Pope Death-Watchers: Today’s New York Times has a funny piece on the haplessness of media pundits who have basically been waiting for John Paul II to die or retire…for the past ten years. Well, they’re at it again, now that the pontiff is flying back to his native Poland for a visit:

For at least a decade, publishing industry executives have been lining up books about the old pope or the new pope or the process by which the Roman Catholic Church makes the transition from one to the other.

When Robert Blair Kaiser, who covers the Vatican for Newsweek, got his advance from executives at Alfred Knopf three years ago, all of the parties involved were satisfied that the money would be more than enough to tide him over until the big event.

“I thought and they thought he would be gone by now,” said Mr. Kaiser, referring to the pope.

But, he added, “I’ve pretty much used up my advance, and now my editors are hoping that I’ll outlive the pope.” Mr. Kaiser is 71.

The field of expected books is so crowded that the title that Mr. Kaiser chose for his, “The Making of a Pope,” is virtually identical to the one that the Rev. Andrew Greeley, a prominent Catholic sociologist, chose for his.

Father Greeley’s is to be called “The Making of the Pope,” followed by a reference to whichever year that new pope ends up being made. He said he struck his deal with Little, Brown 10 years ago.

The authors of post-conclave books may have a tough time meeting contractual obligations to have their manuscripts ready within weeks or months of the big event. Most of these experts have also signed with one of the major American television networks to provide on-air commentary when the conclave happens.

ABC News has exclusive rights during that period to the Rev. Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame University professor, who said he sealed his deal with the network five years ago. ABC News also has dibs on Father Greeley, while Mr. Kaiser will be analyzing the proceedings for CBS News.

In many cases, experts on the Catholic Church have already given interviews for ready-made retrospectives on John Paul’s life, and they continue to give new ones every few months.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit journal America, said he began doing that 10 years ago, not just for television correspondents but also for newspaper writers working on obituaries of John Paul.

“They’ve got these things in the file, in the can,” said Father Reese, who said he will probably be an expert commentator on CNN. “The TV ones ? you’ll see me with no gray hair and with gray hair and with various hair styles and different glasses on. You’ll be able to date the interviews by counting the wrinkles.”