(Photo: Franco Origlia, Getty Images)
DETROIT ( Det. Free Press) -- The secret Conclave of Cardinals to choose the next pope could start as soon as next week now that Pope Benedict XVI changed the rules, Edward Peters, a Detroit-based Vatican consultant on Roman Catholic church law, said today.
Peters, who teaches canon law at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, said Benedict didn't assign a specific date or schedule for the conclave to begin.
"The actual start date is still undetermined. But I think it's going to be very early in March," said Peters. "I'm thinking the 5th or the 8th."
Cardinals from around the world - which number more than 200 - already are gathering in Rome for the pope's farewell on Thursday, the day his resignation takes effect.
Peters said the pope's rule change means the conclave can begin when all eligible cardinal electors - those under age 80, who number about 115 - are in Rome. At least one cardinal elector from Indonesia has said he's not attending because of health reasons. The British Cardinal Keith O'Brien said he's not attending or voting in the conclave, as accusations erupted that he had improper relations in the past with other priests.
"All the pope said is that when everybody (the cardinals) shows up, you can go ahead and start early," said Peters.
Vatican law required the papal conclave to commence 15 to 20 days after the papacy became vacant, reflecting the time necessary for a papal funeral. But that's unnecessary since Benedict became the first pope in 600 years to resign from the papacy. The Vatican also is anxious to have a new pope in place before Easter Week in late March.
Benedict's announcement today, said Peters, "has authorized an earlier start for the conclave if, as most anticipate, the cardinal electors show up early and there's no purpose to be served by them waiting for March 15," said Peters.
Cardinal Adam Maida, 82, Detroit archdiocese leader from 1990 to 2009, plans to travel to Rome for the gathering of cardinals, but is ineligible to vote. Maida was traveling back to Detroit today from a vacation in South Carolina to formalize his plans. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, 85, who ran the Detroit archdiocese in the 1980s and also held two high-ranking Vatican posts until 2006, is not attending for health reasons.
Beginning Friday, there will be a daily meeting of all cardinals, designed to maintain Vatican operations and discuss issues facing the church, including when the conclave begins.
In 2010, Pope Benedict named Peters a Referendary of the Apostolic Signatura - which is akin to a Vatican high court. Peters was the first layman in more than 100 years to be appointed as a consultant to the court.
By Patricia Montemurri, Detroit Free Press staff writer