Pope Benedict may revise rules for election of successor

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI “is considering” revising the rules for the election of his successor, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday.

“The pope is considering the publication of a motu proprio in the next few days,” Lombardi told reporters, referring to a papal decree setting out church rules.

It would “clarify some specific issues” about the conclave of cardinals that is due to choose a new pope. “I do not know if he will deem it necessary or opportune to issue a clarification on the issue of the timing of the start,” the spokesman added.

Benedict is to leave his post on Feb. 28, the first papal resignation in almost 600 years. Church rules state that 15-20 days have to pass before a conclave can be called, in order to leave time for cardinals around the world to arrive in Rome.

Since popes normally leave their post only upon their death, the time also was used for funeral celebrations, which are not needed in Benedict’s case. This has fueled speculation that the process could be speeded up.

Lombardi acknowledged last week that the conclave may start earlier than March 15 — a possibility he had earlier denied.

Ambrogio Piazzoni, a Vatican historian, told reporters Wednesday that, if cardinals can arrive in Rome before the stated 15-20 days, “there is nothing to wait for.”

He also said there was no historical precedent for cardinals withdrawing from a papal election — except on health grounds or because they were physically prevented from making the trip to Rome, as has been the case for prelates living under communist regimes.

In the United States, a petition has been launched calling on Cardinal Roger Mahony to recuse himself from the next conclave because of his involvement in covering up cases of child sex abuse by U.S. Catholic priests.