Vatican tradition dictates announcement of pope's death
Word of the pope's death may follow a unique Vatican tradition that spells out how church officials are to both determine and announce his passing.
The Vatican says Pope John Paul is in "very grave" condition with unstable blood pressure. According to tradition -- when a pope dies, the prefect of the papal household tells the chamberlain. That official must then verify the death, which has been done by striking the pope's forehead with a silver hammer.
The chamberlain would then tell the vicar of Rome of the pope's passing and the vicar would then inform the people of the city.