The cardinals who file into the Sistine Chapel for next month’s conclave will check their newspapers, cellphones and iPads at the door. The frescoed chamber will have been swept for bugs. If the last conclave is any guide, the prelates will cast secret ballots on a floor raised to make room for electronic jamming equipment.
As paramount as privacy is to the deliberations for selecting the next pope, sharing information will be critical to that pontiff’s success. When Benedict XVI’s successor is introduced on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica with the cry of “Habemus Papam,” his name and message will be liked on Facebook pages, blasted out on a Twitter account that has more than 1.5 million followers, downloaded onto a Vatican YouTube channel, linked in Catholic blogs and introduced across multiple platforms tended to by a small Vatican office off the Via della Conciliazione.
“The important thing for us is that people are sharing,” said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the church’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Celli oversees News.va, a hub for church news. On Saturday its homepage, designed in the Vatican’s white and yellow colors, featured the pope’s Twitter feed, MP3 audio files of the speeches of popular Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi during the pope’s Lenten retreat and video of the massive crowd that showed up for one of the pope’s last public appearances. (But no gifs.) The site attracts about 15,000 visitors a day, nearly half of whom are new visitors. The average time they spend on the site, Celli said, is 2 minutes 20 seconds. “They are not there by chance,” he said. “They came to read.”