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Vatican View: Q & A

Return to Vatican View | Vatican Facts

Papal Insignia

Vatican View: Q & A

Sources: Various

Important Notice: Information herein is not comprehensive and may include details that are unverifiable/debatable, approximations, etc. All applicable items are subject to change. We make no guarantee regarding any item herein. By using this site you agree to all terms. For more terms information, click here


Click link below or scroll down to view all:

General

Authority of the Pope / Supremacy

Papal Duties & Pronouncements

Papal Infallibility

The Papacy in History

In Defense of the Papacy

Location of Popes / Vatican

Death of a Pope / Election of a Pope

Misc. 

General

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. Who has the highest authority in the Church?

Q. Who is the Pope? What is the Papacy?

Q. What does the word 'Pope' mean?

Q. Why does the Catholic Church have a Pope?

Q. What other titles is the Pope known by?

Q. What are our duties to the Pope?

Q. When will the Papacy end?

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Authority of the Pope / Supremacy

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. Where does the Pope's authority come from?

Q. Does the Pope receive his authority from the Church?

Q. Are there any limits to the Pope's authority in the Church?

Q. Who shares in the Pope's supreme authority?

Q. If my bishop or priest disagrees with the Pope, who should I listen to?

Q. Are ecumenical (or other) councils equal to or superior to the Pope?

Q. Was St. Paul's authority equal to St. Peter's?

Q. How do Cardinals & Bishops & Priests relate to the Pope?

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Papal Duties & Pronouncements

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. What does the Pope do?

Q. Can the Pope create new doctrines?

Q. Can the Pope change doctrines to suit his personal beliefs?

Q. Can the Pope change his predecessor's policies / pronouncements?

Q. Can Popes contradict each other?

Q. Can one Pope abrogate a previous Pope's decision?

Q. What are encyclicals?

Q. Are papal writings considered equal to Scripture?

Q. Do Papal teachings become obsolete?

Q. Shouldn't the Pope embrace more modern views concerning certain matters?

Q. If many people disagree with the Pope, will he change?

Q. Is it okay to disagree with the Pope?

Q. I have heard that there are two Papal 'syllabuses' condemning modern errors. What are they?

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Papal Infallibility

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. What does infallibility mean?

Q. Is everything the Pope says or does infallible?

Q. Can the Pope sin?

Q. How can a Pope sin and still be infallible?

Q. Was St. Peter infallible? Wasn't he rebuked by St. Paul?

Q. Have the Popes always enjoyed infallibility?

Q. Haven't Popes erred?

Q. Are Bishops also infallible?

Q. Has infallibility ever failed?

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The Papacy in History

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. Who is Saint Peter? Was he the first Pope?

Q. When did the Papacy begin?

Q. Has there always been a Pope?

Q. How many Popes have there been?

Q. Are all Popes saints?

Q. Which Popes are Saints/Blesseds?

Q. Which Popes are considered "Great"?

Q. Have Popes ever resigned or been deposed?

Q. Were there some bad Popes?

Q. Was there ever a "Pope Joan"?

Q. Was St. Peter martyred in Rome?

Q. What are some Papal accomplishments?

Q. Can you tell me a little about each Pope?

Q. Where can I find out more about the Popes?

Q. What is the longest time the See of Peter has been vacant?

Q. Why were there some periods of a year or longer without a Pope?

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In Defense of the Papacy

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. I have heard some negative things about the papacy (or certain Popes), can this be explained?

Q. Why does the Church need a Pope?

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Location of Popes / Vatican

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. What is the Vatican?

Q. Where is the Vatican? How can I reach the Vatican?

Q. What is Vatican City?

Q. What is Vatican II?

Q. Why is the Papacy in Rome?

Q. Was the Papacy always in Rome?

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Death of a Pope / Election of a Pope

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Q. What happens when the Pope dies?

Q. How is a new Pope chosen?

Q. Are there any age restrictions for Popes?

Q. Why do Popes change their names upon elevation to the papacy?

Q. How long does a Pope reign as Pope?

Q. Can a woman ever be Pope?

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Misc.

Note: Click underlined link below to view answer

Q. Can a church truly be Catholic if it does not submit to the Pope?

Q. Is it necessary to be subject to the Pope for salvation?

Q. Should Catholics use the term "Roman Catholic" to show their faithfulness to the Roman Pontiff (the Pope)?

Q. What is the significance of the triple tiara in the papal emblem?

Q. What do the keys in the papal emblem refer to?

Q. Why do so many Church properties in Rome have bees pictured on them?

Q. Why do people kiss the Pope's ring when they meet him?

Q. What is an antipope?

Q. What does "Avignon Papacy" refer to?

Q. If there was ever a problem with a Pope, who would judge him?

Q. Are deceased Popes still referred to as 'Pope'?

Q. What is the most common papal name?

Q. About how long have popes normally reigned?

Q. Can a Pope resign?

Q. How can one get an article blessed by the Pope?

Q. How can one meet the Pope?

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General

Q. Who has the highest authority in the Church?

A. The Pope has the highest authority in the Church. In fact, the only higher authority in the Church is Our Lord Himself.

