The Papacy: Answers to Your Frequently Asked Questions
Author Charlotte Allen answers your questions about the pope and the Catholic Church.
Questions About the Future of the Catholic Church
Who is the pope in the minds of Catholics and what scriptural basis is there for his role? What is his relation to Peter and what role does he play in God's plan?
The pope is the Catholic bishop of Rome, and Catholics believe that they can trace a clear line of succession from John Paul II all the way back to the apostle Peter, who they believe was the first bishop of Rome. Catholics believe that Peter enjoyed primacy among the apostles, because Jesus said to him, "You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build by church...I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:18-19).
As Peter's successor, the pope is first among all the bishops in the universal church, and in the theology of the Western, that is, the Roman Catholic, Church, the pope has jurisdictional authority over the bishops as well. As the first of the bishops, the pope is the Vicar of Christ that is, he is Christ's representative on earth. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit directly guides the election of every pope, and that the pope shares with the councils of bishops the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is why Catholics believe that, when speaking officially on a narrow range of doctrinal issues, the pope is infallible.