Sistine Chapel secured for first post-Vatileaks conclave

By Reuters Staff
March 8, 2013

(Stoves are seen in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican March 8, 2013. REUTERS/ Osservatore Romano )

For centuries the Roman Catholic Church counted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel to keep the process of electing a new pope secret. But the Vatican must now turn to an electronic arsenal in the face of tweeting cardinals and a year of crushing leaks.

Security is foremost as the red-hatted princes of the Church gather in Rome to elect the successor to Pope Benedict, the first pontiff in centuries to resign after a reign plagued by the ‘Vatileaks’ scandal, when his butler photocopied and leaked secret documents alleging corruption in the Holy See.

The word “conclave” means “with key” in Italian, and comes from a Latin term referring to a room that can be locked. But closed doors are no longer enough in the 21st century.

Workmen are preparing the Sistine Chapel, where the secret vote is expected to take place next week, by laying down a false floor over its ornate tiles and installing electronic jammers to block any signals escaping from within the 15th-century chapel, site of Michelangelo’s vast fresco “The Last Judgment”.

Prior to the vote, Vatican officials will sweep the chapel and the guesthouse that houses the cardinals with anti-bugging scanners to detect any hidden microphones.

No stranger to surveillance, Vatican police tapped several phonelines within the city state last year in their investigation into whether insiders helped butler Paolo Gabriele to leak documents to an Italian journalist in early 2012.

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