Pope Benedict Twitter
Pope Benedict XVI posts a tweet using an iPad tablet (Reuters)

The small bunch of technology-savvy cardinals who will soon be asked to vote on a new Pope have been banned from live tweeting during the proceedings.

At least nine members of the 117-strong papal conclave, including Angelo Scola, the Milan archbishop and one of the favourites in the Pontifical run, are known to have an active twitter account.

However secrecy is a dogma in the Holy See, especially when it comes to electing a new Pontiff. As a consequence, the cardinals' thousands of followers craving insider tweets are likely to be left empty-handed.

Scola, one of the most influential Catholic Church leaders, counts on more than 17,000 followers. However the Italian archbishop is eclipsed in terms of Twitter popularity by his New York Counterpart Timothy Dolan (81,000) and by the President of the Pontifical council for culture, Gianfranco Ravasi (36,700).

The Vatican has hinted that the conclave of cardinals tasked with finding a successor to Benedict XVI might convene sometime before March 15 - the earliest date allowed under current Holy See regulations.

According to a 1996 constitution promulgated by John Paul II, a period of 15-20 days have to lapse from the day the papal seat fell vacant, before the conclave can begin.

However, following Benedict's shocking announcement that he will resign at the end of February, the rule might be amended to allow the investiture of a new Pope in time for Holy Week, which starts with Palm Sunday Mass on 24 March.

As soon as a date for the conclave is set, Cardinals from all across the world are to gather in Rome and file into the Sistene Chapel, dressed in their red cassocks.

There, after having chanted the monophonic Litany of Saints, the cardinals will place their hand on the Gospel and swear to observe absolute secrecy during and after the conclave.

Then Cardinals move to the Vatican hotel, where they are sheltered from the outside world until a white smoke rises form the Holy See, announcing a new Pope has been elected.

The use of phones and internet and even the reading of newspapers is forbidden to the cardinals for the duration of their stay at the Hotel.

The penalty for those failing to fulfil the oath of secrecy is excommunication.

Interestingly the ban will not apply to the big fish of the Holy See's Twitterati:  Benedict XVI himself.

Created in December, Benedict's official twitter account, @Pontifex, already has more than 1.5 million followers.

However the resigning Pope said he will not participate to the Conclave or give indications of preference, and is therefore allowed to tweet as he pleases.