Belief in Brief: The pope

Friday, March 7, 2008 | 3:00 p.m. CST; updated 8:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 9, 2008

As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is the supreme earthly authority on all matters of faith for nearly 1 billion people worldwide.

In Catholic doctrine, the pope is regarded as the successor of St. Peter, the head of the Apostles, who is believed to be Christ’s divinely chosen head of the church.

The pope is chosen by the 120-member College of Cardinals. Cardinals are church leaders appointed by the pope. They must be under the age of 80 in order to vote.

The current pope, Benedict XVI, was elected April 19, 2005.


Origin of the title


Derived from the Latin “papa,” meaning father, the title of pope has been used since the ninth century for the bishop of Rome. Before this, the title was used by parishioners as an affectionate sign of respect for any bishop or priest.

The office of the pope, or Holy See, carries many other titles including: Vicar of Jesus Christ, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West and Sovereign of the State of Vatican City.


The role of the pope


The pope is the final authority on all spiritual and faith matters for Catholics, including moral definition and church governance. The Vatican Council declared the doctrinal basis for the pope’s status within the church in the constitution “Pastor Aeternus.”

As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is both a spiritual leader and a statesman to the world.

Catholics believe that the pope is God’s direct regent on earth and is bestowed with the power to forgive sins. The pope also weighs in on moral and ethical world issues in the form of creeds that guide the church’s members in their decisions as to the particular issue.

Furthermore, as the head of the Vatican state, the pope holds a diplomatic mission to the United Nations.

While Protestant Christian denominations do not recognize the infallibility and authority of the pope, his guidance on moral and spiritual issues has been received by notable evangelical leader Billy Graham, as well as a number of protestant U.S. presidents and world leaders. .


For more on issues that affect faith in Columbia, please see our Faith in Focus blog.

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