EWTN Catholic Q&A
Traditions when a Pope dies
Question from Mary Hughes on 04-03-2005:

I have heard that when a Pope dies, or at least when our Beloved John Paul II died, their papal ring is "crushed". Is this true? Why is this done? Are their other "traditions" or ceremonial-type things like this that are done?

Thank you so much for your time and attention.

Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 04-15-2005:

Th ring was defaced, as was another seal used on documents. This was formally reported to the Cardinals by the Camerlengo after the Pope's death. These were later then placed in the coffin.

This is probably not as important today as in the past, when the papal seal on a document was the ultimate proof of its authenticity and so it was necessary to prevent forgeries by destroying or defacing them. However, it remains an important symbolic gestire indicating the end of the pope's reign. How it was actually done was not reported. However, the use of the term "deface" suggests that the unique impressions on the face of the ring and seal were scraped away by some means, rather than the whole thing crushed into a blob.