Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013



Wow!  Response to the sudden abdication of Pope Benedict XVI has been HUGE!  Our inbox here at the DUNER BLOG has been flooded with questions regarding Papal Resignations.  It hasn't happened in awhile (598 years!) so let's get started!!

Why did the last pope resign in 1415? Was it scandalous?  Kelvin, Berkeley.  Sorry to burst your bubble, K-dog, but Pope Gregory XII resigned solely for politcal purposes.    Back in the 1400's the main issue facing the Papacy was the dreaded Western Schism between Italy and France.  Believe it or not, for a brief time in Europe, there were actually two popes!  There was one in Rome and another in Avignon.  The latter was called the antipope (Now there's a word you don't see everyday!)  Our peaceful pope Gregory XII stepped down, thus allowing a new French / Italian cardinal coalition elect a new pope.

The Pope and the Antipope.
How many popes have resigned in total?  Ravi, Dacca.  Including Benedict XVI, seven popes have resigned their posts.   The first Pope to resign was St. Pontian in AD 235.  He had a dispute with the Roman Emperor Severus Alexander and was forced to serve a horrible exile at a posh villa in Sardinia.  Eight hundred years would pass until another resignation occurred.  In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, horrendous bouts of plague plunged Rome into Civil War.  An upheaval of popes and antipopes forced four more resignations.  These include John XVIII, Benedict IX, Gregory VI and Celestine V. 

Are there Papal Laws concerning proper procedure for resignation? Greg, San Jose.  Of course, Greg!  Fortunately, everyone who works at the DUNER BLOG is fluent in Latin and we were able to translate Canon Law #332.  It states: " If a Roman Pontiff resigns his office (munus), it is required for validity that he make the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested."  (Unfortunately, no one at the DUNER BLOG can speak Lawyer, so we don't know what that means.)  In addition, we found two cases of conditional terms of resignation.  Before Pope Pius VII went to Paris to crown Napoleon in 1804, he signed a resignation notice...just in case he ended up imprisoned.  Likewise for Pope Pius XII during World War II.  If the Nazis killed him, the Papacy was to continue in neutral Portugal.

What percentage of Popes have resigned? Nigel, Manchester. To determine the exact percentage, we must first determine how many total popes there has been.  The first Papal List was published by historian Hermannus Contractus in the year AD 1049.  It ends with Pope Leo IX at #154.  From there, we consult the Catholic Encyclopedia, which adds another 110.  This brings the total to 264 Total Popes.  (Excluding all antipopes).  This means only 2.5% of all popes resign.  NOTES: The longest serving Pope is Pius IX at 31 years.  The shortest was Urban VI who lasted only 13 days in AD 1590.

Will the Vatican start sending 'smoke signs' like in Da Vinci Code movies? Rhonda, Los Angeles.  You must be referring to the Papal Conclave, dear!  This comes from the Latin term Cum Clave (With Key).  In short, to determine who will be the next pope, high ranking cardinals lock themselves into the Sistine Chapel for secluded discussions and a complicated voting procedure.  At the end of each day, the ballets are burned in a large fireplace.  'No' ballots generate black smoke while 'Yes' ballots give off white smoke.  On March First, crowds will  gather in St. Peter's Square in anxious anticipation.  They'll cheer when the see white smoke with cries of "Habemus Papam!!"  (We have a Pope!!)

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