The Roman Catholic
facts & history in brief
The Vatican Hill
Map of the Vatican
Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.
The Pope (Bishop of Rome or Vicar of Jesus Christ)
is the bishop and patriarch of Rome, the supreme spiritual
leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern
Rite Catholic churches, which collectively comprise
the Catholic -- that is, Universal -- Church.
In addition to his spiritual role, the Pope is also
sovereign of the independent state of Vatican City,
entirely surrounded by Rome.
Prior to 1870, the Pope as a secular leader ruled over
a large section of the centre of Italy known as the
His office and jurisdiction is known as the Papacy or
Among the honours belonging to the Pope are the style
"Your Holiness" and "the Holy Father", and the titles
"Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of
the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal
Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop
and Metropolitan of the State of the Vatican City".
The Pope resides in the Palace of the Vatican, within
Vatican City, and according to tradition the Pope has
resided in Rome since the first century AD.
Still, according to the Latin formula ubi Papa, ubi
Curia, the Pope's seat of power is by default the place
of government of the Church.
As such, between 1309 to 1378 the seat of the Pope was
not in Rome but in Avignon, a period often called the
Babylonian Captivity, as an allusion to the Biblical
exile of Israel.
It is the orthodox belief of the Catholic Church that
Jesus Christ founded the Church (a word which means
the community of disciples) on St. Peter when he said,
"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona!
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but
my Father who is in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will
build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail
against it." (Matthew 16:18).
This passage is significant because in the original
Greek text, and the Aramaic in which Jesus would have
said it, the words for Peter and rock would be identical,
and the literal translation would be "You are a rock
and on this rock..."
Further, it is Catholic doctrine that Jesus gave Peter
the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 16:19:
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall
be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven." See also Luke 22:31:
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission
to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that
your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have
turned again, strengthen your brothers").
Peter is considered by Catholics to be the first visible
head of the Christian church and the first pope.
His authority, and by extension that of his lawful successors,
is universal and immediate, with power to "bind and
loose", and to govern the Universal Church (the community
of all believers).
He is the leader of the College of Bishops, and is responsible
for guiding them just as they are responsible for guiding
their own flocks.
The First Vatican Council (1869-1870) defined the dogma
of papal infallibility whereby the pope, when he speaks
ex cathedra, does not have the possibility of error
on any matter of faith or morals.
There are rigorous requirements for such a statement,
and there are only a very few.
Ordinarily, the Pope exercises infallibility through
the College of Bishops and in union with Ecumenical
Councils of the Universal Church.
The term antipope refers to individuals who have claimed
to be popes, but who were not canonically or lawfully
Their stories often reflect tumultuous periods in church
history; only one antipope has been canonised, or declared
Death and Election
Currently when the pope dies the rule of the papacy
passes to the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, a
cardinal appointed by the Pope.
The Camerlengo removes the Ring of the Fisherman from
the pope's right hand; it is later broken at the meeting
to decide the new pope.
The body rests in state for a number of days before
being placed in a special coffin and interred in the
crypt in some leading church or cathedral.
All twentieth century popes have been buried in St.
It is expected however that when the current pope, John
Paul II dies, he will be buried in his native Poland.
There follows a nine day period of mourning, novemdialis.
Currently the pope is elected for life by a vote of
those cardinals who are under the age of 80.
Initially the pope was chosen by those senior clergy
residing near Rome.
In 1059 the election was restricted to cardinals and
in 1179 the individual votes of all electors were equalised.
However the potential choice is considerable, almost
anyone - even lay persons - can be elected, although
Urban VI was the last non-Cardinal elected.
If a lay person or other non-bishop is elected, then
the Dean of the College of Cardinals ordains him a bishop
before he assumes office.
In France the Second Council of Lyons opened on May
7, 1274 to regulate the election of the pope.
