VATICAN CITY (TheBlaze/AP) — Pope Benedict XVI has changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor, allowing cardinals to move up the start date if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day transition between pontificates. This comes after the Vatican recently hinted that such a change was potentially on the horizon.

Last week, Vatican spokesman The Rev. Federico Lombardi said that the rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that “this is a question that people are discussing.”

Pope Benedict Officially Changes Conclave Rules to Allow for Earlier Start | Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges a cheering crowd of faithful and pilgrims during his second-last Angelus prayer from the window of his apartments at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, before he resigns on Feb. 28, 2013. Credit: AP

“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” to move up the start of conclave, Lombardi said. This possibility has now become reality.

Benedict signed a legal document, issued Monday, with some line-by-line changes to the 1996 Vatican law governing the election of a new pope. It is one of his last acts as pope before resigning Thursday.

The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Easter Sunday March 31. 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, March 17 — a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start March 15.

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