VATICAN CITY. It’s been a week since North Carolina won its sixth NCAA men’s basketball championship, but there are still hard feelings–not among the fans of Gonzaga University, which lost the final game by 71-65–but halfway around the world in this, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Frank has been making himself scarce,” says Robert Eruzione, who covers college sports for L’Osservatore Romano, the local paper here, referring to Pope Francis I. “Usually he’s down in the cafeteria every day at 12 o’clock sharp, working the room, cracking Martin Luther jokes.”
The cause of the Pontiff’s sudden aversion to his co-workers is his dismal performance in the Vatican’s “March Madness” basketball pool. “He finished completely out of the money,” says Cardinal Francis Arinze, who split the third-place prize of one hundred Euros, about $106 in U.S. dollars, with Cardinal Mario Zinari. “A lot of the younger Cardinals smell blood in the water,” Arinze says. “If he could be so wrong about Kansas, what’s to say he isn’t totally off-base when it comes to the Communion of Saints and other weird Catholic dogma.”
The doctrine of papal infallibility dates officially from the First Vatican Council of 1869-1870, but it had previously been floated as a guideline in medieval theology and was widely accepted at the time of the Counter-Reformation. “It wasn’t anything that was cast in stone,” says religious historian Hubert Harris. “If the guys were hanging around after Sunday mass and there was a dispute over whether they should go out or order in, the Pope functioned as the tie-breaker. Over many centuries he got credit for the good calls and everybody forgot about the time the pizza guy got lost.”
The foray into sports betting represented a departure from papal tradition, as have several other liberal innovations that have marked Francis’s reign as the Vicar of Christ on Earth. “He’s really been a breath of fresh air,” says Cardinal Arinze, who many thought would be disappointed that the Argentinian was promoted over him. “He’s the guy who instituted ‘casual’ Fridays and put the frozen yogurt machine in the cafeteria.”