Why Did Pope Benedict Resign? What Led to His Resignation?

Why did Pope Benedict resign? Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI stands out among the Catholic popes for choosing to step down from his leadership role instead of serving for life. Let’s take a brief glimpse into the circumstances surrounding his departure and what unfolded afterward.

Who was Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI?

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was born in 1927 and grew up in regional Germany. His father was a police officer. After reluctantly joining the German defense force during World War II, he continued his religious studies at the University of Munich once the war ended.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed him as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. He became a Bishop that same year and later became the Dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998. 

When Pope John Paul II passed away in 2005, he led the discussions within the College of Cardinals during the period of vacancy in the Holy See. 

Less than two weeks later, he was chosen as the 265th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church and took the name Benedict XVI. 

In February 2022, at the age of 94, he asked for forgiveness for any serious mistakes he made in handling cases of clergy sex abuse during his time in leadership. 

However, he denied any personal or specific wrongdoing after an independent report criticized his actions in four cases while he was the Archbishop of Munich.

Why Did Pope Benedict Resign?

Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world and the Catholic community when he announced in February 2013 that he would step down. He explained that he no longer had the mental and physical strength to keep up with the fast-changing world.

Having witnessed the decline of his predecessor’s health, he didn’t want to slowly deteriorate while still in office, leaving others to govern in his place.

Some people accused him of secularizing the papacy by resigning, claiming it was like someone in a regular public office. However, he strongly disagreed with those accusations.

During an interview with author Peter Seewald for the book Last Testament: In His Own Words, Pope Benedict XVI explained that even though his role as pope ended, he still saw himself as a father. He said, “A father doesn’t stop being a father, but he’s relieved of specific responsibilities. 

He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a relationship that carries responsibility, but not the day-to-day tasks.” After stepping down from leadership, his title changed to Pope Emeritus.

Have Other Catholic Popes Retired?

In 1294, there was another pope who chose to resign. His name was Celestine V, and he only served for a few months before stepping down. Celestine V was a Benedictine hermit who became pope at the age of 84. He allowed popes to resign, which was a new idea at the time.

Interestingly, Celestine V never really wanted to be the Pope in the first place. When he resigned, he mentioned his desire for humility and his longing for the peaceful life he had before becoming pope.

After Celestine V resigned, his successor, Boniface VIII, didn’t take it well. He had Celestine V imprisoned in the Castle of Fumone, where the former pope passed away less than a year later.

Jumping ahead to 1415, another pope named Gregory XII also decided to step down. This happened because of a division known as the Western Schism, caused by feuds among Italian cardinals. 

The papal residence had been moved from Rome to Avignon in France, and when leaders tried to move it back, chaos ensued. Different popes were ruling different areas, and things were a mess.

But eventually, a general council was established to sort out the situation. Gregory XII willingly resigned, and the other opposing popes were dismissed. This paved the way for Martin V to become the sole pope in 1417, putting an end to the Western Schism.

So, it took several decades and a lot of confusion, but eventually, the situation was resolved, and the Catholic Church had one pope again.

Final Thoughts

While Celestine V’s resignation marked a significant departure from tradition and was met with imprisonment and tragedy, Gregory XII’s decision to step down was driven by the need to address a prolonged division within the Church. 

These events demonstrate that, despite the turmoil and confusion they caused, the Catholic Church was able to find resolution and unity with the appointment of new popes.