Q. Who is the Pope? What is the Papacy?

A. "The Pope is, the Bishop of Rome, is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and the visible Head of the Church. He is the successor of St. Peter and the supreme ruler of all Christians. He is the supreme judge in all matters of faith and morals, in pronouncing upon which he may exercise infallibility." His office is called the pontificate (or papacy). As possessor of the keys to the kingdom of heaven and gifted with infallibility, the Pope keeps the doctrine of the faith pure and acts as the center of unity in the Church. His office is a royal one, as represented by the triple tiara traditionally worn by the popes. 

Q. What does the word 'Pope' mean?

A. 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.

Q. Why does the Catholic Church have a Pope?

A.  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 us 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.

Q. What other titles is the Pope known by?

A. The Pope is known by various titles. Click here for more information.

Q. What are our duties to the Pope?

A. In addition to filial submission and obedience, Catholics are bound to support the Pope with our prayers and also with financial contributions as appropriate (e.g. Peter's Pence). It is good to remember that the fervent prayers of the Church were being offered for St. Peter, the first Pope, while he was bound in chains before his subsequent rescue by an angel (see Acts 12). The papacy can be a great burden to the Pope and we should support him daily with our prayers. (Note: Try here  for prayers for the pope.)

Q. When will the Papacy end?

A. 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]" (cf. Mt. 16:18). Note: For 'The Papacy is Indestructible / Perpetual' Reflections, click here.

Also See: Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Authority of the Pope / Supremacy

Q. Where does the Pope's authority come from?

A. The Pope's authority comes directly from Christ. The papacy was instituted by Our Lord, and has been preserved in an unbroken line of succession since St. Peter.

Q. Does the Pope receive his authority from the Church?

A. No. The Pope's authority comes directly from Christ. It does not come from the Church. As stated in Auctorem Fidei, "[I]t is heretical to propose that the Roman Pontiff is ministerial head, if this is explained to mean that the Roman Pontiff received, not from Christ in the person of St. Peter, but from the Church" (Pope Pius VI)

Q. Are there any limits to the Pope's authority in the Church?

A. The Pope's authority in the Church is supreme and universal. That does not mean, however, that his authority has no limit. There are certain things a Pope may not do (e.g. create new doctrine, abrogate the Divine Law, eliminate Sacraments, etc.).

Q. Who shares in the Pope's supreme authority?

A. No one on earth shares the Pope's supreme authority. Only a future Pope (once he becomes Pope) will have similar authority.

Q. If my bishop or priest disagrees with the Pope, who should I listen to?

A. Bishops and priests have no authority to create new doctrines and have no right to go against perennial Church teaching. In certain appropriate, non-dogmatic matters not touching on faith or morals (e.g. certain discretionary measures, certain matters of judgment*, certain political issues, etc.), however, it may be admissible for a bishop or priest not to be in full agreement with the Pope, providing they properly recognize the Pope's supreme authority in the Church. If a bishop wrongly disagrees with the Pope in important matters, it may warrant pursuing a resolution using the proper Church proceedings. Note that the Pope does have the authority to depose a heretical bishop. [*Note: Artificial contraception and abortion are not "matters of judgment" that may be disagreed with. Bishops & priests must teach that artificial contraception and abortion are grave sins.] 

Q. Are ecumenical (or other) councils equal to or superior to the Pope?

A. No. The Pope's authority in the Church is supreme. Although councils may enjoy infallibility in certain matters, they may do so only when in union with the Pope. As taught by the First Vatican Council: "[T]hey stray from the straight path of truth who affirm that it is permitted to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than the Roman Pontiff." Those who argue from Scripture that Christ bestowed similar powers to the other apostles as He gave to St. Peter ignore the fact that St. Peter alone was given the the keys, which indicates supreme authority. Nowhere in Scripture are the keys attributed to the other apostles. Note: For more information on papal primacy / supremacy, click here.

Q. Was St. Paul's authority equal to St. Peter's?

A. No. St. Peter was given supremacy by Christ Himself. After Our Lord called St. Paul, he did not go out on his own, but respected the authority of St. Peter and "went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas [Peter] and remained with him for fifteen days" (Gal 1:18). Note that some point to certain terminology which seems to indicate a "shared or divided episcopate" between St. Peter and St. Paul, but this may more aptly refer to their "shared teaching" - it does not mean that they had equal authority. At no time in history was it held by the Church that St. Peter and St. Paul shared the papacy or had equal authority in the universal Church. Rather, St. Peter's supremacy has always been recognized in the Church.

Q. How do Cardinals & Bishops & Priests relate to the Pope?

A. Cardinals, bishops and priests look to the Pope as their superior. The Pope has supreme authority in the Church, even allowing him to depose heretical prelates. The power of the bishops is inferior to that of the Pope ("one's head can not be equal to one's body or indistinguishable from it") and Bishops are to obey the higher authority of Pope. The Popes usually respect the autonomy of the Bishops and intervene only in certain matters. 

Also See: Papal Primacy / Supremacy (Reflections)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Papal Duties & Pronouncements

Q. What does the Pope do?

A. 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 transferable. Note: For "Papal Duties / Concerns" reflections, click here.

