What, the Pope can resign?

The pope resigning was one of the most unimaginable things that I could have ever thought of, simply because I had taken for granted that one could not simply resign to be the pope.

pope-cartoon-heller-495x341Many questions came into my mind then: which Pope held the longest Pontificate or was the youngest at the start of papacy? How many Pontiffs are originally from Italy? Had this happened before?

Until 28 February, Pope Benedict XVI will remain the reigning sovereign of Vatican City. According to canon law, his decision is not in fact a resignation, or an abdication, but a waiver. It was in 1291 that Celestine V issued a decree allowing the pope to abandon his charge, but since the fifteenth century (approximately 600 years ago) the end of each popes reign has been due to death.

What can we learn from this data?


  • Almost 4 out of every 10 popes are from Italy: Of the 266 Popes listed below, 88 came from Rome and the majority (196) came from Italy. Gregory V (3 May 996 – 18 February 999) was the first German Pope before Benedict XVI. And Sylvester II who succeeded him in 999 was French. Adrian IV (4 December 1154 – 1 September 1159) from Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, was the first and only English Pope.
  • The longest pontificate was 31 years and the shortest 3 days: Pius IX (1846-1878) held the pontificate for 31 years, 7 months and 23 days. John Paul II comes right after with 26 years, 5 months and 18 days in power. At the bottom of the ranking comes Urban VII (15-27 September 1590) who reigned for only 13 days and died before coronation. John Paul I (26 August – 28 September 1978) only reigned for 33 calendar days. Pope-elect Stephen II (23 March 752 – 25 March 752) never held his Pontificate. He died three days after his election and was never consecrated into the office of Pope as such. Some lists still include his name. The Vatican sanctioned his addition to the list of popes in the sixteenth century, however he was removed in 1961. He is no longer considered a pope by the Catholic Church.
  • The oldest elected pope was 79:  Clement X (29 April 1670 – 22 July 1676) is the oldest elected Pope. He started his Pontificate at the age of 79. Benedict XVI has been elected at the age of 78. He is the 7th oldest Pope at the time of election. Another Clement named Pope Clement XI (23 November 1700 – 19 March 1721) is the youngest of the list. He has been elected at the age of 51.
  • The most advanced age of death by a pope was 93 years: Leo XIII (1878) reached the Canonic age of 93 years old when he died He is the oldest in the whole history of Papacy. The average age at the time of election is 65. 78 is the most common age to die, the average for holding power is 2,451 days – or 7 years.

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One comment

  1. Very interesting! 🙂

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