What would happen if a Pope resigned? How does it work?

I have absolutely no interest in recent discussions referring to any possible resignation of our current Pope. But these discussions have made me wonder about what would happen, in general, if a Pope resigned (for any reason).

The Church has not dealt with such a situation for many centuries. In the modern Church, if a Pope wanted to resign (for any reason), what would happen?

Does Canon Law stipulate a process for this? To whom would a Pope submit his resignation? When does it become effective? What would be his status afterward? Would he still be addressed by titles such as “Holy Father” (in the same way that former US presidents are still addressed, “Mr. President”?).

Where would he live? What sort of daily routine might he have? Could he become an “ordinary” Cardinal or Bishop again?

What would happen if any “modern” Pope wished to resign, for any reason?

This article from the BBC looked into the issue


I think the scenario is highly unlikely, although I have heard discussion of it when JPII got really ill. I suppose he would resign to the college of Cardinals and a new election would take place. The pope is the Bishop of Rome. His ordination is episcopal, so he would remain a Bishop. I would imagine Professor Ratzinger would happily return to his books.

But not Bishop of Rome, right? I mean, he could not resign as Pope but remain Bishop of Rome. That’s a package deal, AFAIK.


He would not necessarily resign his episcopal rank in the church (although I suppose he could, I doubt he would), but in order to be Pope he must be bishop of Rome, and only the bishop of Rome can be Pope. So he would be a bishop without a See.

However, I don’t know about any canons ever crafted to deal with the situation.

The last Pope to resign came to a bad end, but he was canonized shortly afterward.

My guess is that he would be cordially named by his successor as bishop of some titular See (with expenses paid out from the diocese of Rome as a bishop Emeritus and Cardinal), and a retire to a nice place to finish his memoirs.

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