Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign in six centuries, joins four others who have abdicated the papacy.
The last Pope to resign was Gregory XII, who quit in 1415 amid civil disorder within the Catholic Church that became known as the Great Western Schism.
The conflict, which lasted four decades, eventually saw as many as three men — some called “antipopes” by Roman Catholic Church leaders because they were from rival factions — claiming to be Pope.
According to the New York Daily News, the various groups were based in Rome and Avignon, in southeastern France in the first decades of the conflict in the late 14th century.
Each Pope had his own cardinals and followers, the Daily News reports.
In 1409, toward the last decade of the split, a council of cardinals in Pisa, Italy, sought to end the divide — but they ended up electing a third Pope.
Four years earlier, Gregory XII, who was born Angelo Correr in Venice, was elected by cardinals in Rome. He succeeded Pope Innocent VII, who died suddenly just two years into his reign.
During Gregory’s term, those also claiming to be Pope were Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon and Antipope John XXIII of Pisa, the Daily News reports.
Though recognized by the modern church as the true Pope of this period, Gregory XII’s papacy was not memorable, church scholars told the Daily News. His reign lasted 10 years.
“He didn’t do too much, because the situation had become so chaotic,” the Rev. Monsignor Robert J. Wister, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University, told the Daily News. “He was a bit of a non-entity.”
Meanwhile, the Council of Constance, which convened in 1414, eventually ended it all by persuading both Gregory XII and John XXIII to resign — naming them as cardinals as a reward.
But Benedict XIII, of Avignon, refused and was excommunicated, the Daily News reports. He died in Spain in 1423, claiming to be the true Pope until his death.
The Council of Constance in 1417, formally ended the schism by naming Pope Martin V to the papacy.
That same year, Gregory XII died in Ancona, in the Marche region of eastern Italy. He was believed to have been around 90.
“Gregory deserves credit for resigning for the good of the church, so they could settle that awful mess,” Wister told the Daily News.
The only other Popes to have formally stepped down were Benedict IX, who sold the papacy to his godfather in 1045, and Celestine V — the most famous resignation — who relinquished the keys to the Vatican after just five months in 1294.
Dante in his “Inferno,” placed Celestine in hell for his abdication with this line: “Who made from cowardice the great refusal.”
Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Celestine’s tomb in the central Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009, the Daily News reports.
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