Observance of Secrecy

Details about the level of secrecy Cardinals maintain during Conclave.

icon-home » The Church » The Pope » Election of a Pope » Observance of Secrecy

Even though they are no longer locked in, the process is still referred to as a “Conclave” and the process is made as private and secret as possible, even to the extent of ensuring that an electronic sweep is done in the chapel to detect any ‘bugs’ planted.

The cardinals take an oath promising secrecy and the order is given, Extra omnes (“all outside”). The oath of secrecy forbids them to communicate with anyone not involved in the election, or even to disclose details of the votes when the election is over.

It is the duty of the Cardinal Camerlengo and three nominated Cardinal Assistants to ensure that there is absolutely no violation of secrecy before, as well as during and after the voting. Anyone found to have broken this obligation will be subject to “grave penalties” according to the judgment of the future Pope, not excluding excommunication.

During the whole election process, the cardinal electors must avoid all written and verbal communication with anyone not admitted to the areas set aside for the Conclave, except in extreme emergencies.

In addition, the cardinals cannot receive or send messages of any kind outside Vatican City and no one legitimately present in Vatican City can deliver such messages.

The cardinal electors are specifically prohibited, for the entire duration of the election, to receive newspapers or periodicals of any sort, to listen to the radio or to watch television.

All cardinals present whether or not eligible to vote, cannot reveal directly or indirectly information about the voting and about matters discussed or decided concerning the election of the Pope in the meetings of Cardinals, both before and during the time of the election. This obligation of secrecy also applies to the cardinals who are not electors but who take part in the General Congregations, which take up the day-to-day running of Church governance during the vacancy of the Holy See.

Even after the election of the new Pope, no information about the proceedings can be divulged without express permission from the Pope himself.

Any person found to have accepted or offered bribes, or made pacts, agreements, or promises to influence results will face automatic excommunication. The 1996 document also exhorts electors to avoid being influenced by ‘friendship or aversion’.