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Getting the Pope Wrong: A Day in the Life

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 21, 2005

It's not that I don't like Pope Benedict XVI. I just didn't think Cardinal Ratzinger would be elected. I also didn't think the conclave would be so brief. In fact, there was a great deal that I didn't think about correctly on April 19th.

My intellectual mishaps began shortly before noon when I posted my weekly column entitled China and the Conclave. It probably wasn't a brilliant column, but I thought it had a certain degree of relevance with the conclave likely to be in session for the better part of a week at least. Within ten minutes, white smoke appeared over St. Peter's square.

Fortunately, I had already written and posted a more relevant News & Notes piece on papal primacy. Nonetheless, as we gathered in front of the TV with the rest of the world, someone mentioned that Cardinal Ratzinger was considered by many to be the front runner. For perhaps the fifth or sixth time that week I emphasized again how unlikely it was that Ratzinger would become Pope. Hadn't he had an utterly thankless and even widely hated role under John Paul II? Hadn't the Cardinals learned the value of relative youth from the first years of John Paul's pontificate? Wasn't the Catholic center shifting away from old Europe?

Who would dare contradict me in a room full of junior staff? The Holy Spirit, that's Who. But then I've always had this problematic relationship with the Holy Spirit: I may say jump, but He doesn't ask how high.

I didn't have long to nurse my wounded pride, however, because all our Catholic web sites exploded with activity as people hit the Internet to gather information, especially from Catholic World News, which quickly ground to a halt under the unprecedented load. The interest in the newly-elected pope was far more sudden and concentrated than anything we had seen before, even in this recent period of extremely high traffic. In any case, I had not anticipated the incredible volume.

Immediately, Peter and I set to work to find a way to distribute the load so that Phil Lawler's Catholic World News site could keep running. Over the next hour, after a little experimentation, I developed The Plan. The Plan consisted of certain abstruse (to me) adjustments to our firewall which would distribute incoming traffic on the CWNews IP address to two different web servers. Unfortunately, while this partly worked, certain critical functions were lost, so we had to roll back the changes.

All this had already taken too much time, but the worst was still to come. To make a long story short, when we rolled things back, nothing worked. And for the next four or five hours we tried in vain to discover what setting had become corrupted that made it impossible to take any traffic at all on the original CWNews server.

A word to Catholic World News subscribers and visitors: None of this was Phil Lawler's fault. None of this was Domenic Bettinelli's fault. None of it was the fault of Domus Enterprises, the corporation which owns and operates Catholic World News. All of it was the fault of Trinity Communications, the corporation which provides the CWNews internet infrastructure. Well, actually, none of it was Peter's fault either. In fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, it was all my fault.

CWNews was finally running again around 9:00 p.m., although we learned somewhat later that outbound mail had failed, which brought email communication with subscribers to a close. We fixed that the next morning. It was nobody's fault, but the buck stops here.

So it was one of those days, that great day on which the world's finest and holiest theologian was elected Pope. I take full responsibility for the errors. I'm sure the Holy Spirit was prompting me to apportion the blame among my staff in the usual way. But we never could seem to get together.

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