- 12 Feb 2013
- The Guardian
- Alex Fenton-Thomas and agencies
Pope Benedict XVI is not the first pope to resign, though he is the first to voluntarily call it a day in more than 700 years. In 1294 Pietro Angelerio, a devout and ascetic holy man who was living as a hermit on Mount Morrone in Italy, was elected Pope Celestine V against his will after a deadlocked conclave could not agree on a candidate for the job.
After only five months in the role, Celestine issued a solemn decree declaring it possible that a pope could resign and then promptly did so. He returned to life as a hermit and was later canonised.
Before Celestine, the only other pontiffs to resign were the current pope’s namesake Benedict IX in 1045 and his successor Gregory VI the year after.
Gregory had schemed to get rid of Benedict, who had been beset by a succession of financial scandals.
After persuading the disgraced incumbent to resign in 1045, and then becoming his successor as Gregory VI, he also resigned after he was accused of benefiting financially from Benedict’s departure.
More recently, in 1415, Pope Gregory XII stood down to end the “western schism”, a 40-year split in the church which threatened to shatter Roman Catholicism. His resignation was, however, thrust upon him rather than voluntary.