Q. Can the Pope create new doctrines?

A. The Pope is not a creator of doctrine, but its guardian. He is rather like a steward or a trustee who is charged with preserving and interpreting Divine Revelation. Although he may make more explicit what is already contained in the deposit of faith (e.g. the Immaculate Conception of Mary), he may not create entirely new doctrines. As stated by the First Vatican Council, "The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successor of Peter that by the revelation of the Holy Spirit they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the Apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth."

Q. Can the Pope change doctrines to suit his personal beliefs?

A. 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.

Q. Can the Pope change his predecessor's policies / pronouncements?

A. On certain non-dogmatic matters, a Pope may change his predecessor's policies since he has the same authority his predecessor had. 

Q. Can Popes contradict each other?

A. It is possible for popes to contradict each other in certain matters (e.g. prudential judgments, disciplinary measures, etc.). On infallible matters, Popes may not contradict each other.

Q. Can one Pope abrogate a previous Pope's decision?

A. A Pope may abrogate a previous Pope's decision on applicable non-dogmatic matters since he has the same authority the previous Pope had. On infallible matters, a Pope may not abrogate a previous Pope's decisions.

Q. What are encyclicals?

A. Encyclicals are a type of papal writing. For more information, click here.

Q. Are papal writings considered equal to Scripture?

A. Except for the writings of St. Peter, the first pope, which are included in the Bible, no.

Q. Do Papal teachings become obsolete?

A. Infallible Papal teachings never become obsolete. Other Papal teachings concerning faith and morals which have been constantly held in the Church do not become obsolete. Some non-dogmatic items, perhaps, could become obsolete (e.g. if revoked by a successor, if circumstances surrounding the item have changed, etc.). It would be up to the Church to determine which, if any, items become obsolete. [Note: Teachings don't become obsolete simply because some (or many) people don't like them. For instance, the teaching that artificial contraception is a grave sin is a truth which can never become obsolete.]

Q. Shouldn't the Pope embrace more modern views concerning certain matters?

A. A Pope may not change doctrine to please the masses no more than a mathematician may change 2+2=4 to 2+2=5 to please his public. As condemned in the Syllabus of Errors: "The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization." Other popes have consistently condemned Modernism, even calling it the "synthesis of all heresies". Our Lord does not change and, since the pope is Christ's Vicar on earth, he may not change policies or teachings to suit the vain desires of this world. Remember that the pope does not "own" Church doctrines, but passes on what has been divinely revealed. Really, there would be no point to having a Pope if he could simply change doctrines to suit the tastes of the world. Truth is truth - and it is unchangeable. 

Q. If many people disagree with the Pope, will he change?

A. 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. 

Q. Is it okay to disagree with the Pope?

A. 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 a 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). Note: Click here  for "Obedience / Disobedience / Assent" Reflections.

Q. I have heard that there are two Papal 'syllabuses' condemning modern errors. What are they?

A. The 'syllabuses' condemning modern errors are the "Syllabus Errorum" (The Syllabus of Errors Condemned By Pope Pius IX) (click here) and Pope St. Pius X's "Lamentabili Sane" (Syllabus Condemning The Errors Of The Modernists) (click here). When one refers to the "Syllabus", it probably means the one issued by Bl. Pope Pius IX. The one issued by Pope St. Pius X is usually "Lamentabili Sane".

Also See: Classic Encyclicals & Other Papal Documents | Papal Duties (Reflections)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Papal Infallibility

Q. What does infallibility mean?

A. Infallibility refers to the divine gift which protects the Pope against formally promulgating error in matters of faith or morals. The Pope enjoys infallibility in certain matters and under certain conditions. For more information, click here.

Q. Is everything the Pope says or does infallible?

A. No. Infallibility is limited to certain items under limited circumstances. For more information, click here.

Q. Can the Pope sin?

A. Yes, Popes can and have sinned. Infallibility is not the same as impeccability. For more information, click here.

Q. How can a Pope sin and still be infallible?

A. Freedom from sin and freedom from formally teaching error are two separate things. A Pope may, unfortunately, be a very bad sinner, but that doesn't mean his teaching is therefore corrupt. In fact, there were some very sinful popes in the Church's history, but none of them ever formally taught error. For more information, click here.

Q. Was St. Peter infallible? Wasn't he rebuked by St. Paul?

A. Scripture clearly shows that Peter "had all the right answers" (e.g. Mt. 16:16, Mt. 17:26, Lk. 7:43, Acts 1:15-22, 2:14-36, 2:38-9, 15:7-11). That didn't stop him, however, from also having weaknesses. When he denied Our Lord, he wasn't formally teaching against our Lord, he was instead fearful and weak. When he was rebuked by St. Paul, he was erring in "pastoral practice", not matters of faith or morals. He had taught correctly, but was not living up to his teachings.

