Pope Benedict, Vatican officials striving for clean conclave
New rules designed to ensure conclave without controversy26 February, 15:01
(ANSA) - Rome, February 26 - Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials are carefully scrutinizing security and their own internal voting rules with the aim of ensuring a conclave without controversy.
As cardinals of the Catholic Church gather in Rome to elect a successor to Benedict, who is retiring Thursday, officials are working hard to avoid any criticism about the balloting process.
Security is being toughened up to ensure listening devices are not planted inside the Sistine Chapel that could be used to leak the cardinals' very private consultations before they signal the results of their voting to the waiting world.
Other jamming devices are in place to prevent cardinals from communicating with the outside world once inside the Sistine Chapel and the conclave begins - not even a random posting on a Twitter account that might inadvertently say too much. In addition to electronic sweeps to prevent leaks that might compromise the vote, Pope Benedict has also been changing the rules governing the conclave itself, to try to ensure a fair but more speedy vote.
The pope laid out the new rules in a papal decree called "motu proprio" in Latin, including a regulation that allows the College of Cardinals to move up the date for the beginning of the conclave to elect his successor.
Normally, a minimum of 15 days after the end of a papacy has been required before a conclave could begin, a rule developed because popes almost always die in office.
However, because Benedict announced on February 11 that he would retire on February 28, he ruled Monday that such notice has given cardinals from around the world enough time reach Rome for the crucial vote.
"The cardinals will be permitted to bring forward the start of the conclave, if they are all present," says the papal decree.
A Vatican official noted that the pope did not set a new timetable for cardinals but instead, opened up their options.
However, the conclave still must begin no more than 20 days after the start of the "sede vacante" or vacant seat.
Still, the cardinals must wait for every one of their colleagues - who must be under age 80 to be eligible to vote - to arrive in Rome before they can then select the date for the start of conclave.
A vote on the start date, say Vatican officials, will be determined by a majority of 50% plus one.
Pope Benedict has also defined the exact penalty - automatic excommunication - that would be levied against any support staff working with the College of Cardinals who fails to maintain absolute secrecy about the conclave proceedings.
The aides must also swear that they will not be a party to any outside interference in the election process. Under the old rules, the penalty for breaking the vow was to be determined by the future pope.
The penalty remains unspecified for any cardinals caught breaking the oath of secrecy.
The papal decree included several other minor changes and clarifications, including the addition of the phrase "at least" to a two-thirds majority when defining a valid election of a pope.
These latest changes are the second time that Pope Benedict amended the conclave rules that were established by his predecessor Pope John Paul in 1996.
In 2007, Pope Benedict decreed that a pope is elected when he obtains a two-thirds majority, even when the cardinals voting in conclave hit an impasse.
This amendment has been seen as less flexible than what had been used in the past, when cardinals merely needed a simple majority to elect a new pope.
Despite the best efforts of the Vatican, the present conclave is still marked by controversy - perhaps more than any other in recent memory.
A major concern has been a string of sexual abuse scandals and subsequent cover-ups that is striking cardinals and threatening confidence in the Church.
In a very unusual move, one cardinal on Monday recused himself from the conclave.
Scandal-struck Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien confirmed his immediate resignation and said he would not attend the conclave. He is facing allegations from other priests of inappropriate behaviour.
As well, other cardinals have faced calls not to attend conclave, including former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony because of his alleged role protecting sexually abusive priests.
Mahony, however, is already in Rome and has said he would participate in the voting for the new pope.
With O'Brien's decision to avoid the conclave, as well as that of an Indonesian cardinal who has said he is too ill to travel, about 115 cardinals under age 80 are expected to vote in the conclave.