The cardinals who must pick a successor to Pope Benedict XVI after he steps down on February 28 could meet to make the decision sooner than thought, a Vatican spokesman said Saturday.
The conclave, the meeting which will bring together the 117 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, could start before March 15 if all the cardinals are already in Rome, Father Federico Lombardi said.
Lombardi had previously said the conclave was likely to start between March 15 and 19.
But he gave new details Saturday, saying that because the pope had resigned rather than the conclave being triggered by his death, there was scope for the time frame to be brought forward.
The decision may not come until after Benedict's departure and lies in the hands of the cardinals, he added.
Opinion: Pope Benedict shows true leadership by resigning
Benedict is the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years, throwing the Vatican into some confusion.
Experts are working on points of the Apostolic Constitution that need to be clarified or interpreted, Lombardi said, and are expected to give pointers on the new protocol soon.
Lombardi said he had met with the pope Saturday morning and found him "calm and relaxed even in these so emotional days."
Benedict, 85, shocked the world Monday when he announced his intention to stand down at the end of the month, citing the frailty of old age.