Q. Have the Popes always enjoyed infallibility?

A. Yes, the Popes have always enjoyed infallibility, as this is necessary to the Church's mission (click here for more information). Although the doctrine of infallibility was not formally defined until 1870, it was always a part of the deposit of faith. For example, when Pope St. Agatho said "The Roman See has never erred, and never will err, because of Christ's promise" in 680 A.D. he recognized the doctrine of infallibility, even though the formal definition would not be issued for more than a millennium.

Q. Haven't Popes erred?

A. Yes. Popes have erred, but not in matters touching on infallibility. For more information, click here.

Q. Are Bishops also infallible?

A. Bishops do not individually partake of infallibility. Collectively, bishops may enjoy infallibility of teaching only in certain matters, and only when exercised in union with the Pope.

Q. Has infallibility ever failed?

A. No. There have been some "close calls", but, by Divine Providence, the doctrines of the faith have been preserved intact. Note: Click here  for more information.

Also See: Papal Infallibility | Infallibility (Reflections)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

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The Papacy in History

Q. Who is Saint Peter? Was he the first Pope?

A. 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, the first Pope (see Mt. 16:18).

Q. When did the Papacy begin?

A. 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). 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. 

Q. Has there always been a Pope?

A. Yes, since St. Peter, there has always been a pope. The unbroken line of succession since St. Peter has continued for about two millennia. For a list of popes, click here[Note: There is necessarily a period of 'sede vacante' (vacant seat) after the death / abdication / deposition of each pope.]

Q. How many Popes have there been?

A. The numbering of popes may vary due to certain uncertainties, but there have certainly been well over 250 popes. For a list of popes from St. Peter to present, click here

Q. Are all Popes saints?

A. No. Not all popes are saints and, unfortunately, not all popes have acted in a saintly manner. There are, however, many canonized and beatified popes (click here). Note: To be formally declared a saint, a canonization process is required (see Saints Section)

Q. Which Popes are Saints/Blesseds?

A. Click here for a list of canonized / beatified popes.

Q. Which Popes are considered "Great"?

A. Pope St. Leo I and Pope St. Gregory I are surnamed "the Great". Pope St. Nicholas I is also often called "the Great". Click here for more information.

Q. Have Popes ever resigned or been deposed?

A. Yes, popes have resigned and been deposed. Click here for more information.

Q. Were there some bad Popes?

A. Unfortunately, there have been some bad popes. Thanks to the gift of infallibility, however, they never formally taught error. Click here  for more information on infallibility. 

Q. Was there ever a "Pope Joan"?

A. No. This is believed to be "at first a satire, but later accepted as true." The story claims that a woman was elected pope (they thought she was a man) and that her true identity was not discovered until she suddenly, and publicly, gave birth. Often mentioned by anti-Catholics of modern times (and formerly believed by some Catholics), this story can be easily disproved, as the years of her supposed "reign" are all accounted for by legitimate (male!) popes. Even non-Catholic historians reject the "Pope Joan" story (or stories, since there is more than one version of the tale).

Q. Was St. Peter martyred in Rome?

A. Yes. St. Peter was martyred in Rome at the approximate age of 60-63. He was martyred on the same day that St. Paul was martyred (also in Rome). St. Peter's death was predicted by Jesus in Jn. 21:18. Like Jesus, St. Peter was crucified (St. Peter was crucified upside down, at his own request). St. Peter's Basilica is built over the tomb of St. Peter, literally "built on the rock of Peter". 

Q. What are some Papal accomplishments?

A. In addition to preserving and protecting doctrine, the Popes have been responsible for numerous accomplishments in many areas, from the protection of peoples to the promotion of art and education to the assistance of the poor and redemption of captives. Even the calendar used by most of the world today may be traced back to a pope. Note: For more information on achievements and contributions of the various popes, try here. Also try the "Why I Love Being Catholic" Section.

Q. Can you tell me a little about each Pope?

A. Click here for more information regarding "The Popes: From St. Peter to Present".

Q. Where can I find out more about the Popes?

A. In addition to the short biographies offered here, there are many sources of information on the Popes. Unfortunately, however, there has been much rewriting of history concerning the popes. In fact some modern biographies seem to be issued by enemies of the Church rather than by her faithful children. A good place to begin may be to look for good traditional biographies of popes. Note that the traditional "Liber Pontificalis" (Book of the Popes/Pontiffs), although highly criticized by moderns, has been praised by some for its "great biographies". One shortcut that may be helpful in evaluating a publication is to select a few key Popes and compare what is said about each (for example, modernist biographers may tend to vilify Pope St. Pius X, the "champion against modernism").

Q. What is the longest time the See of Peter has been vacant?

A. The longest period of vacancy between the death of one pope and the election of another (sede vacante) occurred in the thirteenth century. It lasted nearly 3 years and ended with the election of Bl. Gregory X in 1271.

Q. Why were there some periods of a year or longer without a Pope?

A. Over the two thousand year history of the Church, various periods saw an interregnum of a year or longer. This may have occurred due to unsafe conditions Rome, instabilities, unrest, etc. Remember that it hasn't been until recently that there were faxes or phones or airplanes, so even the news of the death of a pope was not immediate as it is today.

