Vatican: Conclave on new pope could be before March 15
Rome - Conclave meetings between cardinals to elect a new pope could begin before March 15, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Saturday, despite having previously dismissed suggestions the process could be sped up.
Pope Benedict XVI has said he will officially step down on February 28. The conclave normally meets 15 to 20 days after the papal seat has been vacated, allowing the cardinals enough time to travel to Rome from all over the world.
But since Benedict is resigning - the first pope to do so in 600 years - rather than dying in office, the cardinals have more time to prepare, Lombardi said. Church rules could be interpreted so as to bring the conclave forward, he said.
The Vatican had previously said there would be a new pope by Easter, which this year falls on March 31.//DPA