Everyone has seen the Pope mobile, the modified Mercedes Benz SUV replete with a rear platform protected by bulletproof glass. First constructed after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 the vehicle is as much a status symbol as protector of the papacy. But what many people don’t realize is that not only is technology being used to protect the Pope, recently it has also been used to elect one.
Prior to the election of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, German media outlets were able to ascertain who was going to be named Pope before the official pronouncement of the College of Cardinals. This was followed in 2011 by another scandal called Vatileaks that leaked documents to the Italian press detailing the financial power struggles inside the Vatican.
In order to curtail leaks concerning the election of a new Pope, those in a position of power elected to take security measures to the next level. To start off with, the Sistine Chapel was closed to the public. A number of electronic security measures were added including everything from standard electronic security measures designed to protect the privacy of the cardinals, to a Faraday cage which can prevent electronic signals and cell phones from being received or transmitting.
Invented in 1836 by Michael Faraday, an English scientist and inventor, the Faraday cage is designed to shield its contents from electrical fields. Whether you realize it or not, most of us come into contact with Faraday cages on a daily basis. Elevators as a rule simulate a Faraday cage by creating an electronic dead zone that blocks cell phone signals. Ever use a microwave oven? It is a classic example of a reverse Faraday cage, in which microwave energy is kept within the unit, as opposed to the classical Faraday Effect that keeps electrical energy out.
Wikipedia describes a Faraday Cage as “an enclosure formed by conducting material or by a mesh of such material. Such an enclosure blocks external static and non-static electric fields. A Faraday cage’s operation depends on the fact that an external static electrical field causes the electric charges within the cage’s conducting material to be distributed such that they cancel the field’s effect in the cage’s interior. This phenomenon is used, for example, to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges.”
While not as well defended as a SCIF, the Vatican’s Faraday Cage was sufficient to allow the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13 to be kept under wraps and away from the prying eyes and ears of the press. As to whether Pope Francis I has access to a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility of his own, that’s a secret that’s still to be uncovered.