Big Brother” comes to the Vatican

As a result of the document leak scandal, each Vatican employee has now been given a swipe card with a microchip so that they can be traced at all times


Having greeted the Swiss Guard in his magnificent uniform, an impeccably dressed monsignor walks briskly past until his eyes catch sight of the two security barriers located beyond the marble door frame. And his heart sinks with disappointment: from 1 january, anyone who enters or exits will have to swipe their new magnetic ID cards which are fitted with a chip that makes it possible to locate the card’s owner at any time.

Vatican City, Apostolic Palace, frescoed corridor in the Third Loggia: security checks in the Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s control room, have been boosted. And not just in terms of the times when the building can be accessed. This is just one of the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal. Locked archives, more stringent checks on those who wish to view dossiers and the obligation to declare every document that is photocopied. The Holy See has introduced a set of new, tougher rules, which even apply to the few members of the papal household. The personal secretaries’ office has been declared off limits to prevent a repeat of the leaked document incident.

Next to the Pope’s study

The Pope’s secretaries, Georg Gänswein and Alfred Xuereb share an office that is adjacent to Benedict XVI’s study. In this office, apart from the photocopier, there was also a desk with a computer for the papal butler. Angelo Guger, the now retired papal butler who served three Popes, used it for small secretarial tasks assigned to him by Fr. Stanislao Dziwisz. This is where Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s former butler, made copies of the famous leaked confidential documents that were passed on to Fr. Georg when the Pope had finished reading them. Because of the Vatileaks scandal, not only is the new papal butler, Sandro Mariotti, also known as Sandrone, not given any secretarial tasks, he is forbidden from spending time in the secretaries’ office. Security has also been tightened with regards to the handling of documents that make their way from the Secretariat of State to the Pope’s desk. These documents are then returned to the Secretariat of State with any additional notes and the unmistakable “B16” the Pope adds in his own writing to all letters read by him personally.

Clocking in and out

The card that shows what time someone entered and left and the apostolic building and the Secretariat of State is not in itself linked to the Vatileaks scandal. It is really a way to ensure everyone respects their agreed working hours, though long gone are the days when John XXIII could respond ironically to the question once asked to him by a diplomat who was interested in finding out how many people worked in the Vatican: “About half…” But the decision to fit the cards with a chip that can be used to locate the card’s owner anywhere inside the apostolic palace, is a telltale sign that the Holy See is tightening checks beyond working hours. “Only superiors have access to information in case there is a problem – a prelate told Italian newspaper La Stampa – and so people will not be monitored constantly.”

A “guardian” to oversee coded messages and photocopies

The man in charge of the Secretariat of State’s office for coded messages, the Slovenian monsignor, Mitja Leskovar, has the task of applying the ne security regulations. The prelate, who was born in Yugoslavia during the communist era and became an anti-espionage expert, handles confidential messages exchanged between the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncios. Even making photocopies has become complicated in a post-Vatileaks Vatican: those who wish to photocopy texts have to add their name and what it is they are copying, to a special register. The registers are then checked by Leskovar. Greater care and respect for the rules now need to be shown in order to access the two archives kept for the Secretariat of State’s first and second sections respectively. They are both located in the Third Loggia of the Apostolic Palace two different people are in charge of each one. The first archive contains documents relating to the Pope’s daily service to the universal Church and the Roman Curia, the editing of papal documents and reports by Apostolic Nuncios on local churches. The second one holds letters on the relations between the Holy See and the world’s various States. Any Secretariat of State official who wishes to consult one of these documents must fill in a written and authorised request form. This rule already existed before but was not applied rigidly enough. Those who work inside the archive cannot carry mobile phones on them; these must be left in the cupboard provided. Tougher rules, more thorough checks and a tightening of procedures occasionally slows office work down. Even though Vatican leaders are certain Paolo Gabriele has no hidden network of accomplices, the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal are destined to make working life in the Vatican more difficult.

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