Popeing Ain’t Easy: 4 Other Popes That Resigned

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bill-swift - February 13, 2013

The Catholic world was shocked this week when the man in the pointy hat, Pope Benedict the XVI, announced that he is resigning at the end of the month for health reasons. It's not shocking that he's sick. That's what happens when you elect a 79 year-old pope. What is surprising is that he's resigning. Most popes are elected for life and don't leave St. Pete's throne until they kick the holy bucket. Joe Ratzinger, (Benedict's real name), didn't tell anyone what he was going to do. That's really surprising as the poor pope usually can't take a holy dump without the College of Cardinals knowing about it. But pope resignations aren't completely unheard of. Though Benny 16 is the first pope to quit in 600 years, he did have some pretty messed up fellow Medieval company. Here is the tale of the four other popes that left the papacy through the door and not the grave.

Benedict IX

Benedict's namesake was a real winner of a pope. In the middle ages popes tended to be reeeeaaalllly corrupt. Powerful Italian merchant families would install relatives on the papal throne. Benedict was given the post when he was 18 in 1032. Benedict 9 was less a representative of Christ than for George Michael. He liked to throw lavish gay orgies in the papal palaces that were paid for out of the Church's treasury. He showered his friends with gold and jewels and dressed like a liturgical Liberace, but with REAL diamond capes. He even made his party buddies and rent boys into cardinals. Eventually, the Church decided he wasn't exactly the type of guy they wanted leading the Church and paid him a fortune to quit. He took the money and spent the rest of his life living it up like a 70's gay bath house.

Gregory VI

And who paid Benny IX to leave? Gregory the VI! This dude was more of a financial rascal than a sexy disco scoundrel. He came from one of the richest families in Italy but still wanted more cashola. He was a pioneer in the field of selling indulgences to line his pockets. The way indulgences worked is that you would give the Church money in exchange for the forgiveness of your sins. The prices depended on the sin. So, taking the Lord's name in vain might cost 5 gold coins while wiping out a village might cost 100. Gregory was so blatant about his medieval Ponzi scheme that the College of Cardinals gave him the boot after just 18 months. And the money? He kept that. Don't hate the playa...

Celestine V

What happens if you don't want the grueling and dangerous job of pontiff? They force you at sword point of course! Celestine was a devout priest who just wanted to do his thing and live as a monk in a cave. When the College of Cardinals was taking too long to elect a new pope in 1292, Celestine wrote them an angry letter saying that they needed to get the lead out or God would get mad. So, since the cardinals couldn't decide on anyone else they gave the job to Celestine. Only he didn't want it. He tried to flee the country but was literally drug back to Rome by the Vatican's soldiers. He reluctantly took the job and made only a couple of decrees, one of which was to make it easier for the pope to abdicate, which he did a year later. But since good guys finish last, his successor threw him in the Vatican dungeon where he soon died. I didn't see the dungeon on my tour of the Vatican. What a jip.

Gregory XII

Where Celestine didn't want to be pope, the problem with Greg 12 was that too many people wanted the job. In 1409, a pope named Benedict XIII was ruling the Church from France. Who wants a Frenchy pope? So, the Italians elected Greg in Rome. Only...Benny 13 didn't quit. Then the Church elected a third pope, Alexander V, so that both Greg and Benny would step down. But they didn't. For several years there were three popes, which is 2 popes too many. Eventually, Greg and Benny were persuaded to resign and let Alexander be the only pope. It's not really fair if you think about it. It's not Greg's fault that the Church hired someone for his job while he was still poping. Popeing? Popizing? Whatever.

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