Pope Benedict XVI on Monday amended Roman Catholic church law
to enable cardinals to start the conclave to elect his successor sooner than
"I order that from the moment the Holy See is legitimately vacant, 15 entire days should elapse before the beginning of the conclave," Benedict wrote in new in rules issued on Monday.
"But I leave the College of Cardinals the option of bringing forward the conclave's start if all cardinal electors are present...or, if there are serious reasons for doing so, to delay the start of the election for several more days."
The start of the conclave could not be delayed by more than 20 days from the Holy See falling vacant, however, Benedict added.
The decision on the date of the beginning of the conclave will be taken by the cardinals but could not be earlier than 1 March, Vatican officials said.
The change to the constitution owed partly to the fact that the church constitution was written for a conclave following the death of a pope, rather than a resignation.
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, the first by a pope in nearly 600 years, takes effect on Thursday (28 February) and surprised many in the Vatican.
Cardinals have said they hope to elect a new pope by Easter Holy Week, which begins on 24 March.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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