Papal Balls

When a priest invites an altar boy to come up and feel his balls, it doesn't usually end well. But fear not. All that is happening here is the culmination of the Coptic Church of Egypt's months-long search for a Pope. Representatives of the clergy and laity had already voted, but in time-honoured fashion the final choice was left to a blindfolded boy. Weird, perhaps, but at least it works: the Copts now have a new pope, Bishop Tawadros, while the secretive Crown Nominations Committee apparently hasn't managed to agree on a choice for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, even though when Rowan Williams told the world he was moving to Cambridge the late Pope Shenouda III was still going strong. And the process is much more transparent than the CNC, literally so in fact.

The scene in Cairo's main cathedral, and indeed the atmosphere, was incongruously like the National Lottery draw. The three names were placed in clear balls, which in turn were placed in a glass urn and swizzled around before the chosen boy was led up to the altar. Loud cheers erupted when the name of the lucky winner was read out. But was all entirely as it seemed? Watch closely:

It looks to me as though the officiating bishop is guiding the boys hand in a suspiciously firm manner. I've watched the earlier part of the proceedings (the video is over 4 hours long, so I'm not putting it up here, but it's on YouTube) and it strikes me as being quite vulnerable to influence. The same man was responsible for folding up the pieces of paper, putting them inside the glass balls, putting the balls inside the urn, sealing up the urn with ribbons and wax (a process that took several minutes and which any magician would recognise as being a classic piece of misdirection) and, later, briefly shuffling the balls. The shuffling was so perfunctory, the officiant - who was not blindfolded - could easily have kept track of which ball was which.

I'm not saying that the choice of the new Pope of Alexandria was rigged. But the whole thing does look decidedly iffy.


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