The Oath of Secrecy: Because You Can’t Be Too Careful

The media has been abuzz with news about the phone-jamming equipment being installed on the walls and under the raised flooring in the Sistine Chapel, which will ensure that one enthusiastic Cardinal doesn’t spoil the surprise for the world, when a new Pope is elected.

But what about the other people who work inside the walls of Vatican City, and who may hear the Princes of the Church chatting over dinner, sharing a joke in the hallway at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, or whispering secrets in the sacristy before Mass?

Swiss Guards are among Vatican staff who will take the oath of secrecy.

In fact, everyone in the Vatican is sworn to secrecy—so that when the Cardinal Protodeacon steps out onto the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and proclaims “Habemus Papam” (“We Have a Pope”), we won’t have read it first in the National Enquirer.

But how do they avoid a potential “Vatileak”—especially in the case of such profoundly important news?

The American Cardinals may speak candidly on their bus to the General Congregation– so their bus driver, too, must take the oath.

The Vatican Information Service offers a helpful explanation.  First, they report, the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff  has announced that at 5:30 p.m. today in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, the officers and assistants of the Conclave process will take the oath of secrecy.

The Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” (No. 46) prescribes that all, both ecclesiastic and secular persons, who serve in support positions and who are involved with the Conclave in any way must receive prior approval from the Cardinal Camerlengo and the three Cardinal Assistants.  The staff (drivers, hotel staff, drycleaners, gardeners, household help and more) who have been investigated and pre-approved will take the oath of secrecy, as prescribed in No. 48 of that document.  Those staffers entrusted with confidential information include:

  • Vatican drivers are exposed to all manner of confidential information, and so must pledge to maintain secrecy.

    The Secretary of the College of Cardinals

  • The master of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff
  • The masters of pontifical ceremonies
  • The religious who supervise the pontifical sacristy
  • The ecclesiastic chosen by the cardinal dean to help him in his duties
  • The religious charged with hearing confessions in the various languages
  • Doctors and nurses
  • The personnel for preparing meals and cleaning
  • Florist staff and technical service personnel (UDG, Nos. 5 and 51)
  • Personnel responsible for transporting the Cardinal electors from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Apostolic Palace
  • Elevator attendants at the Apostolic Palace
  • The Colonel and a Major of the Corps of Pontifical Swiss Guards responsible for surveillance around the Sistine Chapel
  • The Director of Security and Civil Protection Services with some assistants.

Vatican guides and staffers must be well prepared, well informed, and very loyal.

They will first be instructed on the meaning of the oath.  Then, each employee will have to pronounce and personally sign the prescribed formula before Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B. Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, and in the presence of two apostolic protonotaries.