Two additional conditions were introduced; the cardinals
had to meet within ten days of the pope's death, and
they had to remain in seclusion until a new pope was
This was prompted by the three year wait to replace
Clement IV who died in 1268.
By the mid 1500s the electoral process was roughly equivalent
to the current one.
The time between the death and the election has been
changed; it must occur within twenty days, but must
begin not less than fifteen days after the death.
The actual vote used to take place by one of three methods:
acclamation, committee or plenary vote.
The simplest was a unanimous voice vote called acclamation
(last occurred in 1621).
There was also an option of the selection of a smaller
committee to make a decision.
The third-most common is by a plenary vote of all cardinals
entitled to vote, by means of a ballot.
However in a major revision of the code of procedure,
Pope John II abolished the option of selection by committee
or by acclamation.
Thus all subsequent popes can only be elected by full
vote of the College of Cardinals.
The meeting of cardinals, the conclave, is called by
the Sacred College of Cardinals and almost always takes
place in the Vatican, in the Sistine Chapel.
The conclave is so named because once the twenty-day
limit is reached all the present eligible electors are
theoretically locked away from the rest of the world
By lot three cardinals are assigned to collect the votes
of non-attendees (through illness), three more are assigned
to count the votes and a further three to review the
The ballot papers (usually marked "Eligo in summum Pontificem
Rev.mum D. Meum D. Card...") are distributed; each cardinal
writes his choice upon the paper, pledges aloud he is
electing "one whom under God I think ought to be elected"
and deposits his ballot into a container.
If there is no overall winner the cardinals vote again
immediately, and then possibly again and again until
there is a clear choice.
Until 1996 the required majority was two-thirds; now
if the meeting is still deadlocked after twelve days
a simple majority rule can be invoked.
To communicate some of the process to the waiting world
the ballots, once counted, are burned: black smoke (sfumata,
created using straw) indicates the vote was not decisive,
and white smoke indicates a new pope has been chosen.
When the pope has been chosen he is asked by the Dean
of the College of Cardinals to confirm his acceptance,
and then the name he chooses is announced.
Since 535 up to and including Pope John Paul II the
pope has had the opportunity to be called by a name
other than that given at birth and the practice has
The selection is then announced from a balcony over
St. Peter's Square, initially with the words "Annuntio
vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam."
The election process was last altered in 1996 by John
Paul II in Universi Dominici Gregis.
The Latin term sede vacante (empty seat) is normally
applied to the period between the death of one pope
and the election of his successor.
This term has been adapted to identify a group of modern
The word pope (post-classical Latin papa, father), is
an ecclesiastical title now used to designate the head
of the Roman Catholic Church and several Patriarchs
of eastern Orthodoxy, such as the Pope and Patriarch
of Alexandria and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
In the 4th and 5th centuries it was frequently used
in the west of any bishop, but in the Catholic church
it gradually came to be reserved to the bishop of Rome,
becoming his official title.
In the East, on the other hand, the Patriarch of Alexandria
uses it as as his historical title.
As a popular term it was applied to priests, and at
the present day, in the Greek Church and in Russia all
the priests are called pappas, which is also translated
Even in the case of the sovereign pontiff the word pope
is officially only used as a less solemn style: though
the ordinary signature and heading of briefs is, e.g.
"Pius PP. X", the signature of bulls is Pius episcopus
ecclesiae catholicae, and the heading, Pius episcopus,
servus servorum Dei, this latter formula going back
to the time of Saint Gregory the Great.
Other styles met with in official documents are Pontifex
Maximus, Summus pontifex, Romanus pontifex, Sanctissimus,
Sanctissimus pater, Sanctissimus dominus noster, Sanctitas
sua, Beatissimus pater, Beatitude sue; while the pope
is addressed in speaking as Sanctitas vestra, or Beatissime
In the middle ages is also found Dominus apostolicus
(cf. still, in the litanies of the saints), or simply
All text is available under the terms of
GNU Free Documentation License.
This information correct in December 2003. E.
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