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Pope May Change Rules To Speed Up Conclave
The start date for a conclave of cardinals to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI may be brought forward to earlier in March.
The reigning Pope may also take the opportunity to change the rules governing the election to clear up uncertainty about when voting can begin.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "The Pope is considering a Motu Proprio (decree) in the coming days ... to clarify a few specific aspects of the apostolic constitution on the conclave."
It would be up to the Pope to judge whether it was "necessary and opportune" to intervene on when the meeting to elect his own successor should begin, Father Lombardi said.
The current law says cardinals must wait 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant before voting, in order to allow all eligible cardinals to arrive in Rome - making March 15 the presumed start date.
That delay, however, assumes a papal death and funeral. In this case, the cardinals already know that the pontificate will end on February 28 and can get to Rome in plenty of time.
Benedict will become only the second Pope to resign of his own free will in the Roman Catholic Church's 2,000-year history.
The current version of the constitution does allow the cardinals some leeway in "interpreting doubtful or controversial points" - except for the election - as long as "a majority of cardinals agrees".
In meetings known as "congregations" starting on March 1, cardinals could therefore themselves agree to bring forward the start of the conclave.
Father Lombardi earlier had said the conclave would probably start on March 15, 16, 17, 18 or 19, stating that there was no reason to alter the current rules.
But on Saturday he signalled that some cardinals had asked for the date to be brought forward, arguing that many of them were already in Rome.
Many cardinals are to attend a final audience with the Pope on February 28, before he retires to a life of quiet contemplation initially at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo and then in a Vatican monastery.
The conclave is expected to bring together most of the world's 117 "cardinal electors" and meets in secret in the Sistine Chapel until a two-thirds majority is found in favour of a candidate to be the Pope.
Bringing forward the date of the start of the conclave would help prevent any overlap with Easter, which this year falls on March 31, and the preceding Holy Week, which begins on March 24.