Also See: The Popes: From St. Peter to Present

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

In Defense of the Papacy

Q. I have heard some negative things about the papacy (or certain Popes), can this be explained?

A. Throughout history, the Popes (and the papacy) have had many enemies. Those who dislike the Pope or the papacy are sometimes easily led to believe certain erroneous, derogatory things regarding the popes, ranging from insulting comments to accusations of the Pope being the antichrist himself. While it is true that the behavior of some popes has been scandalous, it is also true that the behavior of many has been glorious. This should come as no surprise since popes are human beings. Christ himself picked apostles that doubted, betrayed, and denied Him. Enemies of the Church often use these events as well as other myths, misunderstandings, errors, or even lies to attack the institution of the papacy itself. When one looks into their accusations, one often finds that they are easily disputed, that they are myths or empty claims, that they are based on errors or misunderstandings or forgeries, or made up "facts", that no evidence supports the charges, that the charges do not stand up to careful examination, etc. Even stories with a kernel of truth are sometimes twisted to "prove" that the papacy is "corrupt" or "merely a human institution". We shouldn't be surprised by this considering the treatment our fully innocent Lord received and the calumnious accusations he suffered. Those who reject or hate the papacy may be merely misled - or perhaps they may be lashing out against the divinely instituted teaching authority that condemns the lifestyle they wish to lead. In any case, Catholics should be able to answer some of the common attacks against the papacy, including those below...

Upside down cross - Anti-Catholics may point to images of an upside down cross as "proof" of evil in the Church. In reality, an upside down cross refers to St. Peter's crucifixion. The first pope was crucified upside down at his request, in respect for our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Vatican & The seven hills of Rome - Anti-Catholics sometimes point to Revelation and claim that the "seven hills upon which the woman sits" (Rv. 17:9) is a reference to the seven hills of Rome, and therefore to the Vatican, which is situated on Vatican Hill. While there is a reference to the seven hills of Rome, a quick review of a map will show that Vatican Hill is not one of the seven hills of Rome. Click here  for a list of the seven hills. It should be remembered that St. John was writing at a time of Roman persecution under pagan Rome, and not "Holy Rome" which was not to triumph until centuries later.

The Latin title "Vicarius Filii Dei" ("vicar of the Son of God") is added up to total 666 - The title "Vicar of the Son of God" is not (and never has been) an official title of the Pope. Contrary to the claims of some non-Catholics, this title does not appear on a papal tiara (they have all been photographed). Furthermore, even if a papal title did add up to 666, this would not prove any kind of "evil" in the Church. In fact, many names and titles add up to this number. It is often pointed out that the name of the female founder of one sect that uses this argument against the Church itself adds up to 666.

The Church kept the Bible chained up - It is true that the Church kept bible "chained up", but this was to protect it, not keep it from use. Like a pen that is chained at a bank, the chaining of the Bible was done to ensure that it would not be taken. At that time, bibles were hard to come by since the printing press had yet to be invented. In fact, at that time, bibles were quite expensive as they had to be copied by hand, a tedious process done by monks. Those who use this argument against the Church demonstrate their ignorance concerning the origins and preservation of the Bible by the Catholic Church. Had it not been for the Catholic Church, there would be no Bible. They also demonstrate their ignorance of history which clearly shows that the Church brought Holy Scripture to the mostly illiterate people by means of her preaching, liturgy, and images. Those who argue that some papal proclamations seem to be against the reading of the Bible, fail to mention that the Church has the duty to protect the faithful against faulty translations of Scripture and dangerous misinterpretation of the Bible (which was often twisted by heretics, leading even to loss of life and the endangering of one's soul). Today's critics of the Church who know anything at all of the Bible actually owe this knowledge to the Catholic Church; the very one they criticize for "chaining up" the bible.

Galileo, Joan of Arc - Often used to attack papal infallibility, critics of the papacy fail to make the distinction between matters subject to infallibility, disciplinary measures, etc. Neither the case of Galileo or Joan of Arc were matters of papal infallibility, and were therefore fallible. In Galileo's case, the matter involved science and his advancing of unproven theories. In Joan of Arc's case, she was found to be unfairly condemned, but her original condemnation was not issued by the Pope (or the Church as a whole). Those same people who criticize the Pope for these matters might think it illogical to condemn the president of the United States (or an entire country) because a particular judge ruled a particular way in a particular case or to criticize a principal of a respectable school for curtailing the promotion of unproven scientific theories. [Note: It should also be noted that the above is a simplified explanation - both of these cases were much more complicated than indicated.]

Multiple claimants to the throne - In the past two thousand years, there have been cases of multiple claimants to the papal throne (more than one man claiming to be pope). The fact that more than one man claims the papacy does not mean there is more than one pope. Even in the twentieth century, multiple claimants existed. This proves nothing against the Church.

Pope Joan (a supposed female pope) - See above (click here)

Etc.

