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The Catholic Encyclopedia notes the historically obscure resignation of Pope Marcellinus (296-308), the historically postulated resignation of Pope Liberius (352-366),[3] and that one catalogue of popes has Pope John XVIII resigning office in 1009 and ending his life as a monk.[4][5]

The first historically unquestionable[3] Papal resignation is that of Pope Benedict IX in 1045. In order to rid the Church of the scandalous Benedict, Pope Gregory VI gave Benedict "valuable possessions"[3] to resign the papacy in his favour.[6] Gregory himself resigned in 1046 because the arrangement he had entered into with Benedict was considered simony. Gregory's successor, Pope Clement II, died in 1047 and Benedict IX became Pope again.

The best-known resignation of a Pope is that of Pope Celestine V in 1294. After only five months of pontificate, he issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a Pope to resign, and then did so himself. He lived two more years as a hermit and then prisoner of his successor Pope Boniface VIII and was later canonised. The Papal decree that he issued ended any doubt among canonists about the possibility of a valid Papal resignation.

Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415), resigned in 1415 in order to end the Western Schism, which had reached the point where there were three claimants to the Papal throne: Roman Pope Gregory XII, Avignon Antipope Benedict XIII, and Pisan Antipope John XXIII. Before resigning he formally convened the already existing Council of Constance and authorized it to elect his successor.

On 11 February 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI would resign on 28 February, due to infirmity from advanced age.[7] He is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII.