What does a pope do? The pope is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, as everyone knows, but what power do popes have? In modern times, popes mostly deal with religious matters, using their papal authority to weigh in on issues facing the church, promote peace by meeting with world leaders, and performing the duties of the Catholic priesthood. The duties of the pope also include appointing bishops, creating dioceses, creating cardinals and naming saints. Popes, however, once had broader powers. In the centuries following the death of Jesus Christ, they helped to spread Christianity around the world, and in the Middle Ages, popes would often intervene in European political affairs, serving as arbitrators between monarchs. In addition to being the Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church, which counts more than a billion members worldwide, the pope is the leader of Vatican City, the world’s smallest independent state, both in terms of size (110 acres) and population (832, as of a 2011 census).
“What does the pope do?” is a question many have been asking since Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in February 2013. The papacy, or office of the pope, derives from Saint Peter the Apostle, who’s regarded as the first pope. Pope’s are elected via a process known as the “papal conclave,” whereby the College of Cardinals convenes in Rome to select a new leader for the Catholic Church. In order to elect a pope, the College of Cardinals must reach a two-thirds “supermajority,” and the individual chosen to serve as pope must accept the nomination. The papal conclave to choose Pope Benedict XVI’s successor is set for March 12, 2013.
Clearly, the pope is important, but is he infallible, as many believe? In 1870, 433 bishops voted to pass the decree of papal infallibility, which says the pontiff “is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed.” However, the pope is only infallible when he speaks “in matters of faith an morals,” and the decree doesn’t cover everything he says or writes. In other words, not even the pope is right all the time.
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