Note: For more, try the Non-Catholics (apologetics) section

Q. Why does the Church need a Pope?

A. If not for the Pope, the Church would be in chaos, incapable of unity. There would be competing dogmas, competing bibles, etc. There would be no certainty and no supreme authority. If not for papal infallibility, we would have no certain 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 the true path leading to salvation. Since the Church is made up of visible members, is clear that we need a visible leader. Just as a business or country could not last long without a visible leader, neither could the Church. Since Christ has ascended to the Father, he wisely left a visible representative to govern in his name. And, it is clear that to be obedient - as Scripture commands us to be - the sheep must recognize the shepherd. Non-Catholics, rejecting the Pope's God-given authority and infallibility in favor of their own fallible personal judgment, with their resulting divisions and disunity, unwittingly testify to the need for a pope invested with divine authority and infallibility. Thankfully, Christ met this need two thousand years ago when he founded His Church on St. Peter, the first pope, and promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

Also See: Non-Catholics (apologetics)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Location of Popes / Vatican

Q. What is the Vatican?

A. The Vatican is "[the] official residence of the Pope at Rome, so named from being built on the lower slopes of the Vatican Hill; figuratively, the name used to signify the papal power and influence, and by extension, the whole Church." (Catholic Dictionary). It is considered "the administrative center and world headquarters of the Catholic Church". It is located in the independent nation of Vatican City (click here for more information).

Q. Where is the Vatican? How can I reach the Vatican?

A. The Vatican is located in Vatican City (click here for more information). For address information, click here. For other contact information (phone, e-mail, etc.), try the Vatican website (see Catholic Web Links section)

Q. What is Vatican City?

A. Vatican City (or Vatican City State) is the location of the Vatican. It is an independent nation ("the smallest independent nation state in the world by size and population"). It is surrounded by Rome, Italy and takes its name from Vatican Hill, where it is situated. For more information on Vatican City, click here.

Q. What is Vatican II?

A. Vatican II, held in the 1960's, was the 21st ecumenical council. It imposed unprecedented changes in many areas of the Catholic Church (including external changes in the liturgy and other sacraments), while issuing no infallible dogmatic definitions. Many liberals praise many of the changes, but complain that it did not go far enough. Many conservatives and traditional Catholics point to reduced Mass attendance, defections from the Church, reduced number of vocations, disbelief in main tenets of the faith, confusion and misinformation in the Church, etc. Some say the Council issued a "new springtime in the Church", a "new Pentecost", others point to statements such these:

"From some crevice, the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God...This condition of uncertainty reigns within the Church as well. After the Second Vatican Council, we believed that the history of the Church would enjoy a period of sunshine. Instead the day became ugly, dark, cloudy, and stormy." (Pope Paul VI, 1972)

"[T]he opening to the world has become a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking. We have perhaps been too weak and imprudent." (Pope Paul VI)

"The results appear cruelly different from everyone's expectations, beginning with those of John XXIII and later of Paul VI. A new Catholic unity was expected; instead, there was a dissention that...went from self-criticism to self destruction... The balance, therefore, appears to be negative... It is undeniable that this period was decidedly unfavorable to the Catholic Church." (Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, 1984)

Note: For more information on this topic, try the Catholic News/Current Issues Section or the Latin Mass / Catholic Tradition Section.

Q. Why is the Papacy in Rome?

A. Divine Providence seems to have selected Rome for the location of the papacy. Prior to Christianity, Rome was the "metropolis of the world". The Roman Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus to death, and both St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in Rome. The pagan Roman empire would eventually fall and be replaced by the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, the Vatican is literally "built on St. Peter" (St. Peter's basilica is built directly over the tomb of St. Peter). As St. Thomas Aquinas has said, "To manifest his power still more effectively, [Christ] ordained that the head of his Church should be in Rome itself, the capital of the world, as a sign of his complete victory and that thence faith should spread to the whole world". Note that St. Peter, the first pope, had set up his episcopal chair in Rome years before his martyrdom there (cf. Acts 12:17, "another place"). Also note that recent excavations have confirmed the burial location of St. Peter under the altar at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Q. Was the Papacy always in Rome?

A. Since St. Peter went there, the papacy has always has been in Rome, except for a period of about seventy years in the fourteenth century, when the papacy was moved to Avignon, France. Click here  for more information on the Avignon Papacy

Also See: Vatican View: Facts

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Death of a Pope / Election of a Pope

Q. What happens when the Pope dies?

A. Upon the death of a pope, the Church enters a period of sede vacante (empty seat) until after a new pope is chosen. The administration of Church affairs is conducted by cardinals, especially the Camerlengo. During this time, certain actions of the Church (e.g. canonizations, infallible proclamations, etc.) can not be conducted. Within a few days after the pope's death, certain events occur (e.g. Masses, preparations for a conclave, etc.). Within 15-20 days after the pope's death, all eligible members of the College of Cardinals meet to elect a new pope. Note: For more information on this topic, see Vatican View: Facts "Election of a Pope" and "Conclave".

Q. How is a new Pope chosen?

A. A new pope is chosen by the eligible members of the College of Cardinals in a "conclave" (from the Latin "cum clave", "with a key"), referring to the locked room in which the Cardinals elect a pope. For more information on the election of a pope, click here.

Q. Are there any age restrictions for Popes?

A. Theoretically, no. Popes ascending to the papal throne have ranged in age from 18-86. For more information on "The Popes: By Age at Beginning of Papacy", click here.

