papacy pāˈpəsē [key], office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter. The pope therefore claims to be the shepherd of all Christians and representative (vicar or vicegerent) of Christ. The claim of Petrine supremacy and (by virtue of Peter's connection to Rome) Roman supremacy, is based on Matthew 16:18–19. Papal supremacy is not acknowledged outside the Roman Catholic Church. The church further holds that God will not permit the pope to make an error in a solemn official declaration concerning a matter of faith or morality (see infallibility).

The pope has also traditionally been regarded as patriarch of the West, with the great majority, although not all, of the Christians recognizing his authority as pope also under his authority as patriarch. This question of areas of authority is practical only with regard to some of the Eastern-rite patriarchs in communion with the pope who may, for example, appoint bishops without papal confirmation. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI dropped patriach of the West from among his official titles in an ecumenical gesture toward the Orthodox Eastern churches; the title had been assumed by Pope Theodore I in 642. The pope generally lives in Rome, of which a portion (Vatican City) is politically independent and under his rule; the pope is thus head of a state and owes no political allegiance (see Vatican City; cardinal; papal election).

For a chronological list of popes and antipopes see the table entitled Popes of the Roman Catholic Church. For the ecclesiastical framework, the teaching, the history, and the geographical distribution of the church, see Roman Catholic Church. See also Christianity.

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