Wherein Fr. Z reveals super-double-top-secret inside-the-Conclave SECRETS from a mole!

This comes from CNA.  My emphases and comments.

Vatican details how new smoke signals are produced

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2013 / 05:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Varying chemical compounds have replaced wet straw and pitch to produce the Vatican smoke signal that is used to communicate the result of conclave voting sessions.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, assistant to the Vatican press office director, explained that since 2005 the Vatican has used chemical compounds to better communicate the result of the conclave.

“For a Church that has made much progress in the area of modern communications, computer technology, Internet and Twitter, the conclave still relies on smoke signals to let the world know of its results,” he said in a March 11 statement to the press.

In the past, wet straw was used to create the white smoke, while pitch – a tar-like substance – was used to create black smoke.

Due to a number of “false alarms” in the past, Fr. Rosica explained, the Vatican has sought the help of “modern chemistry” to produce more easily distinguishable shades of smoke.  [Secret chemicals?  Read on!]

Now, the black smoke is produced by a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene, and sulphur, while the white smoke is made by burning a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose, and rosin – a natural amber resin.  [HA!  A likely story.  Read on!]

A traditional stove inside the Sistine Chapel is used to burn the ballots following a voting session, while a separate stove that sits alongside it helps produce the distinctive black or white smoke.

Depending on the result of the vote, an electronic control panel is used to request chemical compounds that have been pre-mixed by Vatican technicians which will then produce either shade of smoke.

Although two separate units are used to create the smoke, the plume comes out of one chimney by the time it emerges above the Sistine Chapel. The smoke stack is pre-heated and contains a backup fan to help ventilation if necessary.  [Oooo… that could be important.  Read on!]

Black smoke, as was seen at 7:42 p.m. Rome time March 12, indicates a failed conclave. By contrast, white smoke accompanied by the ringing of the Vatican bells will signal that a new Pope has been selected.

Okay, folks, most of what you read above is certainly true.  Electronic mumbo-jumbo… two stove-pipes, blah blah blah…

However, there is a cover up going here that I must unmask.

Fr. Z has a mole inside the Conclave. Yes, INSIDE the Conclave!

He… opps… I shouldn’t have said… well… they are pretty much all men… he – this guy – has been streaming pictures to my phone all this time.

I have an absolutely authentic genuine real and fer-honest-real shot – who could make this up? – of the first burning of ballots which produced that incredibly thick, and no doubt noxious smoke…

How the Cardinal Electors get that smoke to be so thick, black and nasty looking.

I bet those Cardinals are glad there is a ventilation fan to keep that smoke from backing up into the Sistina!

(Thanks are due to the great Vincenzo!)

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Conclave, HONORED GUESTS, Liberals, Lighter fare and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. anna 6 says:

    I love it!
    Cardinal O”Brien is there too, so perhaps there are a few copies of the Tablet as well?

  2. Diane at Te Deum Laudamus says:


    Gotta love that guy, where has he been!

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    who knew! haha, thanks Fr. Z!

  4. RMT says:

    Uh oh…

    That might do more to ruin the Vatican’s environmentally conscious stance that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was working to establish than any combination of harmful chemicals.

  5. capebretoner says:

    This entire post has me cracking up; the pics are like the icing on the cake!

  6. APX says:

    Haha, RMT,

    As I was watching the black pour out of the chimney, I was thinking, “that’s gonna tick off the social justice committee and their Go Green Advocacy.”

  7. Hugh says:

    What next? Will the 2 monks of Chartreuse be divulging their secret recipe?

  8. netokor says:

    Father Z, I am so grateful for your blog. It has taught me that one can strive for holiness, while greatly annoying liberals.

  9. Jason Keener says:

    LOL! That brought a smile to my face!

  10. NBW says:

    That’s a great picture. Very funny stuff!

  11. DBuote says:

    Why are they all wearing house cassocks under their vestments :S ;)

  12. Athelstan says:

    Thanks, Fr. Z.

    I needed the laugh.

  13. Andkaras says:

    HaHaHaHa…..hey , smells like smoked fish.

  14. Andrew says:

    Spondeo, voveo, ac iuro me has paginas numquam tangere.

  15. Pingback: An Expert Guide to the Mass to Elect a Pope - Big Pulpit

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    It is noxious and it probably smells pretty bad too. Sulfur, ack. (I’m a chemist.)

