Pope may change conclave rules before leaving: Vatican
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict may change rules governing the conclave that will secretly elect his successor, a move that could move up the global meeting of cardinals who are already in touch about who could best lead Catholics through a period of crisis.
The Vatican appears to be aiming to have a new pope elected and then formally installed before Palm Sunday on March 24 so he can preside at Holy Week services leading to Easter.
The rule changes could mean that the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals will choose the next leader of the 1.2 billion member Roman Catholic Church, might be able to start before March 15, which is currently the earliest it can begin.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Wednesday that Benedict, who will lose all power when he abdicates on February 28, was considering issuing a "Motu Proprio," a personal document which has the force of Church law and addresses a specific need.
A 1996 apostolic constitution by Pope John Paul stipulates that a conclave must start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant, meaning it cannot begin before March 15 under the current rules given Benedict's date to step down.
Some cardinals believe a conclave should start sooner than March 15 in order to reduce the time in which the Roman Catholic Church will be without a leader at a time of crisis.
Benedict's papacy was rocked by scandals over the sex abuse of children by priests in Europe and the United States, most of which preceded his time in office but came to light during it.
His reign also saw Muslim anger after he compared Islam to violence. Jews were upset over his rehabilitation of a Holocaust denier. During a scandal over the Church's business dealings, his butler was convicted of leaking his private papers. Continued...