Church History Forum: Papal Abdication and Retirement

Papal Abdication and Retirement QUESTION from Aaron Lim August 26, 2001 + Peace be with you. I would like to ask, can a Pope abdicate and has it ever occured in history? The present pope, which I must praise him for all his good works; looks sadly tired from all his days work. Can a pope retire too like some friars, priest and nuns do when the are at certain age or are suffering a certain ailment? I hope you do not confuse me as implying that the present pope do so as mentioned above. May God continously guide the Servants of servants of God! Thank you and GOd bless.
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on August 30, 2001 Dear Aaron,
In principle, yes, a pope can retire, or resign. This has happened six times in history, but never for reasons of health or age.
The six popes, and their circumstances, were as follows:
1. Pope St. Martin I (649-655): resigned in 655 while in exile in Crimea (he had been exiled by the Byzantine Emperor Constans II for his rejection of the heresy of Monothelitism). While in exlie he learned that the Romans, thinking him dead, had elected a new pope. Upon hearing this news he resigned so as to recognize the new Pope.
2. Pope Benedict V (964): this pope was also bullied by an Emperor (Holy Roman Emperor Otto). Otto was not happy with him as a papal candidate and put forward his own choice, a man named Leo. When Benedict was elected, Leo broke Benedict's papal staff in protest. Pope Benedict then resigned, and was exiled to Germany.
3. Pope Benedict IX (1032-45): this pope was one of the few bad eggs that have held the Chair of Peter. He acquired the papacy by dubious means (i.e. money), and was persuaded to give up the office by his godfather, the future Pope Gregory VI.
4. Pope Gregory VI (1045-46): this pope was the godfather of Benedict IX, he bought the office from his godson, to avoid further scandal. However, he subsequently resigned, presumably because he realized he was no more entitled to acquire the papacy that way that Benedict IX was.
5. Pope St. Celestine V (1294): Pope St. Celestine V resigned after only a few months because he did not feel he was th eright person for the job.
and finally..
6. Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415): this pope offered his resignation in an attempt to end the Great Western Schism (!378-1415). His resignation succeeded in its intent, as the schism subsequently ended with the election of Pope Martin V in 1415.
So, in conclusion, none of the popes who resigned did so for reasons of health. And I, like you, certainly don't expect His Holiness Pope John Paul II to do so!
Thanks, Aaron.
God bless, .
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