A view of the Sistine Chapel where the papal conclave will get underway Tuesday in Vatican City, Vatican. The cardinals are set to enter the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, after he became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the role. The one change in a ritual that goes back centuries: the deployment of technology to ensure absolute secrecy and prevent electronic snooping on the 115 cardinals.
An April 18, 2005, photo of cardinals entering the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican before the start of the conclave that ultimately elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI. Somehow, the news leaked and German media was able to report the election before the official word from the Vatican. This time around, both the Sistine Chapel and the Santa Marta residence are being swept electronically, and the Vatican's police force has installed electronic-jamming devices underneath the Sistine Chapel's elevated floor to keep potential snoops at bay.
The cardinals, who are sworn to secrecy not to disclose the proceedings, are forbidden to use any sort of recording or transmissions technology. Upon entering the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will make the following promise: "We promise and swear with the maximum loyalty to observe, both with clerics and laymen, the secrecy of all that regards the election of the Roman pontiff and what takes place in the place of election." That comes after a spate of articles in Italian newspapers detailing internal Vatican discussions about the future pope. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was not pleased, telling reporters: “I don't know who is violating the pact of secrecy” and that “if anyone knows who is violating this, they should say so."
The Italian newspaper La Stampa reports that a technology shield has gone up around the Synod Hall, where the pre-conclave meetings take place, to jam the use of cell phones and deactivate the area's wireless network.
Don't underestimate the Vatican police's technology prowess. The agency's wiretapping campaign resulted in the arrest of Pope Benedict's former butler Paolo Gabriele for leaking documents to an Italian journalist in early 2012. On Oct. 6, Gabriele (second from right) was convicted of stealing secret documents from the Vatican and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
An example of a Faraday cage kit. Faraday cages are used to block external electric fields. The Vatican is said to be deploying Faraday cages to block any external radio frequency signals transmissions.
Before the news officially gets released, the world will learn of the election of a new pope from the use of a very low-tech action: white smoke emitting from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel — a signal that the Catholic Church cardinals have elected a new pope.