Pope Gregory XIILots of mass-media stories lately have brought up the possibility that the scandal-plagued and increasingly-discredited Pope Benedict XVI might resign. It is, after all, not unheard of for politicians or heads of corporations to resign when confronted by situations of this sort. However, most of these same stories — such as this one by ABC News — conclude that the Pope cannot resign:

Experts in canon law say only a heavenly bolt of lightning can take the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from power as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

“The only person who can fire him is God,” said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., and was one of the first whistle blowers when the sex scandals broke in 1984.

“A pope is never forced to resign, not under the current canon law,” said Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet weekly. “A pope can voluntarily resign, but it’s interesting… Who would take his resignation?”

With all due respect to Fr Doyle and Mr Mickens, however, the idea that the Pope cannot resign, is bullshit. It is, in fact, possible. It’s explicitly stated in canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law:

Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.

Thus, the answer to the question Mickens asks, i.e. to whom would the Pope tender his resignation? is: No one! He doesn’t have to give it to anyone. He merely has to disclose that he’s resigning. That’s all that’s needed, nothing more.

It is also not true that no Pope has ever resigned. In fact, it’s happened multiple times. The last such occasion was when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, an act which effectively ended the Great Western Schism — a particularly uplifting period in ecclesiastial history, a time when two, and later three, popes contended for control of the Church and of Europe.*

Granted it’s been a little over 6 centuries since this last papal resignation, but the canon law permitting it to happen is still there, and can still be used by Benedict XVI, if he chooses to do so.

None of this is impossible to research; the information I provide here is available to anyone on the Internet if they simply take a few minutes to find it. So I suggest the reporters at ABC News — and all other outlets — actually look into it before writing stupid news stories that report untruths as fact.

* The part about the Western Schism being “uplifting” is, of course, sarcasm. The truth is that there was very little good about it … except that it exposed the political, structural, bureaucratic, and moral bankruptcy of the Church at that time. The grotesque debacle known as the Cadaver Synod served much the same purpose as well, as did the period soon after it, known to the Church as the Saeculum obscurum.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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