The date of the conclave's start is important because Holy Week begins March 24 and Easter Sunday is March 31. In order to have a new pope in place for the church's most solemn liturgical period, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start on March 15, as per the previous rules.
And in another development Monday, Benedict decided that the contents of a secret investigation into the 2012 leaks of Vatican documents won't be shared with the cardinals ahead of the conclave. Benedict met Monday with the three elderly cardinals who conducted the probe and decided that "the acts of the investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope," a Vatican statement said.
Speculation has been rife in the Italian media that the three cardinals — Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi — would be authorized to share the information with fellow cardinals before the conclave. That assumed the cardinal electors would want to know details about the state of dysfunction in the Vatican bureaucracy and on any potentially compromised colleagues before possibly voting one into office.
Benedict appointed the three men last year to investigate the origins of leaks of the pope's documents, and they had wide-ranging powers to question cardinals. The leaked documents revealed petty wrangling, corruption, cronyism and even allegations of a gay plot at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. The pope's butler was convicted of aggravated theft in October for having stolen the papers and given them to a journalist who then published them in a blockbuster book.
While the three cardinals cannot share the full contents of their investigation, it's unclear if they could give subtle hints about potential papal candidates.