December 13th 1294: Pope Celestine V resigns

On this day in 1294, Pope Celestine V resigned the papacy. Born Pietro Da Morrone in 1215, he was a Benedictine monk until he left that life to become a hermit, living in the Abruzzi mountains. Morrone attracted a following who admired his humble way of life, and he became the leader of a group of hermits called the Celestines. In 1294, when he was nearly eighty, Morrone was elected pope, and reluctantly accepted the role, taking the name of Celestine. The new pope was unprepared for his new position, and only accepted the role for the stability of the church, which had been without a pope for two years as the cardinals had failed to unite behind a candidate. Celestine V struggled with the practical duties of the papacy, and split with the cardinals. After only five months in office, Celestine V resigned to return to his life of asceticism. However, the new pope - Boniface VIII - refused to allow the former pope to return to his old life, choosing to keep Celestine under supervision. Celestine was captured and held at Fumone Castle, remaining there until his death in 1296. Pope Celestine V was canonised in May 1313.

The Last Resignation

Unless you’ve been under a rock longer than Lazarus, you know that the Pope resigned today. And many of us know that it’s the first papal resignation in 600 years. But how much did you know about Pope Gregory XII, the last pope to resign?

Gregory came to power in 1405 and departed in 1415 over controversy surrounding a break in at the Portam Aquarum Inn, where his rival cardinals held their papal election documents.  But that wasn’t the first trouble to hit his papacy. As one of the least popular popes since Mezdok The Malodorous Blasphemer, Gregory’s reign was a cornucopia of sin and scandal:

1405- Gregory wins the Papacy when all other cardinals in the college die of natural causes during the election, including naturally stabbed hearts, naturally poisoned soup, natural beheadings and one case of lymphoma that was probably actually natural.

1406- Gregory’s vice-pope, Spiro Ignacius, resigns in disgrace when implicated in tax evasion and accepting bribes to grant clemency for those sentenced to hell. De-helling bribes were common in his time but were not the station of the vice-pope, whose only power was to cast the tie breaking vote in the nightly Nun-Mud-Wrestling championships.

1409- Despite the required celibacy of the pope, Gregory appears on the Marius Povicci stage accused of fathering no less than seven children with five women, two of them nuns and one of them a known witch. Acquitted when the accusers had to admit DNA wouldn’t be discovered for another 500 years, the Pope survives the accusations despite all the children sharing his famous mutant 11th finger.

1410- Gregory reaches new heights of unpopularity when at Midnight Mass, he sings a song about having seen the breasts of all Bernini’s sculptures in various cathedrals. Bernini and his models are not amused, though the controversy is taken from Gregory’s shoulders when Machiavelli on the same evening calls the Virgin Mary a cunt.

1414- He orders 1,500 women put to death on a whim, unconditionally pardons 227 priests and bishops accused of unspeakable sex crimes, declares all the Muslims in Turkey “evil” and funds their genocide, and declares Italians to be the only race chosen of god to rule over the rest of the nations. None of this was actually considered bad at the time I just thought I’d mention it.

In any case, his reign ended soon after and the Vatican enjoyed a few peaceful years until 1492, when Rodrigo Borgia, AKA Pope Alexander VI came to power. I’ll leave you to research his exploits on your own, as nothing I could ever make up could come close to the shit that guy actually did.

The Papal Retirees

In February 2013, when he announced his stunning decision to resign the Papacy, Pope Benedict XVI became forever linked in history with Pope Saint Celestine V, who was the last Supreme Pontiff to voluntarily resign as Bishop of Rome when he stepped down in 1294.  

The shared connection over the rare act of a voluntarily Papal resignation seems like it would be the closest Benedict XVI and Saint Celestine V would ever get to one another considering they sat on St. Peter’s throne 700 years apart.  However, on April 28, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI visited Sulmona, Italy following an earthquake in nearby L'Aquila and took time to pray at the feet of Pope Saint Celestine V’s exhumed body (pictured above).  On July 4, 2010, Benedict XVI returned to Sulmona and venerated relics belonging to the 13th Century Saint whose footsteps he would later follow off of the Vatican’s altar and into a rare Papal retirement.  

I will say this publicly and one time only

Abuse victims’ trauma is not your anticlerical joke fodder.

I repeat.

Abuse victims’ trauma is not your anticlerical joke fodder.

There are plenty of shitty things to say about the institutional Catholic Church without appropriating our lives, stories, and deeply personal experiences for your hashtag lulz.

Abuse victims’ trauma is not your anticlerical joke fodder.

In all seriousness

I trust Pope Benedict, and I trust God, and if the pope believes this is what God wants of him, then I support it 100%.

I also trust that the Holy Spirit will provide us with a new pope who is every bit as wonderful as his predecessors, who will also be a great shepherd to the Church, and whom I will come to love just as much.

I’m just…really going to miss Papa Benny being our pope.

As Your Token Catholic Friend: Some Facts and Thoughts on the Papal Resignation

What we know at this stage:

  • Yes the Pope is able to resign.
  • No, it hasn’t happened in nearly 600 years (in 1415CE).
  • No, it isn’t especially common anyway.
  • Benedict XVI is resigning at the end of February
  • The ensuing conclave will likely take place in March.
  • No matter what anyone says, at this stage it’s anyone’s game.  Nobody really knows who is going to be the next Pope.
  • At this stage nobody knows what the next Pope’s name will be.  (It probably won’t be Benedict Cumberbatch.)
  • No, he will not vote in the next conclave (he is too old - I don’t know any technicalities about whether or not the ex-Pope could, hypothetically, vote if he was young enough).


