Because of the unusual circumstances of a papal retirement, Vatican officials are considering “bending the rules” to allow a Conclave to begin earlier than usual.
The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Conclave could begin sooner than March, which would be the earliest possible date under current Church rules. These rules specify a 15 to 20 waiting period after the papacy is vacated to begin the process of electing a successor.
Fr. Lombardi said these rules may be open to interpretation and if officials deem this to be the case, “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.
The usual waiting period is mainly to allow for a nine-day mourning period followed by a period of time long enough to allow Cardinals to travel to Rome from their dioceses around the world. However, in this case, they know the exact date that the papacy will be vacant and will have plenty of time to get to Rome for an earlier start state.
“The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Palm Sunday Mass followed by Easter Sunday on March 31,” the AP reports. “In order to have a new pope in place in time for the most solemn liturgical period on the church calendar, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, because of the strong tradition to hold an installation Mass on a Sunday. Given the tight time frame, speculation has mounted that some arrangement would be made to start the conclave earlier than a strict reading of the law would allow.”
Meanwhile, plans for Pope Benedict’s retirement are underway. The AP reports that 35,000 people have requested tickets for his final general audience to be held in St. Peter’s Square on Feb. 27. On the following day, he will leave for Castle Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat and return to a newly renovated monastery in the Vatican around the end of April or beginning of May.
When asked if the pope would meet with his successor and participate in his installation Mass, Fr. Lombardi said neither issue had been resolved.
The Pope’s resignation, which was announced on February 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, has created a host of questions about how to proceed in the days ahead.
However, Cardinal Franc Rode, former head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, said that even though they are not prepared at the moment, they will be ready soon.
“We have not been able to make predictions, strategies, plans, candidates. It is too early, but we will get there,” Cardinal Rode said. “In two or three weeks things will be put in place.”
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