Mons. Bumble and Vatican internet access

In Rome, nothing can be assumed to be particularly easy.

Since I am back in Rome for a short period, I am not in my usual residence, but another temporary place, also run by the Holy See.  In times past use of the internet has always been difficult here because of proxy settings, blah blah etc. etc… (can you say "control freaks"?) … but this time, the access has been made even more complicated.

I wasted a bunch of time last night trying in vain to get on line, only to be told later by the guy at the front desk: "Oh yah… I forgot to tell you about that…"  In short, everything had been changed.  I was to go over to the Vatican Internet Office to get access. 

"Of course!  Silly me!"

That office was closed.

By this point I was pretty irritated.  The desk guy sympathetically groused something about the whole world having internet access, "but here…!"  He rolled his eyes.  Apparently he is pretty sick of this too.  I can’t imagine how often he is asked to solve problems he can no longer solve. 

In the meantime, I was without access… no a good thing.

I couldn’t go to the press office, and use the internet there: that office was closed.  The press office closes at 3 pm every day.  After all, why should an internationally important entity like the Holy See have a press office that is actually open?  But I digress…

I wound up using a friend’s computer for a few minutes before and after supper. 

Thus ended stage one.

As rosy-fingered Roman dawn graced my room, and after I attained my first decent night’s rest since I flew over the Atlantic, I went over to the Vatican Internet Office to get my laptop connected.  Are picturing Oliver going to Mr. Bumble?

But long years in Rome teach you never to be too daunted and to persist, with a smile, and never let the first line of opposition think for very long!

Figuring that anyone who was competent would only be in the office when it first opened, I went over early enough in the morning to get real business done.  Success.  The usciere actually was rather like Mr. Bumble, as it turns out, but after various frowns he sent me to the office of two great young guys who instantly understood my quandry. 

They strolled with me over to my room, Marco and Lorenzo did, great guys both, and worked on the connection. 

It took them about 20 minutes and a phone call.

Not too complicated, huh? 

I invited them out for coffee afterward, which is the basic Roman gesture of gratitude.  Nice guys. We had a good chat.  I am grateful to them… but… damn!  Could the internet office control freaks make this any more complicated? 

Thus ended stage two.

I am reminded of a religious sister years ago who would pull all the matches but two out of a book of matches intended for the use of the altar boys for lighting candles before Mass.  Of course, two might not be enough and so everyone was constantly asking sisters for matches.  When the pastor asked her to leave matches for us, she groused "But someone might use them!".

Why was the system here made even more convoluted than it was last December?  They told me that people outside the house were using the wireless internet feed.

"But Father, but Father!" you are saying.  "That isn’t so hard to prevent.  You just…."   Yes, yes… know.  But…. this is Rome.  Moreover, this is the Vatican.  If something is simple, it must be made impossibly un-simplified, so involved and ineffective for sooooo long that the people with the problems simply give up. And then… you see… problem solved

Cunctando regitur mundus!

Anyway… what was the story behind the problem? 

They use here a series of wireless routers in all the hallways, since I am sure the idea of wiring the whole house with ethernet is a little daunting: these old buildings are barely up to code as it is.  When you start rewiring, chaos reigns… ehem… more chaos reigns 

So, when I checked in, I asked for a room where I know the signal is very strong: a router is across the hall from my door. 

Little did I imagine that my travails were just beginning.

I fully understand the Holy See wants to protect the connection from dasterdly people "out there"… and of course all the people "in here", for that matter.  It would really be better to have internet, but not let anyone use it.  Or even better, not have it.  Or maybe, have, but never turn it on.   But, again I digress…

Someone in the internet office must know about wardriving, etc. and therefore has imposed the most byzantine series of portculises on the feed as can be dreamed of.  Were someone to do nefarious things with the connection, that could be a little embarasing.  A few years ago I found a hole in the server security of the house I was living in and found that someone was doing dasterdly things.  This meant that the header of the e-mails being sent out from the server looked like they were coming from the Vatican, which was probably not so good. 

Boy did they spring to life when I told them about that little problem, thus proving that when they really want to, Italians undoubtedly can do anything, really well, at top speed.
By now you must be observing along with me that every ma and pa corner coffee shop can solve this problem about who has access to the access point with relative ease.  

But the Holy See?

So, as of now I do have some access.  It only took an evening, a morning, two technicians, a phone consultation, a couple espressos at a nearby bar, but it is done. 

Well, not quite done.  Now if they would actually let access the sites I need to use!

I already got the name and phone number of the guy who handles that stuff.

That will be stage three. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I’ve had it explained that all the ma and pa shops (and the wine bar I was using until ADSL finally happened here in my rental apt) that they’re all semi-illegal – under law, anyone providing paid internet access (including residences) in Italy (which doesn’t exactly cover the Vatican State, but…) has to know exactly who is online.

    5 years ago I could pop into any internet cafe, put down a euro, and check email. Now you have to show a passport or comparable i.d., which they make a copy of, and on, and on . . . Anti-Terrorism, you know. Because terrorists don’t use fake i.d.

  2. Mark says:

    I find wireless security very daunting, hence I am still using an old fashioned DSL modem. Good luck, Father!

