Pope Considered Resignation, According to Will

John Paul II Considered Resigning from Papacy (Catholic World News)

In his last will and spiritual testament, Pope John Paul II reveals that he considered resignation from the papacy in 2000, after having led the Church into the third millennium.

The Vatican released the text of the deceased Pope’s will on April 7. The document contains few provisions for John Paul’s material possessions. “I do not leave behind me any property that requires disposal,” he writes. Instead the Pontiff offers a spiritual testament, in 15 pages of reflection on his life and pontificate.

Pope John Paul first wrote his will in June 1979, updating it on several later occasions. In the initial document he directs that “my personal notes are to be burned.” All his other possessions are to be “distributed as may seem opportune.” He asks his longtime private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, to supervise this process.

In a 1982 addition to the document, the Pope raises the possibility that his funeral might be held in his native Poland. (Although he does not mention the issue, presumably he might have been buried there as well.) But three years later, in a 1985 addition, he leaves the College of Cardinals to decide the site of the funeral.

Throughout the document, the Pope repeats his confidence in the Virgin Mary and his trust in God’s will. He declares in the 1979 document that he is prepared to die. He repeats his belief– made public frequently during his lifetime– that his life was miraculously saved during the assassination attempt in 1981; he adds that only “Divine Providence” prevented the outbreak of nuclear war later in the 1980s.

In March 2000, after having fulfilled his ambition to lead the Church into the Jubilee Year, John Paul reveals that he had considered stepping down from the papacy. But after much prayer and reflection he decided that he should continue serving until death. The March 2000 entry is the last one in the document.

The Vatican has the full text of the will, though only in Italian and Polish. Reuters has other snippets in English:

Pope’s Will Indicates He Considered Resigning

The Pope, who died last Saturday, firmly believed that his mission was to lead the Church into the new millennium. Despite physical frailty he did so and later in 2000 wrote in his will:

“I hope He (God) helps me understand until what moment I have to continue in this service to which he called me on October 16, 1978” — a reference to the date that he was elected Pontiff.


The Pope believed God foiled the attempted assassination by a Turkish gunman and wrote in 1982: “God has prolonged this life, in a certain sense he has given me the gift of new life.”

Some may remember that, as recent as March 1, 2005, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan asserted that “the word retirement is not part of the Holy Father’s vocabulary.” Clearly, that wasn’t the case. But it’s understandable for institutions to keep such stories under wraps, since they often lead to wild speculation and political maneuvering. And it’s also understandable for the pope to pray and think seriously about how his papacy should end.

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Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.