The Pope (Latin: papa; from Greek: πάππας pappas, a child's word for father) is the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. The importance of the Roman bishop is largely derived from his role as the traditional successor to Saint Peter, to whom Jesus gave the keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the church would be built. The current pope is Francis, who was elected on 13 March 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", the latter name being based upon the belief that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter the Apostle. The pope is also head of state of Vatican City, a sovereign city-state entirely enclaved within the Italian capital city of Rome.
The papacy is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has had a prominent part in world history. The 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. Currently, in addition to the expansion of the Christian faith and doctrine, the popes are involved in ecumenism and interfaith dialog, charitable work, and the defense of human rights.
Popes, who originally had no temporal powers, in some periods of history accrued wide powers similar to those of temporal rulers. In recent centuries, popes were gradually forced to give up temporal power, and papal authority is now once again almost exclusively restricted to matters of religion. Over the centuries, papal claims of spiritual authority have been ever more firmly expressed, culminating in 1870 with the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra—literally "from the chair (of Saint Peter)"—to issue a formal definition of faith or morals.
By Dean Hanley
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