The Vatican's spokesman announced today that the coming conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor might be convened in shorter order than previously thought.
"It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy," Holy See Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi told the press on Feb. 16.
Church law currently prescribes that from the moment a Pope dies or renounces the pontificate "the Cardinal electors who are present must wait fifteen full days for those who are absent."
In Blessed John Paul II's 1996 document, the Apostolic Consitution titled "Universi Dominici Gregis," cardinals are decreed to commence the voting process behind closed doors no sooner than 15 days, but no later than 20 into the "sede vacante" period.
Given the unprecedented circumstances of the Pope's planned resignation on Feb. 28, however, Fr. Lombardi stated that the date could be moved forward.
"In the Constitution, it says between 15 and 20 days, but, this period is to 'wait,' that is to give those who need it the time necessary to reach the Vatican. In the eventuality that the cardinals were already all here, the Constitution could be interpreted in a different way," said the press office director.
Fr. Lombardi said it would be in the hands of the College of Cardinals, led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to decide.
He also revealed that Pope Benedict XVI will likely be spending two months at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo following his resignation. He will be waiting there for renovations to be completed on Mater Ecclesiae monastery. Joining him at the property within the Vatican gardens will be his personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and members of his current household staff.
Meanwhile, preparations continue for the final papal general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Vatican Radio reported that thousands will be "flocking" to St. Peter's Square, where they will be able to attend Pope Benedict XVI's “last great appointment with the People of God.”