Vat­i­can raises the pos­si­bil­ity of early March con­clave.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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