Conclave to elect next pope may be brought forward by papal decree
There is increased speculation in the Vatican that the conclave to elect the successor of Pope Benedict XVI will be brought forward to March 10th, following comments yesterday by Holy See spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi.
Talking to reporters, Fr Lombardi said Pope Benedict was “considering” the idea of issuing a papal decree that might change “particular points” in the apostolic constitution, which basically lays down the rules governing a conclave. Although Fr Lombardi could neither identify the “particular points” in question nor give a definite date for the publication of the decree, most commentators concluded that the pope’s decision will result in the conclave being brought forward.
Under the terms of the apostolic constitution, Universi Dominici Gregis, issued in 1996 by John Paul II, the conclave must begin between 15 and 20 days after the sede vacante, the empty chair or no pope, is declared. Given that Benedict intends to step down officially at 8pm on February 28th, the current constitution rules call for a conclave start on a date between March 15th and 19th.
The 15-day wait was originally designed to allow the cardinals time to both get to Rome and to attend all the events of the nine-day period of mourning which follows the death of a pope. Given modern travel and that fact that this time the pope has not died but resigned, it has always seemed possible the cardinals would expedite the electoral process.
Furthermore, many of the 117 elector cardinals (those under the age of 80) are expected to travel to Rome next week for Benedict’s last public audience on February 27th. An early start should make it possible to have a new pope elected in time to celebrate the Easter festivities, which begin with Palm Sunday on March 24th.