VATICAN CITY —
Pope Benedict XVI may change Church rules governing the conclave where cardinals from around the world will meet next month to secretly elect his successor, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
Benedict was studying the possibility of making changes tolaws established by his predecessor Pope John Paul II before he abdicates on Feb. 28, a spokesman said.
The changes may affect the timing of the start of the conclave. Current Church rules call for the conclave to start around March 15 but there have been indications that it could be held earlier if the rules are changed.
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Benedict was considering making changes that would ``harmonise'' two documents approved by his predecessor.
One governs the period while the papacy is vacant, known as the "Sede Vacante,'' and another is more specific about the running of the conclave after it begins.
A 1996 apostolic constitution by John Paul II, called "Universi Dominici Gregis,'' stipulates that a conclave must start between 15 and 20 days after the papacy becomes vacant, meaning it cannot begin before March 15 under the current rules.
Some cardinals believe a conclave should start sooner in order to reduce the time in which the Roman Catholic Church will be without a leader.
Cardinals around the world have already begun informal consultations by phone and email to construct a profile of the man they think would be best suited to lead the Church in a period of continuing crisis.
Some 117 cardinals under the age of 80 will be eligible to enter the conclave, which is held in the Sistine Chapel.