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The List: Seven Popes who resigned

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | Posted by

If you’ve been job hunting your employment agency might have mentioned that

Pope Benedict XVI

there’s an opening in the Vatican. This isn’t the first time a Pope has given notice and considering Benedict XVI was the 266th pope to hold the job, it isn’t surprising that there have been others.

Pope Gregory XII (elected by a mere 15 cardinals) reigned between 1406 and 1415. During his papacy there were two antipopes. At the Council of Constance, in order to heal

Pope Gregory XII

the schism in the Church, Pope Gregory XII officially resigned along with

antipope Benedict XIII. The remaining antipope—John XXIII—was deposed. All

three were replaced by Pope Martin V two years later.

Pope St. Celestine V was the last Pope not to be elected in a conclave . He was Pope from August to December 1294. As a Benedictine monk he lived as a hermit

Pope St. Celestine

renowned for his spirituality. Because the Cardinals could not decide on the right man to reign after Celestine’s predecessor died, they agreed to elect someone who was a mere priest because of his well-known holiness. Reluctantly he agreed and he summoned the cardinals to him (rather than going to them in Rome). When they gathered together Celestine V sat on a donkey and was led to Rome. Ultimately he resigned because he felt he wasn’t cut out for the job.  He was canonized a saint in 1313 and his remains are still venerated to this day.

Pope Sylvester III had the shortest reign of all popes in this list. He was consecrated in 1045 and his pontificate lasted only 22 days before he was

Pope Sylvester III

deposed and replaced by his predecessor Benedict IX. His election occurred after Pope Benedict IX was driven from Rome under accusations of adultery and murder. Sylvester, while pope,  was excommunicated by Benedict and ultimately Benedict returned to the Papacy in Rome and deposed Sylvester. Pope Sylvester III died in exile years later.

Pope Clement II was Pope between 1046 and 1047. His pontificate was short but he managed to reform the Vatican (by banning simony) and canonizing at least one saint. While he was traveling he fell ill and died.

Pope Clement II

Rumors abounded that he had been poisoned and in the mid-20th century, a toxicology examination was performed on his remains and it was determined that he died due to poisoning by lead. Whether it was murder or an accident (lead-sugar being used as medicine in those times) is unknown. He was succeeded by Pope Benedict IX.

Pope Gregory VI was Pope from May to December 1046. At the time of his election Pope Benedict IX was reigning but he did not wish to be Pope and wanted to get married. He offered to sell the papacy to his Godfather (Gregory VI) and his offer was accepted. Selling the papacy is

Pope Gregory VI

never a good idea and Gregory VI’s reign was not a happy one. He was forced to abdicate and died in exile in 1048.

Pope St. Martin, who was pope  from 649 to 653 was the last Pope to die a martyr. The Byzantine Emperor who didn’t approve,  had Pope St. Martin kidnapped, taken to Constantinople, deposed, condemned and exiled. Although his papacy was short, Martin I summoned a council which condemned certain acts which had the support of Emperor Constans II, ticking off Constans II, who had him arrested.  He died two years after his exile in

Pope St. Martin

Southern Ukraine of ill-treatment and neglect.


Writer Spotlight

Stephen Gross, The River correspondent

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