ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI paved the way Monday for cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church to gather earlier than usual to elect his successor if they choose to do so after he steps down later this week.
Benedict amended the Vatican’s rules governing when cardinals are supposed to start meeting to select a new pontiff, usually between 15 and 20 days once the office becomes vacant. The new rules allow the cardinals to assemble earlier than that if all those eligible to vote for a new pope are present.
The change could facilitate the naming of Benedict’s successor in time for him to preside over Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday, which falls on March 31.
The previous rule was designed mostly to give cardinals from around the world time to converge on Rome after a pope’s death. But Benedict’s surprise announcement that he would resign has allowed the “princes” of the church to begin arriving here before his papacy ends Thursday; most of the cardinals are expected to be on hand for him to bid them farewell on his final day.