Cardinals Get Green-Light For Quick Conclave
As previously noted, a papal election's start-date can only be decided upon by the cardinals gathered in General Congregation after the vacancy is triggered. While almost all of the cardinals are expected to be in Rome to take part in the pontiff's sendoff on Thursday, only once the vacancy occurs can the body be formally convoked, so even the date of the first of the pre-electoral meetings remains to emerge.
In light of the unique circumstances of Benedict's departure from the papacy, the likelihood of an exemption from the usual waiting period was indicated here on 12 February, a day after Benedict announced his intent to relinquish the papacy; the preparation of the document released today first emerged on the 16th.
In recent days, several key members of the College – including Cardinals Francis George of Chicago, Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris and Timothy Dolan of New York – have publicly voiced opposition to beginning the Conclave before March 15th, the earliest permitted date under the rules of Universi Domenici Gregis, John Paul II's 1996 constitution on the papal succession.
While an earlier option has been deemed in some quarters as a play into the hands of the Roman Curia, it likewise addresses concerns expressed elsewhere over the conflict a papal transition on the normal time-frame would present with Holy Week – the period when the bulk of the cardinals who lead the world's dioceses have their most intense and high-profile obligations of the year at home.
In any event, the pre-Conclave period as stipulated until now has been a fairly recent innovation to the process. By tradition, the wait before the first ballot was a mere 10 days until 1922, when the three North American cardinals – who left for Rome by steamship quickly upon learning of the death of Pope Benedict XV – only arrived once Pope Pius XI had been elected. Shortly thereafter, the new pontiff extended the mandatory period to 15 days to allow the far-flung cardinals the needed time to arrive, with a maximum option of 20 days as necessary.
Likewise including minor clarifications on other points, the new document – titled Normas Nonnullas – was only issued by the Holy See in Latin and Italian.