The Catholic Church has a pope because the papacy was instituted by our Lord
Jesus Christ (see Mt. 16:18, Jn. 21:15-17). The pope is the visible head of the
Church and has supreme authority to preserve doctrine, to teach, and to
sanctify. The pope protects dogma and keeps Catholics united in faith. If not
for the papal infallibility, there would be no certainty in matters of faith; we
would have no means of knowing what is true and what is not. We could have no
finality of doctrine and each person would be left to believe whatever he or she
"felt" was right. As a result, there would be error, disunity, rejection of
truths, adoption of errors, etc. We wouldn't even have a Bible since there would
be no infallible authority to determine the canon of Scripture. We could never
be sure that our beliefs corresponded with truth, and we could never be sure we
were on a true path leading to salvation. Furthermore, without the pope, there
would be no preserver of doctrine, no center of unity, and no supreme authority
visible on earth. The Church was literally founded by our Lord on the "rock" of
St. Peter, and without this foundation, the entire structure would fall.
The term pope derives from the Greek "pappas" (father). Originally, this
title was applied to bishops, but it later became common to reserve the title
exclusively to the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff.
The Pope's authority comes directly from Christ. The papacy was instituted
by Our Lord (see Mt. 16:18), and has been preserved in an unbroken line of
The Papacy began when Our Lord made St. Peter the first pope. Christ
promised the papacy to St. Peter in Mt. 16:18 and after His Resurrection
confirmed St. Peter as the Supreme Pastor of His flock (see Jn. 21:15-17). Note
that St. Peter, originally called Simon, was one of the earliest followers of
Jesus. Upon seeing Simon, Jesus renamed him "Peter" (see Jn. 1:42), which means
"rock". The name change was significant, since St. Peter would become the "rock"
upon which Jesus would build his Church. Also note that St. Peter immediately
exercised his Papal office on Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit. Note
that the terms papacy and pope – along with the term 'Holy Trinity' – did not
exist in Scripture, but the reality behind the terms clearly did.
The papacy is indestructible / perpetual and will last until the end of
time. As Our Lord has said, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against [his
Church]" (see Mt. 16:18).
Popes have changed their names upon elevation to the papacy for about a
thousand years. It may signify the "new life" they will lead as pope as well as
their willingness to renounce self. They may choose a name of a previous pope or
saint (or another name). The first name change connected with the papacy
occurred when Christ changed Simon's name to Peter (meaning "rock") [Note that
name changes occurring in Scripture were significant (e.g. Simon became Peter,
Saul became Paul, Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel)]. In the 6th
century, Pope John II changed his name from Mercurius (Mercury) due to its pagan
association and Pope John XIV changed his name in the 10th century in honor of
the first pope (his given name was Peter). Since the end of the 10th century, it
became common to change one's name upon elevation to the papacy.
Once elected, a Pope reigns until his death (in
some cases, however, popes have either abdicated or been
The Pope is the visible head of the Church on earth. He is the vicar of
Christ and supreme pastor. He rules and governs both the faithful and their
pastors. He pronounces on matters of faith and morals, legislates for the
Church, creates/modifies dioceses, confirms the election of bishops, canonizes
saints, absolves from certain sins, administers Church property, renders
judicial decisions, and conducts other important Church matters. He may delegate
some of his responsibilities to others, but his infallibility is not
No. The Pope is not to change doctrines to suit his personal liking, but
must instead hand down the same doctrines that have been handed down to him.
The Church is not a democracy. Instead, it is headed by the
pope who is responsible for passing on and protecting doctrine without
alteration. The pope cannot change doctrine to please people since the doctrines
are not matters of debate, but revealed truths. Truth is not subject to change,
even if it is unpopular.
It would be wrong to disagree with the perennial teaching of
the popes in matters of faith and morals. We are not required, however, to agree
with every decision of every pope (e.g. prudential judgments, those involving
disciplinary matters, etc.). It would be wrong, however, to dispute the pope's
right to make decisions in the Church or to fail to properly honor his supreme
authority. Also, if a pope were to sin or not to live up to the teachings of the
Church, it would be necessary to respectfully disapprove (as did St. Paul
concerning St. Peter, cf. Gal. 2:11).
Unfortunately, there have been some bad popes. Thanks to the
gift of infallibility, however, they never formally taught error.
Yes, Popes have erred, but not in matters touching on
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