The Vatican says Benedict XVI might change the rules on choosing a new pope before he leaves the position next week.
A law introduced by his predecessor John Paul II says the conclave to pick the new pontiff must start between 15 and 20 days after the post becomes vacant.
Some cardinals believe that leaves the Catholic Church leaderless for too long and so bringing the date forward could be one of Benedict’s final papal acts.
The Deputy Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Ambrogio Piazzoni said: “The pope is the only one who can rule on this topic. So until 19:59 on February 28, any new ruling from Benedict XVI will be valid.”
There is still debate raging in Catholic circles about what will happen after that date and time when, for the first time in centuries, an incumbent pope will live alongside a former pope.
Vatican specialist John Thavis said: “Obviously if the new pope is living a couple of hundred feet (a few dozen metres) from the old pope then it is going to be almost insulting not to go and visit him from time to time. You would want to consult him, you would want to greet him and you would probably run into him if you ever walk in the Vatican gardens.”
The builders are trying to get Benedict’s new quarters finished as soon as possible.
When he eventually takes up residence there, the two popes will be living just 60 metres from each other.