Natasha Bita of The Australian reports on the security arangements for the conclave to determine the next Pope:
Security specialists are sweeping the Vatican for bugs and installing jamming devices to stop any errant cardinals using their mobile phones in the lead-up to next week’s secret papal vote.
Wary of secret service agents, nosey journalists and even greedy gamblers spying on the conclave’s deliberations, the Vatican has hired espionage experts to inspect the Sistine Chapel for hidden microphones and spy cameras.
The security squad will rip open cushions, scrutinise carpets, inspect ventilation shafts and check that pipes, electrical wiring and lights are where they are supposed to be, La Repubblica newspaper reported yesterday.
It said the security experts were worried about laser microphones that can eavesdrop on conversations 400m away by recording vibrations on the windows of the Sistine Chapel.
The 115 cardinals who gather in the chapel on Monday to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.1billion Catholics will be asked to surrender their mobile phones, tape recorders and electronic organisers at the door.
All of this makes sense, in a sense, if they really want to keep the meeting secret, which they obviously do. Of course, there is one really odd contradiction, leading to one (possible) vulnerability, of which there seems to be at least one in every security arrangement these days:
The cardinals will be frisked by guards supervised by the papal chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo of Spain.
La Stampa newspaper reported that the Vatican would use US technology to jam GSM, dual and tri-band mobile phones with an electromagnetic “wall” covering the cardinals’ hotel-style residence of St Martha’s — built between 1992 and 1996 with the succession process in mind — the Sistine Chapel and the 1km road linking them.
And as a cone of silence drops over the Vatican, voting cardinals will be denied access to newspapers, radio and television, while steps will be taken to stop them having chance encounters with cleaning staff.
So, it seems that somebody does not entirely trust the Cardinals not to hide a mobile phone from the guards and then use it anyway. Putting aside any theological issues, keep this in mind for the next point:
The late Pope John Paul II, worried that media analysis of papal candidates would threaten cardinals’ “independent judgment” in the lead-up to their vote, imposed the ban by changing the church constitution in 1996. It bars the use of any technology that can be used to record or transmit voices, images or writin
Apart from the cardinals, the constitution permits within the conclave precinct only enough priests to take confession in any language, two doctors, cleaners and catering staff, and two trusted technicians to sweep for electronic bugs.
Now, I’m not a Catholic, so forgive me if any of this is based on some misunderstanding about Catholic rules, but I see a glaring contradiction here. Suppose we assume that confessions are supposed to be confidential (that’s one of the rules, right?) and that conclave deliberations are supposed to be confidential (that’s clear from the article). In order for this to work, the priests who take confession from the Cardinals have to be completely trusted not to reveal what they say, right? They also have to be trusted not to use the confession as an opportunity to influence the Cardinal who’s confessing, nor to use the confession as an opportunity to pass information between the outside world and the conclave. However, for some reason the Cardinals are obviously not completely trusted not to bring a cell phone into the conclave grounds — and use it — in violation of the rules.
Hence, the contradiction: Why is it that the priests are trusted, but the Cardinals are not trusted?
Are the priests going to be sequestered also? Even if they are, they might still be able to use their position to influence the Cardinals, and if I understand things correctly, no one is supposed to influence them during the conclave. (Catholics, help me out here: is there a reason why the Cardinals can’t just confess before and after the conclave?)
(By the way, it’s probably a good idea to ban cell phones from the premises, even if they trust the Cardinals not to use them. Why? It’s possible that some nefarious person could hide a bug in some Cardinal’s cell phone and eavesdrop on the proceedings. However, this would not require frisking and all that.)
There may also be the problem of making sure no one manages to kidnap a Cardinal and replace him with an imposter who’s not a Cardinal. These guys are from all over the world, and don’t meet together all that often. I wonder how they verify that the person who was recently appointed (and less personally-known to the others) is who he says he is.