Vatican raises the possibility of early March conclave.
vatican city — The Vatican raised the possibility Saturday that the conclave to elect the next pope might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date possible under current rules that require a 15- to 20-day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said that rules on papal succession are open to interpretation. “It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy” to move up the start of the conclave, he said.
The 15- to 20-day waiting period is in place to allow time for all cardinals who don’t live in Rome to arrive, under the usual circumstance of a pope dying. But in this case, the cardinals already know that this pontificate will end Feb. 28, with Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, and therefore can get to Rome in plenty of time to take part in the conclave, Lombardi said.
Questions about the start of the conclave have swirled since Benedict announced Feb. 11 that he would retire as the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to abdicate rather than stay in office until death.
Lombardi also gave more details about Benedict’s final public audiences and plans for retirement, saying that 35,000 people had already requested tickets for his final general audience, to be held in St. Peter’s Square on Feb. 27.
He said Benedict would spend about two months in the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo after his abdication to allow enough time for renovations to be completed on his retirement home, a converted monastery inside the Vatican walls.