Q. Why do Popes change their names upon elevation to the papacy?

A. Popes have changed their name 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 (for "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 election to the papacy. Click here  for information on previous names of the Popes.

Q. How long does a Pope reign as Pope?

A. Once elected, a Pope reigns until his death (in some cases, however, popes have either abdicated or been overthrown/deposed). Note: Click here  for more information on abdicated / deposed / overthrown popes.

Q. Can a woman ever be Pope?

A. No. Women cannot receive holy orders and can never become Pope. As Pope John Paul II has stated "The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women…this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." As for the rumor of a supposed "Pope Joan", one should be aware that this is a myth [see above fore more information (click here)].

Also See: Election of a Pope (Reflections)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

Top | Vatican View Section | Vatican View Facts | Vatican View Reflections

Misc.

Q. Can a church truly be Catholic if it does not submit to the Pope?

A. No. A 'church' which is not in communion with the Pope can not be Catholic. Remember that Christ founded His Church, the Catholic Church, upon St. Peter ["And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Mt. 16:18)], therefore a 'church' which is not attached to St. Peter is not part of the Catholic Church. As stated by Pope St. Gregory VII in the 11th century, "He cannot be accounted a Catholic who does not agree with the Roman Church." St. Cyprian stated, "He who abandons the See of Peter on which the Church was founded, falsely believes himself to be a part of the Church." And Pope Pius VI confirms, "Attach yourselves with single-mindedness to the Holy See, for no one can be in the Church unless he be united to Us, its visible head, and be one with the chair of Peter." (Click here for more "Necessity of Union With the Roman Pontiff" Reflections.) [Note: Although there is only one true Church, founded by Christ - the Catholic Church - the term 'Church' may also be applied properly to various components of the Catholic Church (e.g. church buildings, National Churches, Local Churches, Church authorities, Church Suffering / Militant / Triumphant, etc.). These are not independent churches, but refer to certain parts of the Catholic Church. Non-Catholics often misapply the term 'church' to denominations or sects which are not properly called churches. Remember that Christ established just one Church, the Catholic Church: "(Jesus said,) 'And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'" (Matt. 16:18-19).] 

Q. Is it necessary to be subject to the Pope for salvation?

A. Yes. As confirmed by popes and saints and doctors of the Church, it is necessary to be subject to the Pope for salvation. As stated by St. Thomas Aquinas, "To be subject to the Roman Pontiff is necessary for salvation." As Pope Boniface VIII has pronounced, "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." ("Unam Sanctam", 1302 A.D.) St. Bede the Venerable has stated, "[B]lessed Peter who confessed Christ with a true faith and was attached to Him with a true love, received in a special way the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the primacy of judicial power, so that all the believers throughout the world might understand that those who separate themselves from the unity of his faith and society cannot be absolved from the chains of sin, nor enter the door of the heavenly kingdom." In 1943, Pope Pius XII confirmed "They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it." Note: Click here  for more "Necessity of Union With the Roman Pontiff" Reflections.

Q. Should Catholics use the term "Roman Catholic" to show their faithfulness to the Roman Pontiff (the Pope)?

A. Although this terminology is commonly employed, its use is generally not recommended. While those inside the Church may use it to show their allegiance to the Roman Pontiff, those outside the Church have used it to imply that the Catholic Church includes "Roman Catholics" as well as other so-called churches. However, some argue that using "Roman Catholic" makes one's true religion more clear since others who are separated from the Catholic Church have abrogated the title Catholic to themselves (e.g. "Old Catholics"). Note that there is, in reality, only one Catholic Church, simply called the "Catholic Church". As stated in the dictionary: "Roman Catholic. A name used by many English-speaking non-Catholics for members of the Catholic Church, as a qualification of their exclusive right to be called Catholics, and the term recognized for use in official and legal documents. As every Catholic of whatever rite, looks to Rome as the center of the Church and the seat of the supreme pontiff and head, the expression in itself is unobjectionable and is in fact sometimes employed by them, especially in certain countries of Europe. But its use by Catholics is unnecessary and, having regard to its connotation for many non-Catholics, sometimes to be avoided." (Catholic Dictionary) On the other hand, the Baltimore Catechism acknowledges, "Catholics are called Roman to show that they are in union with the true Church founded by Christ and governed by the Apostles under the direction of St. Peter, by divine appointment the Chief of the Apostles, who founded the Church of Rome and was its first bishop." [Note: We may use the term "Roman Catholic" on this site to more clearly communicate that we mean the Catholic Church under the Roman Pontiff. Our use does not intend to imply that there is any difference whatsoever between the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic Church - which are one and the same - but defers to popular usage. In justification of this use, consider that those entering a hospital may be wise to list their religion as "Roman Catholic" rather than "Catholic" to help ensure that a proper Catholic priest administers the Sacraments (since those outside the Church may not be able to distinguish proper "Roman Catholic" priests from other so called priests calling themselves "Catholic"). Although this terminology may be employed, one should note that it may not be a generally recommended practice of the Church.]

