The doors of the Sistine Chapel could close for the conclave before March 15, under changes published by Benedict XVI today. PIER PAOLO CITO/AP

Benedict changes rules to allow Conclave to start earlier

Cardinals can now move the Conclave forward if they’re all present – but also have to take strict oaths of secrecy.

POPE BENEDICT XVI has made changes to Catholic Church rules governing the election of popes – allowing the conclave tasked with choosing his successor to be brought forward.

A legal document signed by Benedict last Friday, and formally issued this morning, means the usual 15-day waiting period between a papal vacancy and the beginning of a conclave is now less rigidly applied.

The College of Cardinals can now begin its conclave earlier than the 15th day if it is confident that all eligible voting members are present and available to take part in the conclave.

They are now also given the freedom to delay the conclave by a few days “for serious reasons” – though the conclave must begin within 20 days of the vacancy arising.

The changes are particularly important in the case of Benedict’s abdication, which takes effect this Thursday evening, because the usual waiting procedure could mean that the conclave would continue into Easter.

Holy Week begins this year on March 24, with Easter Sunday on March 31. If the Conclave did not begin until March 15, it would be possible that the election of the new pontiff could not be concluded until well into Easter week.

The text of the Pope’s changes to canon law – known formally as a motu proprio - also outlines a new strict oath of secrecy that each cardinal taking part in the conclave must take before the conclave begins.

The oath says each voter will “swear to observe absolute secrecy” in all matters relating to the voting, ballots and election of the new pope, and that they also refrain from using any recording device to document the proceedings.

They also agree not to observe any media during the conclave, knowing that their thoughts should not be influenced by outside coverage.

The oath outlines a penalty of guaranteed excommunication for anyone who breaches the secrecy of the conclave.

Read: Pope accepts resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien

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