People have asked me what the difference is between the atmosphere of the conclave in 2005 and the conclave of 2013. While we are still in the midst of the drama, I have a few observations.
The obvious one is that this is the first Twitter conclave. Social media reigns supreme in moments like these, and the Twittersphere is awash in notes, observations, humor and asides. Even the chimney on the roof has its own hashtag and claims it likes all the attention it is receiving.
|A man holds a Vatican flag as|
he waits in St. Peter's Square
for smoke signal from Sistine
Beyond the media, it should be remembered that in 2005 it had been a generation since the last conclave. In a very real sense, the number of people who had directly experienced – at a decision-making level – the two conclaves of 1978 was few and far between. From the point of view of the media, the average Vatican employee, the cardinals and of course the ordinary laity, 1978 was a distant memory rather than a living template.
In addition, the outpouring of grief at the death of John Paul II was almost disorienting. Remember the crowds stretching from St. Peter's to the Tiber River? It was overwhelming for everyone, including the Vatican.
Improving the process
In 2013, while we were all somewhat caught off guard by the timing of Pope Benedict’s announcement that he intended to "renounce" the papacy, at the same time he did us a favor by – in essence – giving us two weeks' notice.
Also, there are many more experienced people available now who knew the process and, no doubt, had made notes on how to improve it.
The Pontifical Council for Social Communications, for example, is one of the hardest working departments in the Vatican during this interregnum. They have had to put in place an accreditation process that is really quite efficient (despite my own bumps on that road!). An online website allowed journalists from all over the world to get their documentation in (including a promise not to break any embargoes), so that they could simply pick up their tessera or press pass when they showed up in Rome.
Instead of one crowded temporary media center to handle the newcomers (who are not allowed into the official sala stampa or press office of the Vatican), there are two: One is to the left of St. Peter's Square a few hundred meters. The other is down at the building where the Pontifical Council is housed (at the beginning of the broad boulevard leading up to St. Peter's called Via della Conciliazione.
The difference – and something that maybe could be addressed with the next conclave (God forbid anytime soon) – is that the one near the Square has all the documentation that is being handed out. However, because of the jamming equipment to prevent cell phone leaks, there is no Wi-Fi and no cell phone usage inside the building. There is DSL cable access to the Internet, but this limits flexibility.
In the media center that is further away, there is indeed wireless access, and it is a good deal calmer. This is where I am writing my blog right now, while staring at a live video fed of St. Peter's rain-drenched square.
Ah, that is one other thing that could be fixed for the next conclave: Better weather!
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.