Penalty for BlackBerry Use in Conclave Really Could Be Excommunication

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Turns out that my speculation earlier about what changes Pope-Until-Friday Benedict XVI might make to the rules governing conclaves was a little behind the times, since he apparently has (very recently) already released an Apostolic Letter describing those changes.

Looking at this translation of the letter, I was literally astounded to see that two of my ten guesses were right.

I expected to get #1 right, because I had read somewhere that the Pope was going to allow the conclave to be moved up so that there might be a new Pope by Holy Week. Sometimes it seems funnier to start lists like that with something real and then escalate. But the astounding part is that I also got #7 more or less right: "Anyone caught checking a BlackBerry during the conclave will be excommunicated."

I was only thinking of the irritation caused by people who insist on checking their messages while you're supposed to be having an important meeting about legal strategy or scheduling or electing the next Pope or whatever. And the Holy Father probably does hate that, but his motivation here was the secrecy of the conclave. This may not apply to cardinals, but those assisting with the conclave must take the following oath: 

“I … promise and swear that, unless I should receive a special faculty given expressly by the newly-elected Pontiff or by his successors, I will observe absolute and perpetual secrecy with all who are not part of the College of Cardinal electors concerning all matters directly or indirectly related to the ballots cast and their scrutiny for the election of the Supreme Pontiff.”

I likewise promise and swear to refrain from using any audio or video equipment capable of recording anything which takes place during the period of the election within Vatican City, and in particular anything which in any way, directly or indirectly, is related to the process of the election itself.”

“I declare that I take this oath fully aware that an infraction thereof will make me subject to the penalty of excommunication 'latae sententiae', which is reserved to the Apostolic See."

“So help me God and these Holy Gospels, which I touch with my hand.”

Emphasis added.

So at least if your BlackBerry (or iPhone, or whatever) is a model that has a camera, I'd strongly suggest checking it at the door.