The announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is to resign this month prompted me to wonder how many other Popes had stopped being Pope by means other than dying of natural causes.
So here’s a list of some of the Popes who gave up the papacy under unusual circumstances. Note that this is not exhaustive – lots of Popes in the early days were murdered when being a Christian was rather frowned upon, and there are several murders and possible murders through the years, which I have omitted.
67: St Peter was crucified, possibly upside-down at his own request.
235: Pope Pontian was sentenced to work in the mines on Sardinia, and in the expectation that he wouldn’t return alive, he resigned.
537: Pope Silverius was deposed and exiled by Empress Theodora of Constantinople, convicted by Emperor Justinian, and starved to death (after Pope Vigilius had taken over) on an island.
882: Pope John VIII was allegedly poisoned and then beaten to death.
897: Pope Stephen VI ceased to be Pope when he was strangled.
928: Pope John X was smothered to death with a pillow.
1009: Pope John XVIII resigned and lived in a monastery until his death.
1045: Pope Benedict IX was paid to resign in favour of Gregory VI. He became Pope a further two times. He is certainly the only Pope to have resigned twice.
1046: Pope Gregory VI had to resign, when his Simony was discovered (see above, on Gregory VI).
1048: Pope Damasus II was Pope for about six weeks, and there were rumours that he was poisoned, but it is more likely that he died of malaria, apparently.
1294: Pope Celestine V issued a solemn decree declaring that it was ok for Popes to resign. He then resigned, and went to live as a hermit.
1303: Pope Boniface VIII was beaten and nearly executed, then died of “kidney stones and humiliation” a month later. There were rumours he had committed suicide by biting his arm off and hitting his head against a wall.
1415: Pope Gregory XII resigned in order to end the Western Schism, and authorised the Council of Constance to elect his successor. There followed an “interregnum” of two and a half years with no Pope at all, before Martin V took over.
1590: Pope Urban VII died before his coronation, and is the shortest-reigning Pope, at 12 days.
1939: Pope Pius XI died after suffering three heart attacks, although there are some who believe that he was murdered to silence him, since his doctor was Mussolini’s mistress’s father.
1978: Pope John Paul I died after a month as Pope. Conspiracy theories arose owing to various oddities around the death, such as the lack of a legitimate death certificate. Conspiracy theories tend to surround the corruption in financial affairs in the Vatican.
2013: Pope Benedict XVI was announced to be about to resign owing to infirmity from advanced age.