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What is the role of the pope in the Catholic Church?

The pope is the spiritual leader of the Church. The word "pope" originally came from a word meaning father. This was used to describe the spiritual leader of the Church. The pope's position and role can best be explained and understood through the Word of God. It is the teaching of the Church that Peter was given a position of leadership and authority among the first Apostles.

This is based on several passages in Scripture. For example, each time the list of 12 Apostles is given by the Gospel writers, Peter's name is first, even though he was not the first disciple to follow Jesus. Also, when we read Matthew 16:13, we see where Jesus singled out Peter for the latter's faith confession. To the question, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter responded: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." To this Jesus replied: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. I, for my part, declare to you, you are 'rock,' and of this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you shall declare bound on Earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you shall declare loosed on Earth shall be loosed in heaven."

It is the belief of the Church that Jesus gave to Peter the authority to speak and act in Jesus's name. Now, remember the word "keys" that Jesus uses is the traditional symbol of authority entailing the power to open and to close.

Jesus further emphasized Peter's role among the others when He foretold Peter's denial at the Last Supper. We read in Luke 22:32: "But I have prayed for you that your faith may never fail. You in turn must strengthen you brothers." And finally, remember when Jesus confirmed His commission to Peter after the resurrection. He asked Peter three times: "Do you love me, more than these?" Each time Peter responded affirmatively, with Jesus concluding by saying, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep."

This special responsibility of authority and honor given by Jesus to Peter was recognized by the early Church. It is found not only in the Gospels but also in the Acts of the Apostles. Between the ascension of Christ to the Father and Pentecost, it is Peter who is the spokesman and who acts for the community. Peter presides when Matthias is chosen to succeed Judas. Peter interprets the Pentecost event; Peter heals the lame man and advances the early Church; Peter defends the Church before the Sanhedrin, or Jewish court, judges Ananias and Sapphira; Peter goes to Samaria to lay hands on those baptized by Philip the deacon; Peter acts as president of the first Church council in Jerusalem, and his vision opens up the Church to Gentiles as well as Jews. The overall effect of reading the first 15 chapters of Acts is one of seeing Peter as the very heart of the early Church, the key person in its life, the ultimate decision maker.

The authority and power that Jesus conferred on Peter was not meant merely for Peter. It is the constant teaching of the Church that Christ intended Peter to have successors in his responsibility as chief of the Apostles and visible head of the Church. Down the ages, even until today, the successor of Peter is the bishop of Rome, the pope, the vicar of Christ on Earth. He exercises the same role, responsibility and office as Peter did, fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus: "I will be with you until the end of time." Full authority has been given to Peter and the Apostles, and to their successors, the pope and the bishops, until the end of time.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission