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Church wraps up official mourning period for Pope

Vatican looks ahead to conclave

Associated Press

Vatican City — The Vatican on Saturday expressed confidence that the highly guarded deliberations to choose a new pontiff could be kept secret, while the cardinals destroyed Pope John Paul's ring and lead seal, formally signalling the end of his reign two days before the conclave begins.

Facing heightened concerns about leaks in a high-tech world, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said specialized technicians of the Vatican Gendarmeria were responsible for all security surrounding the conclave, which begins Monday. He ruled out speculation that experts from outside had been brought in to de-bug the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican hotel and other rooms where cardinals will meet.

The spokesman also said it would be about 40 or 45 minutes after the white smoke, accompanied by church bells, signals that a pope has been elected for a senior cardinal to announce the new pope's name from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Mr. Navarro-Valls said not even he would know the name of the pope until the announcement "habemus papam" — "We have a pope."

During their last pre-conclave meeting, the cardinals destroyed John Paul's Fisherman's Ring and lead seal — a formality that signifies the end of his reign — as the Roman Catholic Church was ending its official nine-day mourning period.

The Pope, who died April 2, was buried a week later in the grottoes below the basilica.

Cardinals will be sealed off from anyone who hasn't taken an oath of secrecy, Mr. Navarro-Valls said.

The main courtyard of the Apostolic Palace will be sealed; tourists will be barred from visiting the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican gardens and the path cardinals will take to get from their hotel to the Sistine Chapel will be cleared of all people, he said.

Asked if he was concerned that other people who will have contact with the cardinals — housekeepers, bus drivers and elevator operators — might leak word of the secret discussions, Mr. Navarro-Valls said: "Absolutely not." Those people all took an oath of secrecy on Friday, promising not to divulge anything they might learn.

The Vatican didn't say how many people took the oath, but official photographs of the event showed a few dozen people, including nuns, prelates and lay people, waiting to take their turn.

The 115 cardinals taking part in the conclave will move into the Domus Sanctae Marthae hotel on Sunday afternoon, Navarro-Valls added.

On Monday, they will celebrate a mass in the morning and begin processing into the Sistine Chapel at 4:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT). They will then take their oath of secrecy, hear a meditation from a senior cardinal and be shuttered behind the doors of the Sistine Chapel.

During the conclave, the cardinals will celebrate mass at 7:30 a.m. local time in the chapel of their hotel and be in the Sistine Chapel by 9 a.m. for an initial two rounds of ballotting. They will return for the two rounds of afternoon ballotting at 4 p.m.

Navarro-Valls stressed that during the week of pre-conclave meetings that cardinals have been holding, never once was the name of a papal candidate brought up.

"The climate of these congregations has been one of great familiarity," he said. This has been perhaps an expression of the great responsibility that all the cardinals feel at this time."

Secrecy has long been a hallmark of conclaves, but the threat of leaks and spying seemed greater than ever in an age of high-tech listening devices, some 6,000 accredited journalists prowling Vatican City and seemingly intractable global interest in the decisions of 115 red-hatted "princes of the church."

For the first time ever, cardinals will be allowed to move about Vatican City freely once the voting starts, although they are forbidden to talk to anyone who hasn't been sworn to secrecy. The penalty is severe — excommunication.

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