Vatican shuts down smartphones, Twitter as conclave begins

Church makes sure what happens in conclave stays in conclave

As 115 Roman Catholic cardinals meet behind closed doors in the Sistine Chapel to choose a new pope, the historic tradition has focused a lot of attention on modern technology.

During the papal conclave, which lasts until two thirds, or 77, of the 115 cardinal electors agrees on a new pope, PCs, tablets and smartphones are forbidden. The cardinals aren't allowed to tweet, blog or even talk about the proceedings with anyone outside.

Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel
Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel to begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict. (Photo: Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

"The cardinals are asked to surrender their cellphones and other devices when they enter the Domus Santa Marta, so that they will have no contact -- incoming or outgoing - with the outside world during the entire conclave," said Scot Landry, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.

The archdiocese also noted that even the staff involved during the conclave are not allowed to use technology and are sworn to secrecy at the threat of excommunication.

The church is going so far as to install jamming devices inside the Sistine Chapel, according to Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Sistine Chapel also is swept for recording equipment and hidden cameras.

"Jamming devices will be installed in the Sistine Chapel to prevent electronic eavesdropping," she wrote in a blog post. "Staff who serve meals at the Casa Santa Marta, where the cardinals will stay during the Conclave, will be sworn to secrecy. Even who said, "Pass the salt" is a secret. In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal."

And that may not be out of the question.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, not only uses an iPad but also blogs and tweets.

"Let us pray that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Church to choose a new Pope who will confirm us in our faith," O'Malley wrote in one of his last tweets before the conclave began Tuesday. "The Catholic world is united in prayer, filled with confidence that comes from our faith."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said it says a lot about the ubiquitousness of mobile and social technology that the church has to go on a tech lockdown during the conclave.

"It's amazing to see that technology has gone to the extent where even the Catholic College of Cardinals has to be explicitly told not to blog, tweet, Facebook, or, assumedly, put together a Pinterest board concerning the conclave," he added. "Technology, particularly when it comes to mobile tech and social media, has penetrated every facet of our lives today. We're in an age where anyone can potentially, and instantly, reach out to a truly massive number of people and can, in turn, see what others are saying as well."

The beginning of the conclave was highly noted on Twitter. The hashtags #pope and #conclave were trending topics off and on throughout the day.

A new pope is being elected after Pope Benedict XVI retired as leader of the church on Feb. 28. He now is known as pope emeritus.

Pope Benedict, who made social media inroads at the Vatican, began tweeting in December using an iPad. His first tweet sent a blessing to the approximately 648,000 people who had begun following him before he had even made his first Twitter appearance.

At the time of his retirement, Pope Benedict had more than 1.6 million Twitter followers.

Shortly after he stepped down last month, all of Benedict's tweets were deleted. Instead of the Twitter account using Benedict's name, it now says, "Sede Vacante," which means the pope's seat is vacant. The deleted tweets now can be found on the Vatican's webpage.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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