Pope changes rules for faster succession

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THE Pope has changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor, allowing cardinals to bring forward the start date if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition between pontificates.

Benedict signed a legal document yesterday with some changes to the 1996 Vatican law governing the election of a new pope, in one of his last acts as pontiff before he resigns on Thursday.

The date of the conclave’s start is important because Easter Sunday is on 31 March. In order to have a new pope in place for the Church’s most solemn liturgical period, he would need to be installed by Sunday 17 March – a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start on 15 March.

In another development yesterday, Benedict decided that the contents of a secret investigation into the 2012 leaks of Vatican documents will not be shared with the cardinals ahead of the conclave.

Benedict met three elderly cardinals who conducted the investigation and decided that “the acts of the investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope,” a Vatican statement said. Speculation has been rife that the three cardinals – Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi – would be authorised to share the information with fellow cardinals before the conclave.

Benedict appointed the three men last year to investigate the origins of leaks, which revealed wrangling, corruption, cronyism and even allegations of a gay plot at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

The Pope’s butler was convicted of aggravated theft in October for having stolen the papers and giving them to a journalist who then published them in a book. While the three cardinals cannot share the full contents of their investigation, it is unclear whether they could give subtle hints about potential papal candidates to the electors.