Rev. Robert M. Herbst
Q. Can the Pope resign?
A. Yes — this is foreseen in Canon 332, §2 "If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone."
Q. Has this happened before?
A. Yes. The number of popes who may have resigned has been estimated as high as 10, but the historical evidence is limited. (It is understood only one, Celestine V, resigned voluntarily; the others were forced from office.)
1. Clement I (92?-101). Epiphanius asserted that Clement gave up the pontificate to Linus for the sake of peace and became pope again after the death of Cletus.
2. Pontian (230-235). Allegedly resigned after being exiled to the mines of Sardinia during persecution of Maximinus Thrax.
3. Cyriacus. A fictional character created in the Middle Ages who supposedly received a heavenly command to resign.
4. Marcellinus (296-304). Abdicated or was deposed after complying with Diocletian's order to offer sacrifice to pagan gods.
5. Martin I (649-655). Exiled by Emperor Constans II to Crimea. Before he died, clergy of Rome elected a successor whom he appears to have approved.
6. Benedict V (964). After one month in office, he accepted deposition by Emperor Otto I.
7. Benedict IX (1032-45). Benedict resigned after allegedly selling the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI.
8. Gregory VI (1045-46). Deposed for simony by Henry III.
9. Celestine V (1294). A hermit, elected at age of 80 and overwhelmed by the office, resigned. He was imprisoned by his successor.
10. Gregory XII (1406-15). Resigned at request of Council of Constance to help end the Great Western Schism.
Q. Will there be a sede vacante (empty chair) of the papacy at that time?
A. Yes. From 8 p.m. Feb. 28, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new supreme pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is. There can be no more than 20 days passing before the conclave begins. The exact date and time are set by the College of Cardinals. The election takes place in the Sistine Chapel, with the cardinals living in the five-story Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican residence with 105 two-room suites and 26 single rooms built in 1996, which is vacated by its usual residents during a conclave.
Q. What happens in the interim?
A. The Papal Chamberlin (the camerlengo), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who also serves as the Vatican's Secretary of State, will be the one who calls the conclave. The other Vatican officials lose their posts in the interim, although the work of the congregations and other offices will continue as is the custom after the death of a pope until the election of his successor. The chamberlain is also in charge of the daily administrative issues of the papal offices, but his powers in this are extremely limited. Three officials do not lose their positions — the prefect of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro, the cardinal vicar of Rome, held by Cardinal Agostino Vallini and chamberlain Bertone.
The papal nuncios, as the civil permanent diplomatic representatives, remain as they are representatives of the Holy See and not the personal representatives of the Holy Father. Likewise Archbishop Alex J. Brunett will remain our apostolic administrator.
Although the government of the church is in the hands of the College of Cardinals until a new pope is elected, the powers of the college are limited. It cannot change the rules governing papal elections, appoint cardinals or make any decisions binding on the next pope. The cardinals meet daily in a general congregation, presided over by the dean of the college (Cardinal Angelo Sodano), until the conclave begins.
Next Front Page
back to top