  17. mike cliffson says:

    ¡sic semper piscihaeresis involtoria ut similes!
    or something like that

  18. jeff says:

    come on… it’s called the fishwrap. EVERYONE knows that

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Now, the black smoke is produced by a mixture of potassium perchlorate, anthracene, and sulphur, while the white smoke is made by burning a mixture of potassium chlorate, lactose, and rosin – a natural amber resin.”

    Just because I’m a closet explosive lover, I thought I would chime in (no, I don’t like blowing up closets and no, I don’t make explosives in closets, although there was this one time…hmm, shouldn’t have said that…I probably just tripped three banks of computers at the NSA… :) )

    Well, KClO4, potassium perchlorate, was used for many years in the making of Chinese fireworks, except their factories kept blowing up. It is a powerful oxidizer and generates oxygen when heated. It also detonates when in contact with organic compounds (read human hands). Anthracene is, basically, coal tar. It is the prototypical tricyclic aromatic. Somewhat carcinogenic, but otherwise, harmless. Sulphur is normally spelled, sulfur, except in England. Next to kiln-dried wood, straw has the highest sulfur content of normal plants. Potassium chlorate, KCLO3, is less oxidizing than the perchlorate form and considered safer. Lactose is a disaccharide of galactose and glucose. It is the principle carbohydrate in milk. Rosin is used by violinists to make their bows slip faster. It is derived from pine tree pitch.

    So, basically, and somewhat ironically, in the old days, they used to use straw for white and pitch for black, but the recent formulation, amazingly, uses pitch for white and straw for black, or, bread and milk, if you prefer.

    The Chicken

  20. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should be, toast and milk.

  21. Carolina Geo says:

    Demonstrating once again that the smoke of Satan has indeed entered the Church.

  22. An American Mother says:

    Dear Chicken,
    In our misspent youth, Hubby the Chemist and I were members of Pyrotechnics Guild International (he was actually a charter member, I didn’t join til I started dating him), and he used to work for Zambelli Brothers when they fired the Homecoming displays at Ga. Tech. We spent a lot of time at fireworks conventions making and firing competitive displays – we actually came in second in the Amateur Division one year.
    I’m pretty sure you’ve got the chlorate and perchlorate backwards. Chlorate is more sensitive to abrasion and impact, and we avoided it when we could (perchlorate just won’t work right in some formulae). Chinese fireworks factories blow up for lots of reasons, most having to do with lack of proper safety procedures and quality control, since occupational safety is not a priority. I would put perchlorate way down the list.
    If you’ll consult Weingarten or Lancaster or one of the other authoritative works, that should confirm it.
    The lactose and various forms of resin (not necessarily the type that violinists use) are pretty much standard in daylight fireworks. They make lots of smoke (which can be made in all sorts of lovely colors because the base is white.) Both the sulfur and the pitch make thick black (and very very smelly) smoke. But the pitch is another daylight firework standard – for the little novelties known as “snakes” or “Pharoah’s Serpents”.

  23. priest up north says:

    Simply because of the sheer number of volumes of NSR that are overdue for burning, is this scene signaling a long conclave? I hope that whenever we see black smoke, several years of editions are being burned each time.

  24. The Masked Chicken says:

    An American Mother,

    You wrote,

    “I’m pretty sure you’ve got the chlorate and perchlorate backwards. Chlorate is more sensitive to abrasion and impact, and we avoided it when we could (perchlorate just won’t work right in some formulae). ”

    You are correct. It has been many years since I performed that experiment where you heat up KClO4 to produce oxygen. The reason we used KClO4 was because it was less sensitive than KClO3. I got it backwards (the rest of the chemical information should be correct). My memory is kind of screwed up at the moment. One reason being the stupid switch to Daylight Saving Time in the U. S. throwing off my circadian rhythms. I slept, in theory, for seven hours last night. It feels like two :(

    Anyway, glad to see another fan of things that go boom.

    The Chicken

  25. An American Mother says:

    I’m still getting over DST myself. Ugh – just when I could see to walk the dogs in the morning, now I can’t.
    Love the big stuff – the series of noises: 4″ aerial shell w/whistles & golden metallic stars: “WHUMP! whsssssssssssssh! ka-BOOOM! squeeeee! flitter flitter flitter flitter.” Crowd: “Ooooooo! Ahhhhhhh!”
    We were the first team in PGI to use electronic ignition in mortars – I understand it’s now universal.

  26. tstracey says:

    I love this, especially since my friend Fr. Marc is hiding in the background. He’s the one without a miter. It’s like where’s waldo with Fr. Marc. lol

Comments are closed.