I was in my campus office grading papers, prepping for my night class, and periodically scanning the internet in the hopes of finding something to do other than grade papers or prep for class when someone tweeted "habemus papam #fumatabianca"--and I gladly abandoned my grading for what I thought would be twenty minutes but turned into more like ninety.
And, whatever. The end of a papal election is a cool enough thing to see "live," and with much the same pleasure as watching the Oscars or a royal wedding: there's lots of pageantry; other people are watching and chatting about it; there's a small chance that actual history might be made. In other words, it's 4 parts diversion to 1 part news. While waiting for the Big Reveal, I hung out on Facebook and Twitter trading jokes with friends about what was taking so long, about the goofy marching band, and about how well the next pontiff might or might not accessorize.
As a Catholic, I care who the next pope is, but a new pope is unlikely to impact me that much (at least compared with a new pastor or bishop or even a new U.S. president). Moreover, I'm not a deeply-informed Vatican-watcher. I'd followed the coverage of Benedict's resignation closely and had read up on some of the papabili, but I didn't know anything about Bergoglio; if I'd heard his name mentioned as the runner-up in 2005, I'd forgotten it as soon as I'd learned it.
All of this is to say that I'm not setting myself up as a vaticanista, nor as someone who takes the papal election unduly seriously. But I still found myself exasperated by all the morons on the internet who took the occasion to leave drive-by comments (often on otherwise funny, smart, irreverent threads) like, "don't you know Bergoglio's VERY AGAINST gay marriage??" or "The fact that a woman can't be pope is OUTRAGEOUS!!! When is the Catholic Church going to get with the program?!"
Uh, yeah. Everyone on planet earth knew that no woman was going to be elected, nor anyone who had ever said anything that might even be misconstrued as supporting gay marriage. Thanks for that trenchant and original critique, Mr. New-Age Hippy, Ms. Ex-Catholic, or Dr. Atheist.
Partly it's the tone-deafness and the bad manners that bug me. When someone you know is enthusiastic about something (even something you think is dumb or evil) you don't barge in and say "OMG THAT'S SO STUUUPID." No. You bite your tongue, you roll your eyes. . . and you talk smack about that person behind her back. Partly, it's the combination of ignorance and arrogance. Not all of those fascinated with the papal election are themselves religious: I have secularist friends who are historians or just political junkies who were posting updates on the conclave several times a day. But those of us who do care, for whatever reason, are probably more informed than those who just want to talk about how bad the Catholic Church (or organized religion, or religion) is.
Few practicing Catholics are unaware that problems exist in the church, and none of us, liberal or conservative, are really that interested in ignorant opining, even when it comes from those with whom we might otherwise make common political cause. As a progressive Catholic, I can assure my liberal, non-Catholic friends that I know the church's problems much better, and have thought about them much more deeply, than you have. I'm completely not interested in your opinion--unless you are, let's say, a religious historian, or otherwise have access to some immediately relevant body of knowledge or area of expertise that you're going to draw upon.
If you're genuinely interested in knowing what (and how) I think, I'll happily have that conversation with you one-on-one. But I'm not going to engage with someone whose own insight is minimal and who isn't interested in listening.
As for Francis, I'm reserving judgement. I joked on Facebook that the options were basically "huh! coulda been worse!" and "OH NO"--and we seem to have gotten the former. I'm prepared to be surprised by him, but won't be surprised if I'm not. Popes are like Supreme Court justices: there's stuff we sorta know about them, but it's not always predicative--especially since they serve for life and aren't directly answerable to anyone.
Change will come, sooner or later, either from inside or outside--and when it comes it's going to be dramatic. Increasingly, I think I might be alive to see it. Whether that's a good thing only time will tell.