Divine laws

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI may have come as a shock, but it is entirely lawful under Canon Law, says Dario Morelli

The resignation of the Pope is a very rare occurrence – the last case dates back to 1415 with Pope Gregory XII – the resignation (renuntiatio) of Pope Benedict XVI seems to be fully lawful.

Indeed, pursuant to canon no. 188 of the Code of Canon Law (Codex juris canonici) dated 1983, and section 333.1 of Universi Dominici Gregis, the essential element of any lawful resignation under Canon Law – including the resignation of the Pope – is the freedom of will: “A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by law itself.”

With reference to the form of the Pope’s waiver, the Code of Canon Law does not provide for any specific rule. Providing that the Supreme Pontiff is both the supreme legislator of Canon Law and the supreme interpreter of the same, whatever form he chooses for his resignation must be considered ipso facto as the proper form.

The resignation of the Pope does not need any acceptance from anyone.

Pursuant to canon no. 189, “to be valid, a resignation, whether it requires acceptance or not, must be made to the authority in charge of the provision of the relevant office”. As a consequence, it would be possible to assume that the resignation should be submitted to the authority in charge for the election of the Pope, that is the College of Cardinals. Pope Celestine V resigned in this way – in 1294.

Dario Morelli is an associate at Portolano Cavallo Studio Legale