Papal Resignations Crib Sheet

Impress your mates down the pub with your exhaustive knowledge of popes who resigned from office (it turns out Pope Benedict XVI has plenty of company).

Pope Benedict XVI picture from Shutterstock

Today, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from God’s highest rank of office after just seven years on the job. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Benedict XVI announced in a statement.

The news has come as a shock to many; especially after more than five centuries of popes who served on resolutely until their deaths. However, the history of Catholicism is littered with popes who stepped down for one reason or another. Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable Vatican drop-outs.

St Pontian (21 July 230 – 28 September 235)

St Pontian (Pope #18) was deposed by the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax who sent the unfortunate packing to work in the brutal mines of Sardina. Realising he would likely die in exile, Pontian abdicated in a bid to prevent a power vacuum in the Church.

St Silverius (1 June 536 – 11 November 537)

St Silverius (Pope #58) was another Pope to fall foul of anti-Christian sentiment in Rome. After being sent into exile by empress Theodora of Constantinople, he was forced to resign by his successor Pope Vigilius and later starved to death in the Gulf of Gaeta.

John XVIII (25 December 1003 – July 1009)

After clashing with Rome’s powerful Crescentii clan, John XVIII (Pope #141) ended his papacy and moved into a monastery where he died shortly thereafter.

Benedict IX (1032–1044)

Benedict IX (Pope #145) resigned not once, but twice during a turbulent papal career that spanned three separate terms as pope. He was eventually excommunicated.

St Celestine V (5 July 1294 – 13 December 1294)

St Celestine V (Pope #192) chose to relinquish his papacy due to the absolute power exerted by King Charles II of Sicily over the Church. He was the first pope to abdicate of his own free will, setting a precedent for Pope Benedict XVI to follow. His term in office lasted just five months.

Gregory XII (30 November 1406 – 4 July 1415)

Gregory XII (Pope #205) was a pope during the Great Schism which saw the Roman Catholic Church divided against itself for nearly forty years. Gregory XII abdicated in an attempt to mend the rift between the various churches and secular powers. He was the last pope to resign prior to last night’s announcement.

Pope Benedict XVI (19 April 2005 – February 28 2013)

Pope Benedict XVI (Pope #265) is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict XVI will finish up his term as pope on February 28 due to advanced age

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