In the history of the papacy, several popes have walked away from the position. Our own Pope Benedict XVI is an example more than seven years ago. In some cases, the reason was obvious. In the case of Pope Benedict V, it definitely was.
Benedict V, was known as Benedetto. He was the son of a man named John, born around 915. He grew up practically in the shadows of the Theater of Marcellus, in the Sant’Angelo district of Rome. The boy was, apparently, well-educated and was later known for his learning. His peers would call him Grammaticus.
In later life, he was an ordained deacon, and then he became a cardinal deacon. Not only that but he became an important notary. In that role, he took part in the synod of Rome 6 November to 4 December, 963. That was the synod called by Emperor Otto which deposed the boy pope, John XII.
Once John was out of the way, Otto’s candidate, Leo, was elected to the papacy. Unfortunately, the Roman people were not happy with the new pope. They recalled John who came with his own army and supporters. John convened a new synod to condemn the new pope, Leo. Benedict was involved in that synod, also.
After a few months back on the throne, John was murdered. The Roman citizens rejected the concept of Leo returning. To be secure, Leo fled Rome and joined up with the emperor, who was only 56 miles away in Rieti. With Leo gone, violent protests broke out between rival factions. Rome elected Benedict and he was acclaimed by the city militia.
Envoys from Rome were sent to the emperor to tell him of their decision. The emperor rejected that decision and warned them not to proceed. The envoys returned to Rome, determined to ignore him. Benedict was consecrated and crowned on 22 May, 964. The citizens swore to uphold the election and protect the new pope.
Otto lost no time getting back to Rome where he attacked with his army, blockading the city and destroying the land around it. This led to a famine. Benedict encouraged the defenders and threatened to excommunicate the emperor and his soldiers. But he went into hiding. Starving, the defenders capitulated, opened the city gates and turned Benedict over to the emperor on 23 June.
A day later, the returning Pope Leo convened another synod. Benedict presented himself in full papal vestments. He was accused with taking the papacy while Leo was still alive. Rather hypocritical, since Leo did the same to John. He was also accused of breaking his oath to the emperor where he promised never to elect a pope without the emperor’s consent. Otto promised to spare Benedict if he submitted to the synod. So, the pope acknowledged his guilt. His episcopal consecration was revoked, leaving him as a lowly deacon. His pallium was torn away and Leo took Benedict’s pastoral staff and broke it over his head. The synod ended on the 29th.
The emperor left Rome after the synod was complete. He took Benedict with him, arriving back in Germany in early 965. Benedict was put under the care and protection of the Archbishop of Hamburg. He was treated with great honor because he was seen to be a holy, learned and a man worthy of the papacy.
Pope Benedict died 4 July, 965 and buried in the cathedral at Hamburg. Stories say that within days, Roman envoys showed up, asking for his return to Rome. It was too late. Benedict’s remains were transferred years later to Rome. But no one seems to know where.