VATICAN CITY — A week ahead of his expected resignation, Pope Benedict XVI is considering changing the rules for the election of his successor, potentially making the process start sooner, the Vatican said Wednesday.
Benedict “is taking into consideration” passing a law to change the rules, said the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi. He added that he did not know whether the change would affect the timing of a conclave, at which 117 cardinals will elect the next pope.
Church law states that cardinals should wait 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant before starting a conclave so that the cardinals eligible to vote have enough time to travel to Rome. That timing also took into account a papal funeral.
But because Benedict announced Feb. 11 that he would step down Feb. 28, many cardinals have already begun traveling to Rome, where they will attend Benedict’s last public audience as pope next Wednesday and his final farewell to cardinals Feb. 28.
The Vatican has said Benedict will not participate in the conclave to elect his successor. He has said he plans to spend some time at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence, before eventually moving into a convent in Vatican City.
Ambrogio Piazzoni, the vice prefect of the Vatican library and an expert in the history of conclaves, said Wednesday that the law stated simply that “cardinals present in Rome must wait 15 days for the arrival of the others.”
“That can mean that if the cardinals all arrive before the 15 days there is no need to wait,” he added. “The phrase `must wait’ doesn’t say that you can’t start sooner than 15 days.”
Many cardinals have been hoping to return to their home dioceses in time for Holy Week, which begins this year March 24, Palm Sunday, followed by Easter Sunday on March 31.
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