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Ratzinger’s Four Forerunners

By Jide Ajani, with agency reports

It is expected that on Thursday, Feb.28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI will become the first Pope in almost 600years to resign. The announcement came as a shock to the Catholic faithful. In the last 1,000 years, history records that only four Popes have resigned. One resigned to get married, another was made to step down for bribing his way through; a third left office under very queer circumstances while the fourth Pope to resign did it in the interest of resolving a creeping interference from kings.

Pope Benedict IX, in 1045: He was age 33 and he had just spent 10years as Pope. But the shove and push of marital attraction was so tempting for him so he resigned. A Roman, he was also said to have wanted to “collect some cash from his godfather, also Roman, who paid Benedict IX to step down so that he might replace him” – this was history as recorded by British historian Reginald L. Poole.

Pope Gregory VI, in 1046: If you think the manner of the exit of Pope Benedict IX looked ridiculous, wait till you hear the story of the man who bribed him to replace him. Pope Gregory VI left office just after about a year in office as recorded by Poole. Benedict IX, who had resigned partly because he wanted to get married, lost out – he failed to secure the bride he’d resigned for.

He then changed his mind and returned to the Vatican. According to a report, “both popes remained in the city, both claiming to rule the Catholic church, for several months. That fall, the increasingly despondent clergy called on the German Emperor Henry III, of the Holy Roman Empire, to invade Rome and remove them both. When Henry III arrived, he treated Gregory VI as the rightful pope but urged him to stand before a council of fellow church leaders.

The bishops urged Gregory VI to resign for bribing his way into office. Though the fresh new pope argued that he had done nothing wrong in buying the papacy, he stepped down anyway”.

Pope Celestine V, in 1294: Five months was all he served for. Described as a “somber Sicilian pope”, he it was who formally decreed that popes now had the right to resign, which he immediately used. A report said “He wrote, referring to himself in the third person, that he had resigned out of “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.” He became a hermit, but two years later was dragged out of solitude by his successor, who locked him up in an Italian castle. Celestine died 10 months later”.

Pope Gregory XII, in 1415: He served for 10 years before resigning. During his reign, there were two popes. “For decades”, according to Britannica, “the Western Schism had left Europe with two popes, one in Rome and one in the French city of Avignon.

The schism’s causes were political rather than theological: the pope had tremendous power over European politics, which had led its kings to become gradually more aggressive in manipulating the church’s leaders. Gregory XII resigned so that a special council in Constance, which is today a German city, could excommunicate the Avignon-based pope and start fresh with a new, single leader of the Catholic church”.


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