Pope expected to allow for an early start to conclaveRobert Mickens in Rome - 21 February 2013
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to bow to pressure from the Roman Curia and make a last-minute change that would permit the possibility of an accelerated date for the upcoming conclave that will elect his successor.
The Vatican confirmed today that the Pope was planning to issue a motu proprio - most likely on tomorrow's feast of the Chair of St Peter - that will make slight adjustments to the current conclave rules established in 1996 by Pope John Paul II.
Chief among the changes is expected to be a clause that would allow the cardinals to by-pass the minimum 15-day waiting period from the moment the See of Rome is vacant (there is no pope) and the start of the conclave.
This would give a distinct advantage to cardinal-electors in the Vatican and closer to Rome who have already begun strategising for possible candidates to be the next pope.
However, it is expected a majority of the cardinals would have to have to agree to the change. It remains to be seen if the new regulations will stipulate that it must be simple or two-thirds majority.
Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, head of the Holy See press office, admitted last Saturday that a number of people, "including several cardinals", had question the need to wait another fifteen days after the Pope Benedict steps down on 28 February since had already given more than two weeks' notice of his resignation.
The first clue that plans were underway to make changes to the 1996 legislation (Universi Dominici Gregis) came on 13 February when a top canon lawyer, Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, was appointed Auditor General (or No. 3 official) of the Apostolic Camera, the Italian dominated office that basically runs the Holy See when there is no pope. It's headed by the Camerlengo, which is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, and his vice, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata. Bishop Sciacca, a former judge on the Roman Rota, is believed to have drafted the new motu proprio.
However at least three cardinals - Francis George (Chicago), Timothy Dolan (New York) and André Vingt-Trois (Paris) - have publicly said they want to keep the full 15-day waiting period before proceeding to the conclave. The reasoning is that it would give the cardinal-electors, especially those outside of Curia and other networks, more time to discuss the needs of the Church and qualities of possible papal candidates.
It is the right and duty of popes to establish the norms regulating the sede vacante and the preparations for the election of the Bishop of Rome. Every pope since the beginning of the 20th century, except Benedict XV (1914-22) and the briefly reigning John Paul I (1978), have issued updated norms. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI re-established the norm that a two-thirds majority is always required for valid papal election. Pope John Paul II had allowed for the possibility of a simple majority in the case of a protracted conclave.
Meanwhile it emerged today that the Pope's final public event as Bishop of Rome will not be a celebration of the Liturgy of the Word, as previously believed, but a routine general audience.
Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, head of the Holy See press office, said today that a large crowd was expected for the event, but said it would include no special features to distinguish it from the Pope's normal Wednesday gathering.
Last Saturday he told journalists that he thought the 10:30 am gathering in St Peter's Square would be changed to a more liturgical context. Instead, Pope Benedict will give read a catechesis in Italian and then give brief summaries in several languages. The entire gathering is expected to last between 60 and 90 minutes.
The spokesman also confirmed that the Pope would not be giving an address to the College of Cardinals next Thursday, the last day of his pontificate, but would be greeting and speaking individually to the cardinals in Rome at an 11 am reception inside the Vatican. There is no luncheon planned, contrary to previous reports.
For other recent bulletins, select from the list here: