On Deposing Popes: A Historical Review

On Deposing Popes: A Historical Review

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Asking the Question

Throughout his five-year reign, Pope Francis has been a controversial figure. He has pushed for novelties and innovations to both the papacy and the Church itself, from superficialities like refusing to live in the papal apartments to more substantial changes like permitting communion for the divorced and remarried. These innovations have been welcomed in some quarters, but have been strongly resisted in others.

The resistance to Francis has grown with each passing year. At first, it was the reserve of only traditionalist Catholics. As the changes kept coming, more and more Catholics became uncomfortable with his papacy. And with the global sexual abuse scandal ravaging the Church and creeping closer and closer to implicating Pope Francis, many of those who supported him initially have begun to distance themselves from his pontificate. This growing discontent from all quarters has led to increasing whispers of a question unheard in centuries: “Is it possible to depose the pope?”

This is not an easy question to answer. If you look at the history of what the Church has taught on this subject as well as the actual record of possible papal depositions, you get a confusing set of often conflicting opinions, actions, and teachings. It will be instructive to review that history in order to address the question seriously.

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