Woman builds website devoted to learning about pope election process

March 1, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 28, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.

When Pope Benedict XVI put in his resignation more than two weeks ago, Dorian Speed decided to launch a website dedicated to explaining the pontiff election process to Catholic laypeople.

Speed, a lifelong Catholic and Web designer - who executed the re-design for the Victoria Chamber of Commerce website - went immediately to the Internet after learning Benedict was stepping down with no explanation.

But there, her Google searches about the papal conclave, a meeting of the College of Cardinals who will elect the new pope, were stifled by confusing and unreliable sources.

"When we heard about the Holy Father's resignation, the first thing I Googled was 'What happens at the papal conclave?' There was an excellent article on About.com, but I was like, 'Really? Why are there not more Catholic articles about this?'" said Speed, 38. "It's not that anyone could have anticipated this, but there should have already been information from Catholic sources online."

As a former Catholic high school theology and world religions teacher, Speed said she thought it was important to build a website where people could have basic questions answered about Catholicism, as well as links to reliable and academic sources about the papal election process.

"I wanted to put information out there for teachers and others to answer simple questions that people might have," she said. "The website answers questions as basic as, 'What is the significance of the pope's hat,' and 'Why is the Vatican in Rome.'"

The website, electingthepope.net, provides information about what Catholics believe, pastoral and spiritual practices, and facts about the conclave. There's also a link to explain common Catholic symbols and wardrobe items worn by the high bishops.

"The Catechism is online and it's very thorough, but it's hard to understand if you aren't Catholic," she said. "Wikipedia is good source for overviews, but we want people to look beyond that for other great sources. Our website helps do that."

Speed said she desired the content on the website to be as diverse as possible. So she sought out the assistance of informed Catholic writers from across the nation, to contribute their expertise.

Many of the contributors are educators, Catholic bloggers and catechists, though none are theologians. Speed describes the writers on her site as lay experts in Catholicism.

"We're not really answering questions on theology. It's not for that. It's definitely a laity, volunteer-driven effort," Speed said. "And people can ask questions to the website and someone will write back with a response."

Benedict XVI's resignation was delivered Thursday, and the Vatican's Conclave of Cardinals must begin their process of electing a pope within 15-20 days of the resignation date.

Like many Catholics around the globe, Speed said she is looking forward to the announcement of the next Bishop of Rome.

"I have no predictions, and I really have no preference. I know that whoever it is they will do a good job," she said. "I loved Benedict XVI, even more than Pope John Paul II. I really felt like he understands what it means to be a Christian in the modern world. I'm really just excited to see who will be our next spiritual leader."

With Easter looming, Catholic officials hope to install a new pope by March 24.

And after the election takes place, Speed said her website will continue to expand for those interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.

"One of the things I love about being Catholic is the rich heritage and symbolic language that we have passed on to the world through the patronage of the church. I would like the website to be a place where people can come learn more about that," she said.



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