Precinct 333

Monday, April 11, 2005

De-Bugging The Conclave

In 1978, at the time of the two previous conclaves, I was fascinated by the need to sweep the area for bugging devices before the College of Cardinals convened. It is an even more serious matter now.

VATICAN CITY -- Computer hackers, electronic bugs and supersensitive microphones threaten to pierce the Vatican's thick walls next week when cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel to name a papal successor.

Spying has gotten a lot more sophisticated since John Paul II was elected in 1978, but the Vatican seems confident it can protect the centuries-old tradition of secrecy that surrounds the gathering.

"It's not as if it's the first conclave we've handled," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vatican security refused to discuss the details of any anti-bugging measures to be used during the conclave. But Giuseppe Mazzullo, a private detective and retired Rome policeman whose former unit worked closely with the Vatican in the past, said the Holy See will reinforce its own experts with Italian police and private security contractors.

"The security is very strict," Mazzullo said. "For people to steal information, it's very, very difficult, if not impossible."

Thousands of reporters will be watching as the 115 cardinals gather in the Sistine Chapel on April 18. Hackers and government informants may also be monitoring the conclave.

The temptations to spy will be immense. The papal election will likely see keen competition, notably between reformers and conservatives. It is also expected to witness a strong push for the first non-European pope.

Revelations of the proceedings could prove embarrassing to the Vatican. For instance, sensitive discussions on a papal candidate's stand on relations with Muslims or Jews, recognizing China rather than Taiwan or views on contraception would be sought after by governments or the press.

Just when you might have been willing to look at the conclave as a religious event rather than a political one, the reality of technology intrudes.

Oh, and the penalty for breaking the secrecy of the conclave during the event? Excommunication, which may be lifted only by the new pope himself.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons License.