(CBS News) Pope Benedict is set to step down this week and during his final public blessing on Sunday, he defended his decision to retire as church spokespeople reacted to mounting controversy surrounding Britain's most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
O'Brien resigned as archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrews amid allegations of "inappropriate contact" with four church officials three decades ago. O'Brien denied the allegations but explained his resignation -- and decision not to participate in the upcoming conclave to elect Benedict's successor -- saying he did not want to detract attention from choosing the next successor.
As Catholics worldwide await word of a new leader, Pope Benedict announced Monday that he will amend the Roman Catholic church law so that the conclave to select his successor can begin earlier. The remaining 115 voting cardinals can now begin the selection process before March 15. Vatican officials explained that the change is due to the fact that the rule was written for a conclave following the death of a pope, as opposed to a resignation.
Despite the international scandals erupting within the church, Catholics descended on Vatican City over the weekend to take part in Benedict's last mass during what has become a particularly important Lenten season for Catholics.
Matthew Speer of Pittsburgh was in Rome and told CBS News' Allen Pizzey, "I'm praying that the cardinals will choose the right pope who's going to lead the church to where it needs to be in a difficult time."
John Walter of St. Louis, also at the Vatican on Sunday, said he hopes the cardinals will choose "a pope that's a little bit younger," this time.