How to remove a Bad Pope from office?


The majority of the Popes in history have been Godly and Pious men, exemplary role models of faith.

And then we have people like Alexander VI; who broke all his vows, lived a hedonistic life, sanctioned murders and assassinations, and made war against his fellow Catholics.

When faced with a Pope who is clearly unworthy of succeeding St. Peter, what recourse do The Faithful of The Church have?

I know Pope Gregory VI was forced to resign after being found guilty of buying the papacy, and that Pope Formosus was posthumously tried and beheaded by his successor, and that Pope Benedict V was forced to abdicate by Emperor Otto I of The Holy Roman Empire.

What do you think?


He was a Pope that sinned, they all did and will continue to do so as the rest of us. I think John XII was the worst.

Alexander, Julius II, Leo X might not have been saintly, but they preserved the Church through very difficult times and for that we can thank God.

There was no need for their removal. Pope Alexander VI declared no new dogmas. So, despite his hypocritical behavior, the faith remained true and, if you believe in the promise of Jesus, the faith will always remain true and never be overpowered by the gates of Hades (Matt 16:18).


To answer your question, nothing.

The Pope is Pope until he dies or freely resigns. There is no “recourse”.


Leave it to the Holy Spirit.


Although it is true that a few early popes were “run out of town,” there is no method in canon law for removing a pope. We should be thankful that the pope is not a political figure and answers only to God.


First of all, the more sinful Popes were perhaps not as sinful as many people say. We have to take into account that not every accusation against a Pope (or anyone) is necessarily true. Also, it is contrary to the teaching of Jesus (“do not judge”) for us to judge past Popes and condemn them as unequivocally “bad”. We know that some past Popes were Saints, and others had perhaps what we might call an ordinary level of holiness, and some few were sinful. But we have no right or duty or authority, and insufficient information, to judge their lives or souls.

My belief is that each and every Pope, even the more sinful ones, are protected by the Holy Spirit from ever teaching or falling into heresy. For Peter and his successors are the Rock on which the Church is founded. And this is true despite the fact that Peter betrayed Christ. So the personal sins of each Pope, which is not our place to judge, do not deprive him of authority nor cause him to teach grave error or to lead anyone astray.

A Pope can be removed from office only by death or resignation.


As of the past few couple of centuries, yes. Historically, most were mediocre or evil.

The greatest sign of godliness and piety is that it is recognized after death and that God raises such people to notoriety. In other words, they are canonized saints. Of the 266 popes, only 80 are canonized saints, and most in the first millennium as martyrs, or roughly only 1 in 3 was godly and pious. Mostly, 2 in 3 was mediocre, and a few downright stupid or evil.

However, the only recourse against the evil and stupid popes is much prayer and fasting, for “this kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt 9:29)

Pax Christi


Pope Francis put it best, “who am I to judge?”


I pray Pope Benedict XVI was not asked to resign. He was a good Pope and I miss him to this day. I wish he would not have resigned so I hope it was for good reason.


Pope Benedict stated his reasons and we have no cause to not take them at face value.

He would not have been forced to resign; he couldn’t be forced and resign validly. It had to be free.

And yes, I miss Pope Benedict XVI.


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the Pope
over the Church when I converted to the
Holy Roman Catholic Church, so he was
my hero, he still is in my prayers!!


me too! I admire him so much. I expected him to be in longer. I converted in 2008.


That is what I call catholic garbage

If POPE is corrupt kick him out of office .


Umm, I do not advocate this, but several Popes were assassinated for running afoul of their patron overlords…

Even so, corrupt popes can be pressured into resignation though lesser means.


I have a related question

is the pope able to be arrested if he commits a crime? such as murder, rape etc… is he subject to the same laws?


Oh I’m certain a few political figures had ways of “removing Popes” and installing new ones that were more convenient to letting them do as they pleased. Usually it involved executing them. Wasn’t a string of Popes installed as puppets of the Medichi family? Leo X, Clement VII…etc. Imagine if a rich crime family was able to bump off or exile a sitting Pope in this day in age (God forbid) and then install their own mafioso up there who was a drunk and gambler and chased women around the Vatican and whatnot… Imagine the scandal. There were some popes like that, who wore multiple hats… some were both the civil leader and the pope at the same time… it’d be like if [random politician] were to become Catholic and ascend to the Papacy because his father was both pope and governor… along with governing the civil authority and signing off on people’s gay marriages, he then goes and dons the papal tiara and presides over Mass in the Vatican in his spare time… there were some popes like that too.

The point is, the Church survived a lot of scandal in its past and it’s still here.

As George Carlin said, “Somehow… ‘Pope Corky I’ doesn’t command a lot of authority…”


Yes and yes. However as a Head of State, there would be other considerations, extradition treaties, diplomatic immunity, jurisdiction etc. There were some calling for the last Pope arrest due to the child abuse scandal, not as perpetrators but committing human-rights offences over his alleged cover-up of child abuse cases led by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (see link below). Arresting authorities would want to have irrefutable evidence and a airtight case before doing so…


As head of a the sovereign international organization, the Holy See, the ordinary recourse would be for a nation he committed the crime in to deport him back to the Vatican territory. He could, theoretically, be charged in the International Court of Justice for war crimes, etc.

It is important to note that Catholics do not have a slavish duty to obey a corrupt pope. The pope cannot compel ordinary Catholics using moral coercion on matters that do not directly pertain to the faith. Even for individuals who have taken a solemn oath of obedience, they are under no obligation to follow an order to commit sin.

There are also procedures for running the church if the sitting pope became mentally or physically unfit for office, which might be quietly invoked. Even if the a corrupt pope abolished such procedures, Cardinals and members of the curia could resign rather than implement corrupt policies, isolating the pope.

A nuisance pope could be isolated, and strongly pressured to resign. Popes are ultimately human, and there are natural and moral limits to their authority.


If a Borgia-esque Pope excommunicates those who refuse to obey him, do said excommunications not count?


Excommunication has the narrow effect of barring one from the sacraments. It does not reflect the inward state of an individual’s soul, but to address outward behavior of a grave nature.

It is usually applied as a corrective measure; barring an individual committing some serious sin in public or private from the sacraments, until such time that the individual repents, and meets the conditions to have the excommunication lifted.

An individual personally excommunicated by even a corrupt pope should probably not present himself for communion.

If that individual did not actually commit a sin to warrant excommunication, then excommunication itself does not bar entry to heaven should he die unexpectedly. In an emergency situation, by divine law, any priest may lift the excommunication to administer the last rites.

In these days, such a pope would not be tolerated, and he would be locked in Castle Gandolfo and ignored until he resigned.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit