The Vatican says it may "speed up" the election of a new pope, after Pope Benedict XVI's surprising resignation. The Pope will step down on February 28, and church officials want a confirmed successor before the start of the Holy Week (March 24).
The Holy See is now considering calls from cardinals to hold the papal conclave earlier than planned. About 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter the conclave to elect Benedict's successor.
Church rules dictate the conclave, held at the Sistine Chapel, has to start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant. However, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi — who had previously said the conclave would probably start on or after March 15 — told the BBC that the Vatican was now "interpreting" the law to see if the conclave could start earlier than expected. "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," he concluded.