Full transcript of interview with Robert Royal, editor of The Catholic Thing and author of a book about the Swiss Guard. News story here (in Portuguese)
Transcrição integral da entrevista a Robert Royal, editor de The Catholic Thing e autor de um livro sobre a Guarda Suíça. Notícia aqui.
Who is in charge of security during the Conclave?
As I always the case the Swiss Guard, who are a military corps, not a police, are the ones who guarantee the security of the cardinals. They make sure they are locked securely into the Sistine Chapel, they accompany them as they go back and forth between the Casa de Santa Marta and the Chapel.
This is only the second conclave, by the way, in which the Cardinals are not locked into the Sistine chapel for the duration of the conclave. It was after John Paul’s election that he realized it was not the ideal circumstance, especially for the older men, to be in the chapel where there were no proper toilets or beds. So that is when they built Santa Marta and now they go back and forth. So the Swiss Guards are there for the physical security.
The actual security for the secrecy of the operations falls on the gendarmeria, the police force of the Vatican State, and there is some doubt as to whether they are doing a very good job. They are supposed to be jamming electronic signals, and people take oaths of secrecy, but even in the General Congregations we are hearing almost a day by day transcription of what is going on, so it’s going to be curious to see if when they enter the conclave these same leaks occur.
Could technology be being employed to eavesdrop on the General Congregations, or is it a question of the Cardinals telling their sources what is going on?
It’s hard to say. The Italian cardinals are notorious for leaking to the press. In 2005 it seemed to be the interpreters, who also take oaths of secrecy, who were leaking to the press, but there is virtually a daily account here in Italy of what is transpiring every day. So it’s hard to say, and the fact that the cardinals are, for the second time, going to be leaving and re-entering the Sistine chapel twice a day… it’s not very hard to have a smart phone record something and then, in the course of walking outside the area without electronic jamming, being able to transmit some things. We’ll know in the first day or two because we will start to see if there are reports of the actual voting in the Conclave, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if somehow there were electronic devices that will be doing that.
What would be the penalty for someone trying to pass this information out?
In theory all the cardinals take an oath on pain of excommunication if they disclose any of the proceedings, even after the Conclave has occurred. And yet we know that things have leaked out about voting in the past. We know that with John Paul II the Italians divided among two Italian candidates and allowed the Polish cardinal to become John Paul II. Similarly we know that in 2005 it was just a matter of several ballots before he was elected and we know pretty much how the different national voting blocks begin to move. Somehow this information comes out, it usually is after the fact and the Cardinals, in talking, reveal some things, sometimes not even intentionally. But this time I think we might see a somehow more electronically porous Conclave.
But it is also possible that journalists are just making it up?
Obviously there are a lot of people who do just make things up. But there are a lot of quite reputable professional journalists whose predictions and analyses have proven true. There are things which the Vatican spokesman would have denied. It was revealed in the last few days that the role of women had been discussed, and Islam, and specific cardinals had been named. If that had not been the case I think there would have been a denial, but there wasn’t.
You wrote a book on the Swiss Guard. They are seen as playing a largely ceremonial role, is that the case?
It has changed a little bit. Some of the security functions have been shifted off to the gendarmeria because they have more expertise, for example with electronic surveillance. But the Swiss Guard are still the last physical line of protection of the Holy Father. They may appear to be ceremonial but they also guard the outskirts of the Vatican City state. Many people who have been in Rome have seen the Swiss Guards who are at the various check points where people and vehicles enter and exit.
Since Paul VI the Swiss Guard have not been allowed to openly carry weapons. When I was writing my book about the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard, which took place in 2007, I asked the commandant and some of the others whether they were satisfied that they had the physical ability to defend the Vatican after 9/11. They wouldn’t quite tell me what else they were doing, but they did say that the re-evaluated the kind of protection they could provide at the checkpoints and they were satisfied, so I have to assume that they have some very serious weapons, should they have to use them. As you know the Swiss love guns, they love target shooting. Contrary to the image people have they appreciate guns, they know how to use them and they are skilled at it. They know what they are doing.