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History professor says Pope’s resignation allowed thanks to one man

While meeting with his cardinals this week, Pope Benedict XVI did something historical. He resigned. According to History Professor Joelle Rollo-Koster, who wrote the following article, popes almost never resign their positions; instead, they die in office. Many observers may wonder if a pope is even allowed to resign. Under certain conditions, he is, and it is entirely because of one man, Pope Celestine V (1209-1296), the only other pope to have stepped down.

Why would something that happened more than 700 years ago matter? Because the modern papacy is based on structures and rules established during the Middle Ages. The word “pope,” designating the successor to Saint Peter, was put into usage during the early Middle Ages, first to designate all bishops and then, starting in the 6th century, to designate the bishop of Rome. By the ...

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