4 popes who resigned

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down. While such papal resignations are rare, there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI 1st pontiff to step down in almost 600 years

Pope Benedict XVI stands by the salvaged remains of Pope Celestine V, in the 13th-century Santa Maria di Collemaggio Basilica, the symbol of the city of L'Aquila, in April 2009 (L'Osservatore Romano/Associated Press)

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down on Feb. 28.

While such papal resignations are extremely rare — only four out of 266 have stepped down — there are precedents in the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.

  • Marcellinus: This early church pope abdicated or was deposed in 304 after complying with the Roman emperor's order to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods.
  • Benedict IX: Sold the papacy to his godfather Gregory VI and resigned in 1045.
  • Celestine V: Overwhelmed by the demands of the office, this hermetic pontiff stepped down after five months as pope in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI prayed at his tomb in the central Italian city of L'Aquila in 2009.
  • Gregory XII: The last pope to resign, Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.