  3. JML says:

    Fr. Z

    Our federal governement is exactly the same. Before they allow you on the network, they need to know who you are, where you are, your MAC address, and make sure you have all the right security on your PC.

    Then they (properly) maintain a list of prohibited sites such as gambling, porn, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook.

    Is there a patron saint of the Internet? I know some days I invoke St. Barbara to come down and chastise the internet, but I am not familiar if the Holy See has given us an internet patron (St. Jude?) :)

  4. Dutch Seminarian (YWBD) says:

    Looks like Domus Romana to me (via della traspontina). We were there last summer (august) with our seminary and I have been trying for 3 hours to get my PDA (Windows Mobile 6) online together with the guy at the receptiondesk.

    No success… In front of Radio Vaticana (just the other corner of the block) is an open hotspot which I used, that was the only way to get my e-mail out. Too bad though.

  5. A.Williams says:


    Next time you should ask for the Papyrus room. It’s very convenient and efficient because it’s been the ‘the traditional way’ since Galileo used it!

    …For 5 Euro’s you get a sheet of Papyrus, a 14 inch quill, 10 grams of ink and a oneway rental of 2 carrier pidgeons.

    Even St. Philip Neri raved about it!!

  6. Aaron Traas says:


    I have a solution: tell the Vatican to hire me! I’ll set up amazing high-tech solutions that have been around for 10 years:

    1) a rotating WPA password
    2) a *transparent* proxy — it looks like a vanilla internet connection, but everything goes through a proxy, and no configuration is required
    3) MAC address based access — just register at the front desk, and they activate you with privileges according to your needs
    4) a stateless firewall in both directions, preventing people from sending SMTP, etc., to arbitrary destinations

    I’m sure my fiancee and I would be willing to relocate to serve His Holiness!

  7. TNCath says:

    Look how long it took for Summorum Pontificum to be promulgated. Look how long the clarification document is taking. Are we not surprised? The barque of Peter is not exactly a tight ship. I seem to remember in the book The Ratzinger Report, then Cardinal Ratzinger was asked if the Roman way of doing things frustrated him, and would he prefer the Church to be run in a more German style, more efficiently. To this the cardinal responded, “Heavens no!”

  8. LCB says:

    “It only took an evening, a morning, two technicians, a phone consultation, a couple espressos at a nearby bar, but it is done.”

    That’s not so bad for internet access in Rome.

  9. techno_aesthete says:

    can you say “control freaks”?

    LOL! There seem to be a LOT of them in the Church. Sigh.

  10. David Andrew says:

    And we’re expecting new translations of the sacramentary when?

  11. Regarding the preparation of the new translation, pray that Pope Benedict lives for a long time yet!

    Cunctando regitur mundus!

  12. Brian Mershon says:

    Father Z said: “If something is simple, it must be made impossibly un-simplified, so involved and ineffective for sooooo long that the people with the problems simply give up. And then… you see… problem solved!”

    This reminds me only of every single parish office and staff that I have dealt with in mky 44 years of life. Every single one…

    Also reminds me of awaiting the implementation of the 1997 document that forbade the overuse of Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, which was signed by 8 dicastery heads.

    Or… Well, never mind…

  13. Justice says:

    This reminds me of what happened during my stay in Rome when the building I was in had a short circuit that cut off power to half the floor, naturally including the hot water and the internet. A week later, some guests (who were not Italian) took it upon themselves to rig the wiring to restore most of the power.

    So far as I know, the electrician had not arrived by the time I left 2 months later to fix things, and I can only imagine the frustration the lady in charge of the house would have gone through had the guests not made that fix themselves.

  14. Jonathan Bennett says:

    I once read something very interesting. Did you all know that at one time the Church actualy functioned without ANY internet connection? Bizarre, no?

  15. Lorenzo says:

    Ah, welcome back to Rome, dear Fr Z.!

  16. On one of my first trips to México I needed to check my email. So I go to the public library, sit down at one of a row of terminals, and have barely touched the keyboard when an assistant is on me saying, “Oh, señor, you can’t use this terminal without permission. Come over to the desk.” So I go to the desk and am given a form to fill out, which I do, and I hand it back. I turn to go and she says, “Oh, señor, we must have your ID.” I fork over passport and driver license and she says, “I need your briefcase too.” What? Briefcase? “Yes, you must leave all your books and papers here.” Finally, being allowed to keep little more than my shirt and pants, I am given a pass and told to place it in view beside the terminal I use. So I start in and email does not seem to work. Back to the desk, only to learn that email access is blocked. What? Blocked? “Yes, señor. Someone might misuse it, so we keep it blocked.”

    Next try, an internet cafe just a block away, and success! For five pesos I could do just anything my heart desired for half an hour.

  17. Animadversor says:

    Yes, it’s true, they could have made it much simpler for you to gain internet access and still have maintained security, but think of all the human interaction you were obliged to have. I sometimes wonder if that’s not the real, if perhaps unconscious, reason things like this can be so difficult in Latin countries: they crave a little face-time, and they are prepared to sacrifice some efficiency to get it. Isn’t it good to know two great guys like Marco and Lorenzo?

  18. eft says:

    Your photo shows a Linksys wireless router. As they thumbed through the Linksys catalog, did they consider the powerline devices

    Upside: no wireless spillage.
    Downside: users are tethered.

Comments are closed.