ROME – On Tuesday when 115 red-capped cardinals file into Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope they will be searched by guards to ensure no smartphones and tablets go in with them, and a jamming device will silence calls, emails and tweets, to further enforce their oath of secrecy in this technological age.
A so-called Faraday Cage blocking outside electrical fields has been installed in the Sistine Chapel area, marking the Vatican’s most high-tech effort to keep a conclave under wraps.
It follows the recent Vatileaks scandal and alleged leaks during the 2005 conclave.
But besides shielding against temptation, the signal block also underscores prominent Catholic prelates’ increasing use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with their flocks.
Seventeen cardinals in the conclave have Twitter accounts. That may not seem like many, but is a high number considering that their average age is around 70, and use of social media by the Vatican is relatively recent.
Benedict XVI, the first pope with a Twitter account, tweeted a final farewell on Feb. 28 before boarding his helicopter, like a rock star, to retire from the papacy.
That Twitter account, @Pontifex, which has 2.5 million followers, has been suspended but not shut down, in hopes Benedict’s successor will use it, Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontificial Council for Social Communications told Vatican Radio.
The new pontiff will also succeed Benedict on the Pope App, launched in February, which features papal speeches, masses, meditations and a live webcam on St. Peter’s Square. It was designed by Madrid-based 101, credited with bringing the Vatican into the digital age.
As for the tweeting cardinals, the one with the most followers is joke-cracking New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, with more than 90,000 followers.
Dolan recently tweeted his CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour in which he said that people who thought he would be the next pope “might be drinking too much grappa or smoking marijuana.”
After Dolan, with more than 43,000 followers, comes Italy’s Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican culture minister, known to quote Amy Winehouse, though not in his tweets.
Both are among top tipped papal contenders.
By contrast, Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson, Africa’s best hope for pope, who was considered a frontrunner but is now said to be losing momentum, has about 5,000 Twitter followers. But, then again, he only started his account on Feb. 28.
Here’s Turkson’s tweet on March 8, when the conclave date was set.
“He who does not look ahead always remains behind. Your continued prayers help us discern God’s will. To move our Church forward.”