marian scapulars; the first pope to fully embrace the concept of Mary as mediatrix (refers to the role of the Virgin Mary as a “mediator in the salvific redemption by her son Jesus Chris”).

Sounds like a pretty conservative Pope who made a significant impact on the Catholic Church!

I think taking “Leo” at +330 is an excellent bet!

The Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest institutions in the world. After Francis’s progressive focus on solving hunger and poverty, his successor may want to signal their support for capitalism and democracy over the growing popularity of socialist and communist systems.

Earlier Leo’s were known for being the first to grant indulgences, commissioning Michaelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, and placing the Catholic educational system under the control of the Jesuits.

Almost every “Leo” was Italian (or Roman), except for two Germans and one Greek.


Pius (+400) or Innocent (+1400)

Historically, names like “Pius” and “Innocent” have been chosen to signal the virtues the new Pope wishes to embody. Assuming Francis’s successor is a conservative cardinal intending to return the Church to its former theological positions, one of these names makes perfect sense.

Innocent

The last Pope to take the name “Innocent” was Innocent XIII, who ascended to the papacy in 1721. The name was also used by four other Popes between 1591 and the end of the 17th century.

What stood out to me was the work of Innocent XI. He was admired for his “positive contributions to catechesis.” Catechesis is the religious instruction given to prospective Catholics before baptism.

If the next Pope comes from an African or Asian country, they’ll be expected to grow the congregation in their home regions. It makes a lot of sense to choose a name that represents teaching Catholicism to new converts in that case.

Pius

The last “Pius” was The Venerable Pius XII, who was Pope from 1939 through 1958. He’s credited with intervening for peace during World War II.

“The start of the pontificate of Pius XII occurred at the time of the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust, which over the course of the war would see the murder of millions of Jews and others by Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

“Pius employed diplomacy to aid the victims of the Nazis during the war and, through directing his Church to provide discreet aid to Jews and others, saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Pius maintained links to the German Resistance, and shared intelligence with the Allies.

“His strongest public condemnation of genocide was, however, considered inadequate by the Allied Powers, while the Nazis viewed him as an Allied sympathizer who had dishonoured his policy of Vatican neutrality.”

With the world inching closer to war again, as China challenges US global hegemony, the next Pope taking the name “Pius” makes a ton of sense to me. It’s a conservative name that represents a time when the Vatican was at the center of worldwide diplomacy.

Pius at +400 is my favorite bet at the moment.


Gregory (+750)

After “Pius,” my favorite papal name bet is “Gregory” at +750. Before Pope Francis, Gregory III in 731 was the last to be born outside of Europe. If I’m predicting the next Pope to come from Africa, he may want to use such a name to recognize this distinction.

Additionally, the most recent person to use the name was Gregory XVI in 1831. He was known for opposing “democratic and modernizing reforms in the Papal States.”

If we’re betting on Francis’s successor moving away from the current Pope’s progressive priorities, “Gregory” would make a loud statement in that regard.


John Paul (+1000)

“John Paul” is another exciting betting option.

John Paul I was elected in 1978 and only served for 33 days before dying. He was the first Pope to use two papal names.

He was succeeded by John Paul II, who was Pope for over 26 years until he died in 2005. St. John Paul II was known for traveling extensively, being the youngest person to start his papacy since 1846, and canonizing more saints than any Pope before him.

A new conservative Pope who wants to tell Catholics all around the globe his desire to be an active, traveling leader may wish to use the “John Paul III” name. It would also remind members of the Church of a more stable period in the recent past before Benedict’s resignation and Francis’s progressivism.