  • I actually am inclined to believe the explanation that the Pope is doing it from ill health.  Benedict watched JPII die very slowly in the public eye and I have a feeling he probably doesn’t want the same to happen to him.  He has, according to close sources, been very unwell for some time. 
  • At first I suspected some kind of degenerative illness might be an explanation, though the Vatican has said that the Pope is not resigning due to any specific illness.  They don’t really have anything to gain at this stage by lying about that, so I’m also inclined to believe them on that point.
  • The idea that this is because of an upcoming scandal strikes me as a very ‘political’ kind of thinking that isn’t really comparable with Pope-thinking.  Popes are not Presidents or Prime Ministers.  They don’t quit over that kind of thing.
Hey look, a no-longer-Pope!

So we’ve had implicit comparisons to Gregory XII (“the last time a pope resigned was 600 years ago!”) and to Celestine V (“the last time a pope resigned Dante put him in Hell!”, although it was actually the antechamber of Hell and possibly was Pontius Pilate, not Celestine).

I want someone to try comparing him to Benedict IX. You know, the teenage pope who had wild orgies in the palace, who sold the papacy and then kept trying to take it back (occasionally by force) from the three successive popes they chose to replace him. 

(Although, honestly, for my money, the only pope to really count as having resigned is Celestine V - Benedict IX, in the 1030s and 40s, was compelled into it and sold it and never really acknowledged that he wasn’t pope anymore until they excommunicated him, so that’s more a ‘forcibly booted out’ than retiring; John XVIII earlier that century resigned and died the same year in the context of a bout of plague in the area, so it was probably more a case of “LOOK GUYS I CANNOT FUNCTION HERE BUSY DYING K”; and Gregory XII was one of two popes who were elected concurrently at the end of the fourteenth century - the Great Schism - and both he and the other guy resigned at the same time so that the cardinals could pick a new pope that everyone could agree on. Celestine V, at the end of the 13th century, just didn’t want to be pope and wanted to go home and be a quiet little hermit again - and obviously John and Benedict didn’t count as precedent at the time, because Celestine actually had to pass legislation to say that the pope could resign before he resigned.)

Let's Find a Pope!

So, yeah, I get the whole vote-burn-smoke decision-making process, but come on! There’s amazing reality game show potential here! Check it:

1. Vatican Idol

“The way you gave that sermon was pathetic.”

2. The Christ Factor

“I’m not sure you have that *something* to make you our pope.”

3. His Voice

“There were some pitch issues, but I could see you delivering that psalm with style.”

4. Vatican’s Next Top Father

“I just don’t see how you could be speaking to God in that outfit.”

5. Pope or No Pope

“If you trade now, there’s a chance that you could elect Alfred Molina… or get stuck with the 87-year-old from Ireland!”

6. Heaven’s Kitchen

“You want to be pope and you can’t even bake a SIMPLE F**KING COMMUNION WAFER?! GET OUT!”

7. So You Think You Can Pope

“OHHH! I haven’t seen a pope with moves like that since Pius XII!”

8. Vatican’s Got Talent

“I don’t understand what sumo suits and corgis have to do with the papalcy.”

9. WWE Pope Enough

“You need more than muscles and a sound knowledge of Catholic tradition if you want to be OUR pope.”

10. The Popeprentice

“You’re willing to sacrifice yourself for the good of others? That won’t get you anywhere. YOU’RE FIRED!”


Good for You, Pope Benedict

Like most people around the world I’m still having a hard time getting over the fact that the Pope will be resigning at the end of the month. I mean come oooonn… he just joined Twitter. I was really looking forward to hanging out with him a bit online. Even if by “hanging out” I really just mean stalking. 

Although when I heard the news, I’ll admit that the first thought that came into my mind was that joining Twitter might have had something to do with it. Because really, some of the crazies on there could make even the Pope lose his faith in humanity. 

But no, that’s ridiculous. So are all the other comments and conspiracy theories I’ve seen online since the news broke last night.

Oh please. Just quit it already.

I don’t really think the Pope’s resignation needs much analysis. It’s simple, really – like he said, he’s too old for this. (Hello, he’s 85!!!) And unlike many people in positions of power and responsibility, he has the humility, grace and concern for the general good to admit it and step down. 

We’ve all had this mentality drummed into us that “Winners don’t quit!” but I’ve never really bought into that. Winners know WHEN to quit.

There’s a difference between saying “I don’t want to do this anymore” and “I’m no longer the right person for this job. Others can do better.” The first implies weakness, the second shows strength. 

So BRAVO, your Holiness. Good for you. Enjoy your retirement, and please accept my sincerest thanks for all the good you’ve done. 

Oddly enough, the fact that the pope announced his resignation this morning inspired a Protestant friend of mine to come to the Catholic Center today and I ran into him there and he told me that he wants to learn more about the Catholic Church and we wound up talking about the scriptural basis for Marian doctrine.

So I’m less sad now because in a convoluted way this might have helped lead him to the Church?