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'Total lockdown': Vatican preps security for papal conclave

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Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet makes his way to Vatican City on Monday. Security is tight ahead of the papal conclave, which is due to begin Tuesday.

ROME — Jamming devices to halt communication were installed at the Vatican on Monday, as part of a security lockdown ahead of the papal conclave.

The behind-the-scenes ballot process is supposed to remain a secret, but modern technology left Roman Catholic Church officials taking no chances.


Staff working alongside the cardinals voting inside the Sistine Chapel must swear an oath of secrecy.

"I expect they’ll be on a total lockdown," NBC News' Vatican analyst George Weigel said. "Security is tight. It’s got to be."

Jamming devices will be used at the Sistine Chapel inside the Vatican and the nearby guest residences at Santa Marta where cardinals will sleep during the conclave, officials told reporters on Friday.

After a weekend celebrating mass at their assigned parishes across Rome, all 115 cardinals are preparing to file into the Sistine Chapel tomorrow to begin the selection of the next pope. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

The move will ensure cardinals cannot communicate with the outside world or use social media. It will also prevent hidden microphones from picking up the discussions.

Any cardinals or Vatican workers –- such as those serving food in Santa Marta – breaching the code face excommunication from the church.

"Even who said, 'pass the salt' is a secret," wrote Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a blog post. "In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal."

To prevent any contact with the outside world, cardinals will also be taken the 750 yards from Santa Marta to the Sistine Chapel by bus.

"The Vatican highly prizes the traditional Conclave secrecy — even more so after the leaks scandal that have plagued it in the past months," said Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent for Religion News Service. "Most of the jamming measures were already in use in 2005, but of course, back then there were no smartphones and iPads. While cardinals will probably take their commitment to secrecy seriously, some of them are avid [Tweeters] and bloggers, and they might risk going into internet withdrawal if the conclave drags on too long."

Weigel added: "It would be difficult for anyone to use a cellphone, even out of sight. With 115 cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, space is tight and it would be obvious if anyone was checking their phone."

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The pope delivers his final audience in St. Peter's Square as he prepares to stand down.

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