The current Pope is Pope Francis. He is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.
He is the first of many sorts of things in the Papacy. Pope Francis is, first of all, the first ever Pope with the name ‘Francis’. He is Pope Francis the 1st.
Pope Francis took this name to himself because he wanted to model St Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest Catholic saints. St Francis loved creation, loved the world, and loved the poor. These aspects have been reflected in Pope Francis’ Papacy.
Second, Pope Francis is the first South American Pope ever, since he is Argentinian. Since the Latin world is very, very Catholic, we might all say, ‘It’s about time!’
Third, Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope. There has never been a Pope before who has been a Jesuit. This means the Pope has a great interest in all areas of human knowledge.
Nowhere better was his love for all areas of human knowledge shown than in Pope Francis’ incredible Encyclical Laudato Si’. For this reason, Pope Francis will go down in history as the Environmental Pope, the first Pope with a massive focus on caring for our common home, Planet Earth.
Pope Francis is also one of the more liberal and socialist Popes. It would probably be inaccurate to call Pope Francis a liberal or a socialist. He is much too complicated and intelligent for that. But he does have great sympathy for a lot that is promoted by liberalism and socialism, such as climate concern, and a grave dislike of full-blown capitalism.
For instance, during the COVID pandemic, Pope Francis supported those countries which had lockdowns to protect the citizens. He completely disagreed with those countries which didn’t lockdown because they wanted to preserve the economy. He believed this was putting money above people’s lives.
Pope Francis was also one of the first leaders in the Western world to call upon the West to open the doors to those fleeing dangerous situations in other countries.
However, the Pope strongly upholds the current Church policies against abortion, artificial contraception, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.
At this point, however, it is questionable where Pope Francis stands on the issue of (presumably celibate) civil unions amongst homosexuals.
Pope Francis is also the first synodal Pope. This current Papacy is seeking to make the Catholic Church much more synodal. This means the Pope wants a Church where everyone plays a part in the Church’s decisions, including the laity.
This doesn’t mean that the Pope wants the laity to control the Church. Far from it. But the Pope does want the Hierarchs of the Church to listen more to the concerns of the laity, and certainly the Pope wants to listen more to the Bishops of the worldwide Church.
This is a fairly novel idea within the Catholic Church, and it will be interesting to see how far the Church can take synodality.
We have another post on Pope Francis on this site. It goes into more detail about the characteristics of Pope Francis’ papacy.
The Functions of the Papacy
As for the actual role of the Pope, and what he is, and what he does in the Catholic Church, we’ll mention a few brief points.
1. The Pope is the universal Head of the Catholic Church and of all Christendom. This means the Pope is the proper earthly Representative of Jesus in the Christian religion.
All Christians should rightly honour him with this privilege, because it has been given him by God. Those who do not honour the Pope as the Head of the Church, and know that it is wrong to disregard him, cut themselves off from Christ’s universal Body.
So yeh … it’s rather serious.
As the universal Head of the Church, the Pope also has the authority to involve himself in the Church, in any part of the Church, in anyway he pleases and at any time. The Church on earth is supremely the Pope’s under God and Christ. No-one can refuse the Pope this right.
Sometimes it is very necessary that the Pope gets involved in a part of the Church, such as when a Bishop is being disobedient to the faith.
2. The Pope is the Teacher of all Christians. As Head of the Church on earth in Christ’s stead, the Pope has the authority to teach all Christians whenever he chooses.
This doesn’t mean that everything that comes out of his mouth is infallible and cannot be challenged. But it does mean that everything he says should be respected, even if we respectfully disagree or aren’t sure.
On very rare occasions, the Pope has the unique ability to declare an infallible Truth of the Christian faith, which all Christians must obey and believe. The Pope has only done this rarely, such as 1854 when he declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
No other Bishop in the world has this precious ability, and this is why the Pope is the supreme Teacher of all Christians.
3. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. Whilst the Pope has a universal Headship over the entire Church, the Pope also has a local headship over the Roman Church.
The Catholic Church is made up of 24 individual Catholic Churches. One is the Roman Catholic Church, and the other 23 are Eastern Catholic Churches.
In a local sense, the Pope is the supreme Bishop of the Roman Church, whilst the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches have their own Patriarchs and Head-Bishops.
Of course, in a universal sense, the Pope has supreme authority also over the entire Catholic Church, and this includes the Eastern Catholic Churches. But by and large, the Pope tends to leave the Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches to govern their own Churches.
4. The Pope is the supreme Monarch of Vatican City. Vatican City is the smallest country/state in the world. And yet it is a real country, with real boarder controls, and with a real Monarch.
Vatican City is one of the last remaining countries in the Western world which is governed by a supreme Monarchy. Most of the other Western countries are governed by constitutional Monarchies (where Parliament rules the country in the name of the Monarch).