Pope Benedict may change conclave rules before leaving
Vatican aims to have a new leader installed in time for Palm Sunday
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 yesterday that Pope Benedict, who will lose all power when he abdicates at the end of this month, 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 Pope 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.
Pope Benedict and his predecessor made sure any man awarded a cardinal’s red hat was firmly in line with key Catholic doctrine supporting priestly celibacy and Vatican authority and opposing abortion, women priests, gay marriage and other liberal reforms.
Cardinals worldwide have begun informal consultations by phone and email to build a profile of the man they think would be best suited to lead the Church through rough seas. Some 117 cardinals under age of 80 will be eligible for the conclave. However some in the Church believe that an early conclave would give an unfair advantage to cardinals already in Rome and working in the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration.
“A short period before a conclave helps the curial cardinals in Rome operating on their home turf,” said Father Tom Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University and author of several books on the Vatican.
“The curial cardinals are the ones that cardinals from outside Rome turn to for opinions about the other cardinals.
“The longer the pre-conclave period, the more time non-curial cardinals have to talk to each other and to get to know each other.
“The longer the period prior to the conclave, the less dependent outside cardinals are on the curial cardinals.”