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Pope considering new conclave rules, but date of papal election still uncertain

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI may change the rules governing the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope amid continued uncertainty over when the voting can begin.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Wednesday it wasn't clear if any new law would address the timing of the conclave. But such a clarification would seem obvious given the ambiguity of the current rules.

The current law says cardinals must wait 15 days after the papacy becomes vacant before voting, in order to allow all eligible cardinals to arrive in Rome — making March 15 the presumed start date. That delay, however, assumed a papal death and funeral. In this case, the cardinals already know that the pontificate will end Feb. 28 and can get to Rome in plenty of time.