If you aren’t a practicing Catholic or didn’t grow up in the church, it’s difficult to keep track of all the rules, rituals, lingo, and officials. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a whole lot to take in! The Roman Catholic Church has a long and complex history, and the Pope has long been a part of that. As the leader of the Church, the Pope plays a very important role for Catholics, but also for the world as a whole—he’s just that influential.
What is a Pope?
Put simply, the Pope is the Bishop of Rome. As such, this makes them the head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. The Pope's official list of titles rivals that of Daenerys from Game of Thrones. It goes as follows: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God.
Whether or not you’re Catholic, the Pope holds a lot of influence and power—though, to be fair, they used to wield a lot more at different periods in history. Being the Pope is a full-time job, and by full-time, we mean 24/7. His role is extremely political. First in the sense that he frequently meets with heads of state to promote the interests of the church. However, it's also political within the church; it's the Pope's job to appoint officials like bishops. He also conducts liturgies and works on formal communications from the church, as well as greeting the faithful who visit Vatican City. On top of this, he also travels the world, overseeing masses for thousands of Catholics throughout the year.
Who Was the Most Famous Pope?
According to many, Pope Innocent III was the most powerful pope in history. He was even more powerful than the European kings who he reigned alongside at the time! When he was elected, the Catholic Church had a corruption problem, which he immediately set out to eliminate. He also oversaw many of the infamous Crusades.
Of the contemporary popes, one of the most well-regarded was Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pontiff, who was pope from 1978 to 2005. He traveled much more than his predecessors, expanded the role of the pope in diplomatic relations, and he modernized the church by emphasizing the role of women. Having survived WWII, his work advancing ideas of peace and unity actually contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Who Was the Most Infamous Pope?
There’s a difference between fame and infamy, and no one knows that better than the Borgias. Pope Alexander VI was a Borgia, and he was one of the most notorious popes to ever serve. During his reign (1492-1503), he fathered a number of illegitimate children, and rumors about his family’s involvement in various poisoning, extortion, and murder plots spread like wildfire.
His son Cesare Borgia, who was a cardinal at one point, was maybe even worse than he was! Cesare held an infamous feast called the Banquet of the Chestnuts in the papal palace. Reports alleged that 50 courtesans appeared at the festivities and that various lewd acts had taken place there as a result. Not quite the type of thing you’d expect to go on in Vatican City today!
Who Is the Current Pope?
The current pope has been responsible for a lot of firsts within the church: he’s the first Jesuit pope, the first born in the Americas, and the first from the Southern hemisphere. Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina. He was elected pope in 2013, and since then, has become known for his attempts to help modernize the church in a time when many are disillusioned with it as a result of numerous abuse scandals.
While he still toes the line when it comes to controversial subjects, he also acknowledges that changes are necessary when it comes to issues like climate change and the refugee crisis. He even has a Twitter account!