- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

VATICAN CITY — Cardinals destroyed Pope John Paul II’s ring and lead seal yesterday to formally end his reign, and the Vatican expressed confidence that jamming devices and other unprecedented precautions would keep the name of the new pope secret until it is announced to the world from a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

The official nine-day mourning period for John Paul, which began with a funeral attended by world leaders and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, ended with a Mass celebrated yesterday afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The destruction of John Paul’s fisherman’s ring and the seal marked a symbolic end of the pope’s 26-year reign and occurred during the cardinals’ last meeting before they sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel, beginning tomorrow, to choose a successor.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said “specialized technicians” of the Vatican Gendarmeria had made sure no communications could emerge from the chapel, and he said he was confident that no leaks would emerge from the conclave.

The Vatican Gendarmeria were responsible for all security surrounding the conclave, he said, ruling out speculation that experts from outside had been brought in to debug the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican hotel and other rooms where cardinals will meet.

Asked if the measures would prevent cell phone calls and communication devices from working in the Sistine Chapel, Mr. Navarro-Valls suggested that journalists visiting the chapel yesterday give it a try. Many cell phones didn’t work, but a few did have reception.

Guards said the jamming devices were under a false floor on which the cardinals will sit. During the conclave, cardinals will have no access to anyone who hasn’t taken an oath of secrecy.

The main courtyard of the Apostolic Palace will be sealed. Tourists will be barred from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican gardens, and nobody will be allowed on the path between the cardinals’ hotel and the chapel.

Housekeepers, drivers and elevator operators who have contact with the cardinals were among those who took an oath of secrecy on Friday.

The 115 cardinals under the age of 80 who are taking part in the conclave will move into the Domus Sanctae Marthae hotel this afternoon and will have dinner together, he said.

They will celebrate a Mass tomorrow morning and begin processing into the Sistine Chapel that afternoon. They then will take their oath of secrecy and hear a meditation from a senior cardinal.

Cardinals will decide only after taking their oath Monday afternoon whether they will take a first vote later that day or wait until Tuesday.

Mr. Navarro-Valls said smoke signals from burned ballot papers could likely be seen at about noon or 7 p.m. — unless a winner has been elected after the first ballot of the session.

A two-thirds majority, or 77 votes, is necessary for a winner. If, after about 30 ballots, no winner has emerged, an absolute majority of the cardinals decides how to proceed, either for a vote by an absolute majority or by balloting between two candidates, he said.

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