New questions arise as conclave rules change
Vatileaks probe results to be seen by select cardinals26 February, 14:17
(ANSA) - Vatican City, February 25 - With only four days remaining before Benedict XVI steps down as pope, new questions continue to surface regarding how his successor will be elected.
On Monday Benedict issued a decree changing the rules of the conclave electing the new head of the Catholic Church.
The rule change allows the conclave to take place sooner than the mandatory 15 days from a papacy's end, and so before mid-March, the Vatican said.
"The cardinals will be permitted to bring forward the start of the conclave, if they are all present," said the decree, called 'motu proprio' in Latin. Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "We cannot anticipate the date of the conclave, but it is likely a formal decision will come in the first few days of March".
Benedict, who stunned the world February 11 by announcing he would become the first pope in almost 600 years to abdicate, steps down Thursday, February 28 at 20:00 Italian time (19:00 GMT).
While the precise date of the conclave to elect the new pope has yet to be announced, cardinals have been arriving in Rome for weeks. The number who will ultimately attend dropped by one Monday following the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the United Kingdom's most senior Catholic cleric, after accusations of "inappropriate behavior" toward other priests in the 1980s, the BBC reported.
O'Brien is stepping down from his post as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
Three priests and a former priest from the Scottish diocese complained earlier this month to the pope's UK representative Nuncio Antonio Mennini for what they claimed was the cardinal's inappropriate behavior toward them in the 1980s, the Observer newspaper reported.
In a statement Monday, the Vatican said that the pope had accepted O'Brien's resignation last Monday.
"I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest," said O'Brien. "Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended".
The resignation throws the Catholic Church in Scotland into crisis and strikes a heavy blow to the Church as a whole, as the Vatican battles for its reputation amidst reports of internal corruption, mismanagement and allegations of covering up for pedophile priests in other parts of the world.
O'Brien was to be Britain's only representative in the upcoming conclave He had been planning to retire after the selection of the new pope.
As well, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the Irish Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony and Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium have all faced calls not to attend over the sex-abuse scandals that date back decades and have rocked the Catholic Church.
It is one of several scandals plaguing the Church during the sensitive transition period.
The Vatican announced Monday that Benedict will reveal the full results of an investigation into the Vatican leaks scandal "solely to the new pontiff", but parts of it will be disclosed to members of the conclave to elect his successor.
The announcements came after Benedict met Monday with the three-cardinal commission that investigated the so-called Vatileaks affair, which reached its peak last year when the pope's butler was found guilty and eventually pardoned for photocopying sensitive Church documents and sharing them with Italian media.
Since Benedict announced earlier this month that he would step down February 28, unsourced reports in the Italian press have alleged that the 300-page dossier on the scandal was the final straw that triggered Benedict's decision to break from tradition and abdicate from an otherwise lifetime position. In a statement, the Vatican said Monday that Benedict had "decided that the results of the investigation, of which only His Holiness is aware, will remain at the sole disposition of the new pontiff".
Shortly thereafter, Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi said that some members of the conclave to elect the next pope will have foreknowledge of those results, specifying that the three-cardinal commission "will know to what extent they can and must" share information that is "useful to evaluate the situation and to select a new pope" before the conclave.
The authors of the report are Cardinal Julian Herranz from Spain, former archbishop of Palermo Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, and Cardinal Jozef Tomko from Slovakia.