The Vatican raised the possibility Saturday that the conclave to elect the next pope might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date possible under current rules that require a 15 to 20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Vatican rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that "this is a question that people are discussing."
Any change to the law itself would have to be approved by the pope before he resigns.
But if Vatican officials determine that the matter is just a question of interpreting the existing law, "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" to move up the start of the conclave, Lombardi said.
The 15 to 20 day waiting period is in place to allow time for all cardinals who don't live in Rome to arrive, under the usual circumstance of a pope dying. But in this case the cardinals already know that this pontificate will end Feb. 28, with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and therefore can get to Rome in plenty of time to take part in the conclave, Lombardi said.