Centuries-old traditions blend with the latest electronic technology in the procedures for the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals who will gather within the next two weeks to elect the 262d successor to St. Peter - the next pope.
Strictest security precautions will guard the deliberations of the conclave against the leaks and gossip that have long been a major Vatican byproduct.
After the mass that begins the conclave, the cardinal electors will be dispatched to their cells, assigned them by lot unless medical reasons require special considerations. They the chambelain, Jean Cardinal Villot, with assistants, will search the conclave area to make sure no unauthorized person is inside.
In addition to the cardinals, the only persons allowed in the conclave area are three ecclesiastical functionaries and their assistants, two physicians, a few technicians and housekeeping personnel and enough priest to hear the cardinals' confessions in the principal languages.
There will be no translators so, since the cardinals come from all continents, it is likely that Latin, now largely in diuse, will become the common language.
"Although anyone is free to speak any language, they will probably communicate in Latin most of the time," Ernesto Civardi, secretary of the Sacred College of Cardinals, told Associated press.
The area of the conclave is locked from the outside as well as within.
Isolated in their enclosure, the cardinal-electors will begin the voting, barring the unlikely possibility that they will elect a candidate by affirmation.
Four times a day - twice each morning and afternoon - they will drop cards, folded over twice, into a container.
Three of the cardinals will be chosen by lot as "scrutineers," to count the ballots and verify their authenticity. Each cardinal signs his name within the first fold of the ballot and adds a secret motto that authenticates it as his ballot.
Before the counted ballots are burned, along with any notes the cardinals may have made, three cardinals, also chosen by lot and designated as "revisers", double-check both the ballot cards and the tally of the votes.
If the balloting continues for three days without a candidate receiving a two-third of the votes plus one, the sessions are suspended for up to one day to allow for more extended dicussion and prayer among the cardinals.
The conclave that elected Pope Paul 15 years ago did so on the first day, reportedly on the fourth ballot. If the coming conclave is deadlocked for a prolonged period, the cardinals are empowered, by unanimous consent, to change the requirements to a simple majority-plus-one, or to a run-off between the two leaders.
The rules, set by Pope Paul in 1975, call for "frequent" checks to assure the continued security of the enclosure.
"During these visits, there shall always be present two technicians who by the use, if necessary, of appropriate modern equipment" will check for the presence of any bugging devices, the late pope's rules specify.
At the outset of the conclave, the cardinals swear a solemn oath never to reveal anything "that in any way relates to the election of the Roman pontiff (or) what takes place in the conclave . . . not to break this secret in anyway, either during the conclave or after the election of the new pontiff" unless specific papal permision is granted to do so.
Non-cardinals authorized to stay in the conclave enclosure are also required to swear secrecy.
One of the reasons for the great stress on secrecy lies in the nature of the office itself. Unlike a president or a prime minister, a pope is not only the head of a political organisM, but plays a significant theological role as well. One of the titles he bears is "Vicar of Christ."
His selection, in theory at least, i a reflection of the promptings of the Holy Spirit.For Catholics, the papacy is the symbol of the oneness of the church. It is therefore essential that the pope maintain an image far removed from factional and partisan disputes.
Despite past precautions, however, there have been leaks of what happened in papal conclaves.
It is widely believed, for instance, that in the conclave that ultimately chose Pope John XXIII, then - Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini, who later became Pope Paul, received several votes.
Sensing the sentiment of the College of Cardinals, John, in one of the early actions of his brief reign, made Montini a cardinal.