On Sunday morning substantial crowds were jammed into St. Peter’s Square to witness one of Pope Benedict XVI ‘s last public appearances.
The 85-year old leader of the Catholic Church blessed tens of thousands of Romans and pilgrims. The crowd cheered when he requested their prayers and thanked them for their “affection and spiritual closeness.”
He also told the crowd that he would be beginning his Lenten retreat, as he left behind a whirlwind of speculation, conspiracy theories and rumours of why he is really resigning, and who will be his replacement in March.
The vague announcements from the Vatican are feeding the fire. The latest was Rev. Frederico Lombardi’s comments Friday that they are looking into whether it is possible to speed up the process of electing a successor for Pope Benedict.
Currently, church law clearly states that a conclave can be held no earlier than 15 days after the papacy is vacated. So making a change would mean getting a dispensation, or finding a loophole in the laws. Then it would be a push to choose and prepare a new pontiff to be in place for March 24 – Palm Sunday.
Vatican expert Rev. Thomas Reese, says that it would be a mistake to rush things. The laws of the Catholic Church can’t be altered on a whim. However, Pope Benedict can make the necessary changes before leaves, but that would create a rush of conspiracy theories in the media.