Vatican City

Pope changes rules to bring conclave forward

Decree makes election likely before mid-March

Pope changes rules to bring conclave forward

Vatican City, February 25 - The conclave of cardinals to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI could begin as early as next week, Vatican officials said Monday. They spoke after Benedict issued a decree opening the rules of the conclave to allow an earlier election process than is normal. The cardinals comprising the conclave will set the timetable, and will likely formally decide on when to begin their voting process by the end of this week, said Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican's press office. "We cannot anticipate the date of the conclave, but it is likely a formal decision will come in the first few days of March," he said. Normally, conclaves cannot begin until at least 15 days after a papacy's end, a rule developed because popes almost always die in office. However, because Benedict announced on February 11 that he would retire on February 28, he ruled Monday that such notice has given cardinals from around the world enough time reach Rome for the crucial vote. "The cardinals will be permitted to bring forward the start of the conclave, if they are all present," says the papal decree, called 'motu proprio' in Latin. Benedict becomes the first pope in almost 600 years to abdicate, stepping down on Thursday at 20:00 Italian time (19:00 GMT.) A Vatican official noted that the pope did not set a new timetable for cardinals but instead, opened up their options. "The pope did not impose a shorter time (before conclave) and the cardinals may need more time to discuss," the issue, explained Monsignor Pier Luigi Celata, vice-chamberlain. Cardinals will have a lot to discuss when they gather in Rome for conclave. A major concern has been the string of recent scandals striking cardinals in major cities and threatening confidence in the Church. On Monday, scandal-struck Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien confirmed his immediate resignation and said he would not attend conclave. He is facing allegations from other priests of inappropriate behaviour. As well, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, and former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony have all faced calls not to attend over the sex abuse scandals that date back decades and have rocked the Catholic Church,

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