updated 4/17/2005 8:36:48 PM ET 2005-04-18T00:36:48

The Vatican said Saturday that the name of the next pope would remain secret until the announcement "habemus papam" -- "We have a pope" -- expressing confidence that the precautions taken to keep the deliberations of the cardinals secret would work.

Separately, cardinals meeting in their last pre-conclave meeting destroyed the Fisherman's Ring and lead seal of Pope John Paul II -- a formality that signifies the end of his reign, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Navarro-Valls told a press conference that "specialized technicians" of the Vatican Gendarmeria were responsible for all security surrounding the conclave, ruling out speculation that experts from outside had been brought in to debug the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican hotel and other rooms where cardinals will meet.

'It will be an event'
He said there would be a delay of about 40 or 45 minutes between when white smoke, accompanied by church bells, signals that a pope has been elected and when a senior cardinal announces the new pope's name from the loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square.

He said not even he would know the name of the pope until it was announced. "I prefer not to know," he said. "It will be an event that we will all live together, at the same level."

Cardinals will be sealed off from anyone who hasn't taken an oath of secrecy, he said.

The main courtyard of the Apostolic Palace will be sealed; tourists will be barred from visiting the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican gardens and the path cardinals will take to get from their hotel to the Sistine Chapel will be cleared of all people, he said.

Asked if he was concerned that other people who will have contact with the cardinals -- housekeepers, bus drivers and elevator operators -- might leak word of the secret discussions, he said: "Absolutely not." Those people all took an oath of secrecy on Friday, promising not to divulge anything they might learn.

The 115 cardinals taking part in the conclave will move into the Domus Sanctae Marthae hotel on Sunday afternoon, he said.

Balloting begins Monday
On Monday, they will celebrate a Mass in the morning and begin processing into the Sistine Chapel at 4:30 p.m. (1430 GMT). They will then take their oath of secrecy, hear a meditation from a senior cardinal, and be shuttered behind the doors of the Sistine Chapel.

During the conclave, the cardinals will celebrate Mass at 7:30 a.m. in the chapel of their hotel and be in the Sistine Chapel by 9 a.m. for an initial two rounds of balloting, he said. They will return for the two rounds of afternoon balloting at 4 p.m.

Based on that schedule, Navarro-Valls said smoke signals from burned ballot papers could likely be seen at around noon or at around 7 p.m. -- unless a winner has been elected following the first ballot of the session.

Navarro-Valls stressed that during the week of pre-conclave meetings that cardinals have been holding, never once was the name of a papal candidate brought up.

"The climate of these congregations has been one of great familiarity," he said. This has been perhaps an expression of the great responsibility that all the cardinals feel at this time."

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