Pope allows cardinals to bring forward election of his successor.

Benedict signed a “motu proprio”, which was issued today, with some changes to the conclave rules established in 1996 by Pope John Paul II governing the election of a new pope. It is one of his last acts as pope before he resigns on Thursday.

The Vatican has said it wants a new pope in place by Holy Week, which starts on 24 March. Having to wait the full 15 days after Pope Benedict resigns to begin the conclave to elect his successor would put the cardinals under increased pressure.

However some cardinals have said proceedings should not start early, because the change will give a distinct advantage to cardinal-electors in the Vatican and closer to Rome who have already begun strategising for possible candidates to be the next pope.