Q. What is the significance of the triple tiara in the papal emblem?

A. The triple tiara of the Pope (also called Papal tiara, or Triregnum", or triple crown) is a symbol of the royal authority of the Pope over Christ's kingdom on earth, the Church. The Papal tiara is said to date from Pope Clement V. The significance of the three crowns is commonly tied to the Pope's threefold power/authority of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling. It is also said to be significant for the three persons in the Holy Trinity, as well as the Church Militant (on earth), the Church Suffering (in purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (in heaven). Other explanations for the significance of the triple crown include: (1) the Pope's role as universal pastor, his universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and his temporal power; (2) the Pope as "father of princes and kings, ruler of the world, and vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ on earth"; (3) the Pope's authority, jurisdiction, and power of Orders; (4) and the Pope's role as teacher, lawgiver, and judge. There are actually many triple tiaras, nearly all covered in jewels. Some were given as gifts to the Popes throughout the ages. A pope may wear his own tiara or one given to a previous pope. Traditionally, the popes received a papal coronation (lately popes have received a less formal inauguration or 'installation'). Note that the coronation is symbolic, since the pope does not need to wait for coronation to be pope, but becomes pope upon the acceptance of his election (although if he does not have Holy Orders, he must immediately receive them). It is also a tradition that the statue of St. Peter is crowed with the triple tiara on the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29).

Q. What do the keys in the papal emblem refer to?

A. A key is a symbol of authority. The crossed keys in the papal emblem refer to Christ's promise to St. Peter in Mt. 16:19 ("I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."). The silver key is said to signify the Pope's authority to bind on earth, while the gold key is said to signify his power to bind in heaven.

Q. Why do so many Church properties in Rome have bees pictured on them?

A. Many Church properties in Rome are emblazoned with bees since it is the family emblem of Pope Urban III, who completed many building works during his pontificate. (They may be referred to as the "Barberini bees", for Maffeo Barberini, who became Pope Urban III).

Q. Why do people kiss the Pope's ring when they meet him?

A. Kissing of the Pope's ring [or his papal slippers - the "fancy red and gold papal slippers" (red is symbolic for martyr's blood)] is a traditional sign of respect and honor accorded to the Pope, Christ's Vicar on earth ("Those who have the opportunity of kissing the Holy Father's ring considerer it to be a great honor").

Q. What is an antipope?

A. An antipope is: "One claiming to be pope in opposition to a true pope canonically elected." (Catholic Dictionary) Click here for a list of antipopes.

Q. What does "Avignon Papacy" refer to?

A. The Avignon Papacy refers to the period of time in the 14th century (1309-1377) where the papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon France. Pope Clement V moved the papacy under imperial pressure, beginning the seventy year 'Babylonian Captivity' (referring to Israel's exile) which lasted until the papacy was returned to Rome by Pope Gregory XI on January 17, 1377. There were a total of 7 Popes during this period: Pope Clement V, Pope John XXII (XXI), Pope Benedict XII, Pope Clement VI, Pope Innocent VI, Pope Bl. Urban V, and Pope Gregory XI.

Q. If there was ever a problem with a Pope, who would judge him?

A. As stated in canon law, "The First See is judged by no one." (1917 Can. 1556, 1983 Can. 1404). The pope has no earthly judge. As St. Catherine of Siena said to Pope Gregory XI in the fourteenth century, "Take care that I do not have to complain about you to Jesus crucified. There is no one else I can complain to, for you have no superior on earth." Although the pope has no earthly judge, the pope is human and will be judged like the rest of us by Our Lord. [Note: This is not to preclude the possibility of a pope being judged by a succeeding pope or a future council (with the approval of a succeeding pope) as demonstrated by Church history.]

Q. Are deceased Popes still referred to as 'Pope'?

A. Yes. Although deceased popes no longer have no present papal authority, all applicable previous pronouncements of theirs are still binding. 

Q. What is the most common papal name?

A. At the end of the 20th century, "John" was the most common papal name. Note: Click here  for an alphabetical listing of the popes.

Q. About how long have popes normally reigned?

A. By the end of the 20th century, papal reigns had ranged from just a few days to over 30 years. As many as 26 Popes reigned for about 6 months or less, about 37 reigned from 2-4 years, and about 41 reigned 14 years or more by the end of the 20th century. Note: Click here  for more information on papacy lengths.

Q. Can a Pope resign?

A. Yes, a pope can resign. The first pope to abdicate was St. Pontian in the third century.

Q. How can one get an article blessed by the Pope?

A. To have articles (e.g. rosaries, appropriate holy images, etc.) blessed by the Pope, they should be brought to one of his public appearances. At the close of his appearance, he may impart a blessing on the articles brought for that purpose. Applicable items brought for his blessing should be held in one's hand. 

Q. How can one meet the Pope?

A. It is unlikely that a lay person will obtain a personal audience with the Pope. The Pope does, however, have general audiences that may be attended by lay persons. For assistance, contact your diocese or consult the Vatican. Note that it may be possible to submit your request to attend online (try the Catholic Web Links section)

Note: Categories are subjective and may overlap. For more items related to this topic, please review all applicable categories. 

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