The Pope is a title, it is currently used to designate the bishop of Rome, who by virtue of his position as successor of Saint Peter, is the main pastor of the Whole Church, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

In addition to the bishopric of the Roman diocese, the pope and the supreme and universal pastorate have certain other dignities: he is Archbishop of the Roman Province, Primate of Italy and the adjacent islands and sole Patriarch of the Western Church. The Church’s doctrine regarding the pope was authoritatively declared at the Vatican Council in the Constitution “Pastor Aeternus”. The four chapters of this Constitution deal respectively with the office of Supreme Head conferred on Saint Peter, the perpetuity of this office in the person of the Roman Pontiff, the jurisdiction of the Pope over the faithful and his supreme authority to define in all matters of Faith and moral. This last point has been sufficiently discussed in the INFALLIBILITY article, and will only be touched on incidentally here.

The pope, also known as the pontiff, is the bishop of Rome, and thus ex officio the leader of the world Catholic Church. The primacy of the Roman bishop derives largely from his role as the apostolic successor of Saint Peter, to whom Jesus is supposed to have given the keys to Heaven and the powers of “binding and loosing,” naming him after the “rock” on which the church would be built. The Pope is also the head of state of Vatican City, a sovereign city-state entirely nestled within Rome. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on March 13, 2013, succeeding Benedict XVI.

The office of the Pope is the Papacy. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the Diocese of Rome, is often called “the Holy See” or “the Apostolic See”, based on the belief that the Bishop of Rome is the apostolic successor of Saint Peter. The Pope is considered one of the most powerful people in the world due to his diplomatic and cultural influence.

The papacy is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has played a prominent part in world history. Popes in ancient times helped in the spread of Christianity and the resolution of various doctrinal disputes. In the Middle Ages they played a role of secular importance in Western Europe, often acting as arbitrators between Christian monarchs. Today, in addition to the spread of Christian faith and doctrine, the popes are involved in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, charitable work, and the defense of human rights.