Previous Papal Resignations

I am no expert on this and have quickly done some digging via Wikipedia and the BCC into previous papal resignations. These sources are by no means error free so apologies for an inaccuracy.

In 1294 Pope Celestine V issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a pope to resign. He then resigned after only 5 months as pope. Both the BBC and Wikipedia quote Canon Law, which I assume is based on this decree, as allowing a pope to resign and that to be valid the resignation must be made freely, which is the phrase Pope benedict used today,
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
Prior to Pope Celestine in 1294, there were also two resignations in 1045 and 1046. Pope Benedict IX, who was described as “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”, resigned for financial advantage at the pressure of his successor Pope Gregory VI. Pope Gregory VI in turn resigned, because he had effectively paid for the position of Pope, the sin of Simony (paying for sacraments see the story of Simon Acts 8:18-24). Pope Gregory was succeeded by Pope Clement II who dies in 1947, and he was replaced again by Pope Benedict IX who is the only man to have been Pope twice.

The last resignation of a pope was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. This was to help end the Western Schism. There were multiple and political claims to the papal chair. Pope Gregory stepped down and asked Council of Constance to elect the new pope. There were two other claimants, the antipope John XXIII, who also resigned, and the Avignon Pope Benedict XIII who was excommunicated by Pope Gregory XII before he resigned. The council then elected Pope Martin V.

So it is almost 600 years since a pope has resigned. This is a brave and courageous decision by Pope Benedict XVI, a decision he says he has only taken after “repeatedly examined my conscience before God”. Let us pray for Pope Benedict XVI, wisdom for the coming Conclave, and for all of Christ’s Church as we journey through this time of change.

Update: It seems lots of people are asking this question and it has been directly addressed on the Vatican News site here :

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