In what could be his last final stand before actual resignation day, outgoing Pope Benedict XVI is mulling to implement last-minute changes to the 99-year-old procedures surrounding a papal conclave in a bid seen to hold this year's much anticipated assembly of cardinals at a much earlier date, or on Mar. 10.
The existing century-old rule states that eligible papabiles need to wait for 15 days immediately following the vacancy of the papacy seat before going into a conclave. The grace period is to give all eligible cardinals from around the world enough lead time to arrive in Rome.
However, the existing clause only applies to cases of papal death and funeral, scenarios described as unexpected or unforeseen situations. In the case of the resignation of the 265th pope, not only the cardinals know he is relinquishing the post on Feb. 28, but even the whole world. Moreover, the pre-determined date should already give the papabiles enough time to prepare time to get to Rome for this year's papal conclave.
Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Jesuit priest and spokesman of the Vatican, however said it remained uncertain that whatever changes applied to the current century old rules will apply to the forthcoming papal conclave on March.
"I do not know if he will find it necessary or opportune to make a clarification about the timing of the beginning of the conclave," he said.
"We'll have to see if and when this document will be published," he added.
But pressure to have elected a new pope by Palm Sunday is likewise seen a very much plausible reason. For how can the Vatican conduct one of the church's highest masses if there is no pope who will preside over it. This year's Holy Week for the Catholic's Lenten season starts on Mar. 24. A new pope should have been installed by Sunday, Mar. 17.
"Advancing the papal conclave start-date would make obvious good sense, but actually doing so on anything less than express papal authority raises serious canonical and even ecclesiological problems," US canonist Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican high court, said on his blog.
It was Pope Benedict XV who established the century-old papal conclave 15-day lead time rule in 1914, according to Ambrogio Piazzoni, vice prefect of the Vatican Library. The then pope was elected at a papal conclave that began 10 days after the death of Pope Pius X. However, the cardinals from Boston, Baltimore and Quebec failed to participate in the conclave because they failed to arrive in Rome in time.
In the case of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, all cardinals from around the world are required to be in Rome as early as Feb. 27. The outgoing pope will have his final general audience on Feb. 27 and then his farewell meeting with cardinals on Feb. 28, before he goes into solitary life.
The world will know a new pope has been elected from a papal conclave through smoke signals. Black smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney meant no pope had been elected, while white smoke meant one had been elected. Then the bells of St. Peter's Basilica will ring.