POPE Benedict XVI may change Church rules governing the conclave where cardinals from around the world will meet next month to secretly elect his successor, the Vatican said Wednesday.
Benedict was studying the possibility of making changes to two laws established by his predecessor Pope John Paul II before he abdicates on February 28, a spokesman said.
The changes may affect the timing of the start of the conclave.
Spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict was considering making changes that would “harmonize” two documents approved by his predecessor.
One governs the period while the papacy is vacant, known as the “Sede Vacante,” and another is more specific about the running of the conclave after it begins.
A 1996 apostolic constitution by Pope John Paul II, called “Universi Dominici Gregis,” 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.
Some cardinals believe a conclave should start sooner in order to reduce the time in which the Roman Catholic Church will be without a leader.
Cardinals around the world have already begun informal consultations by phone and email to construct a profile of the man they think would be best suited to lead the Church in a period of continuing crisis.
Some 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter the conclave, which is held in the Sistine Chapel.
The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Palm Sunday Mass followed by Easter Sunday on March 31. In order to have a new pope in place in time for the most solemn liturgical period on the church calendar, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, because of the strong tradition to hold installation Mass on a Sunday. Given the tight time-frame, speculation has mounted that some arrangement would be made to start the conclave on March 10 or thereabouts, earlier than a strict reading of the law would allow.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the chief issue on the agenda is when the conclave would start. Speaking, Tuesday, on his radio show on Sirius XM’s “The Catholic Channel,” Dolan said most cardinals would prefer to have a conclave sooner rather than later to avoid a long vacancy in the papacy.
“On the other hand you don’t want to rush it. We need prayer. We need to get to know one another. We need time to let Benedict’s departure sink in,” he said. “So we’re going to need the virtue of prudence here,” he observed.