The Common Good

Report Says U.S. Tapped Cardinals’ Phones Ahead of Conclave

The National Security Agency spied on cardinals as they prepared to select the new pope — perhaps including even Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who emerged from last spring’s conclave as Pope Francis, a leading Italian news magazine reported in Wednesday’s editions.

Cardinals attend Mass at St. Peter’s before the conclave on March 12, 2013. Via RNS/Courtesy BostonCatholic via Flickr.

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The news magazine Panorama said the same NSA eavesdropping program that angered leaders in Germany, France, Spain, and Mexico also listened in on calls to and from the Vatican, including the phones in the Santa Marta guesthouse that housed Bergoglio and the rest of the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis still lives in the guesthouse, but the magazine did not speculate whether the phones there were still tapped.

Panorama, which said that Bergoglio had been identified as a “person of interest” by the NSA dating back to the 2005 conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI, said recorded communications from the Vatican were categorized in one of four sections: leadership, financial system threats, foreign policy objectives, and human rights issues.

“It is feared that the great American ear tapped prelates’ conversations right up to the conclave,” Panorama said.

The Vatican declined to comment at length about the report. The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued only a short statement saying, “We have heard nothing of this and are not worried.”

The Vatican remains a highly secretive institution, with many operations conducted through time-honored means that would make spying difficult — communicating with instructions written on paper, often in Latin.

The vote to select the new pope was conducted on paper ballots that were burned after each round of voting, and for the last two conclaves the Sistine Chapel was swept for listening devices and cardinals were required to leave electronic devices outside.

Eric J. Lyman writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.

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