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Pope to change rules, allow early conclave?

February 20, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI will change the rules governing a papal conclave to allow an earlier election of his successor, according to Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa. The Vatican has confirmed that the Pontiff is considering such an amendment.

Tornielli reports that Pope Benedict will issue a motu proprio before his resignation takes effect on February 28, amending Universi Dominci Gregis, the document that sets the rules for a papal conclave. That document currently stipulates that when the Holy See becomes vacant, 15 days must pass before the conclave begins. The Pope will allow the cardinals to change that rule at their discretion, Tornielli says.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, confirmed that the Pope is considering a change in the conclave rules, but said that no final decision has been made. “I don’t know if he will deem it necessary or appropriate,” the Vatican spokesman said.

The requirement for a 15-day waiting period was instituted in order to allow time for cardinals to reach Rome after learning of a Pontiff's death. Since Pope Benedict announced his plan to step down, the world's cardinals have already had ample time to make their travel plans, and some Church leaders have suggested that an earlier conclave would be beneficial, ensuring that a new Pope would be in place by Holy Week.

Only the Pope can alter the rules governing a conclave. This week Pope Benedict has set aside most paperwork as he makes his annual Lenten Retreat. Once his resignation takes effect, Pope Benedict would no longer have the authority to make the change.

Pope Benedict has already made one change in the rules, Tornielli notes. Universi Dominci Gregis, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, allowed for the possibility that a new Pope could be elected by a bare majority of the cardinal-electors under some circumstances. Pope Benedict eliminated that possibility, restoring the requirement for a two-thirds majority.


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