US cardinal Roger Mahony, retired from church duties as part of a paedophilia scandal, cannot be banned from the conclave to elect a new pope, but could be advised to stay away, a fellow cardinal and canon law expert said in an interview on Tuesday.
"The common practise is to use persuasion. There is no more that can be done. Cardinal Mahony has the right and duty to take part," Velasio De Paolis, one of the 117 cardinal electors due to participate, told La Repubblica daily.
"This is a troubling situation but the rules must be followed," he said.
"He could be advised not to take part only through a private intervention by someone with great authority," the cardinal said, adding that ultimately "it will be up to his conscience to decide whether to take part or not".
Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, was relieved of all church administrative and public duties last month for mishandling and covering up abuse claims against dozens of priests, dating back to the 1980s.
An association of US Catholics, Catholics United, has launched a petition to keep him from taking part in next month's conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI, who is standing down on February 28 due to old age.
"Cardinal Mahony: Stay Home," the online petition reads, adding: "If a Cardinal is stripped of public ministry in his diocese, why should he be rewarded with being allowed to vote for the next pope?"
"Cardinal Mahony would further increase the scandal and shame in our Church by attending the Papal Conclave," it said.
When Benedict steps down, Mahony will be one of 117 "cardinal electors" below the age limit of 80 required to take part in the conclave.
Mahony took part in the last conclave that elected Benedict in 2005.