Did you know the Pope is not referred to by only one title? He is also referred to as such titles as: the bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, supreme pontiff of the universal church, primate of Italy, patriarch of the West, sovereign of the State of Vatican City, and servant of the servants of God. The Pope is believed to be the successor of Saint Peter. The Pope, being the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church, holds the position of the papacy. The Papacy is an official position of the Church, which presently is held by Pope John Paul II.
The election of a Pope is a very special process. A new Pope can only be elected when the previous has passed. When the previous Pope dies, the Cardinal Camerlango must verify the death of the pontiff. The Cardinal calls the Popes name three times and without response from the Pope he is pronounced dead. He must then authorize a death certificate and make the event public. The event is made public by notifying the Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome. He then would arrange for the papal seal to be broken. After this he must prepare for the Papal funeral and the nine days of mourning which follow.
After fifteen to twenty days of sermons the Cardinal Electors enter the Conclave to choose which Cardinal will be the next Pope. The Cardinals first must take an oath when entering the Conclave. The oath states that they will follow the rules given by the Pope and will be secret about the voting and deliberations. The penalty for breaking the oath given in the Conclave is immediate and automatic excommunication. The Cardinals are seated around the walls of the Sistine Chapel, then they are given a ballot of paper. After they have placed a name on their ballot they proceed to turn the ballots in, one by one. The Cardinal Camerlango and his three assistants then count the votes. After they are counted the ballots are all burned together to give off smoke. This smoke is white if a new Pope has been elected, and black if not.
For one to be elected Pope, any Cardinal must receive more than two-thirds of the votes. Once the Cardinal has received the votes, the Dean of the College of Cardinals asks him to accept his election. If he accepts he is then asked what name he wishes to be called; the Cardinal then becomes the Pontifex Maximus, the Holy Roman Pontiff. He is then pledged obedience to by the other Cardinals. Then the new is then given his Pontifical clericals. The Dean of the College of Cardinals then walks out on the main balcony of the chapel and declares to the world: “We have a Pope.” The new appointed Pope then steps out on the balcony and delivers his Apostolic Blessing to the World. Before the Cardinals return home the Pope receives a formal ceremony and inauguration. At this ceremony the woollen pallium is bestowed upon him. When Pope John Paul I became Pope he abolished the tradition of Papal Coronation. During this the Pope would be carried around Saint Peter’s Square on the Papal Throne.
The Pope is the highest power of the church. As the highest power he issues doctrinal statements, summons council, appoints bishops, establishes dioceses and settles legal questions. The Curia assists the Pope; it is composed of three different groups. The first group is made up of congregation, the second is made of tribunals and the third is made of offices, councils, and secretariats.
The current Pope today is Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was born in Wadowice, Poland. He was born Karol Wojtyla on May 18, 1920. He was born to a working-class family. His father died in World War II and his mother when he was nine. He became a student at Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1938. He studied literature and philology. During World War II Karol was a member of an underground theatrical group. This group performed anti-Nazi plays, and also helped Polish Jews escape persecution. After World War II he studied in a seminary in Krakow and was ordained in 1946. In 1948 he received a Ph.D. degree in philosophy from Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome. He then returned to Poland and taught ethics and theology at the Catholic University of Lublin. In 1964 he was named archbishop of Krakow, prior to this he was the youngest Polish auxiliary bishop. In 1967, he studied philosophy in Belgium and France. Then in 1967 he was appointed as a Cardinal.
On October 16, 1978 he was elected Pope. At this time he was only 58, he named himself John Paul II. With the adoption of the name he also adopted the style of John Paul I, his successor. As an avid sports fan, he scheduled his coronation as not to conflict with a soccer match which occurred the same day. He showed himself as somewhat of a radical, being the first Pope to wear trousers under his vestments. However, in his official statements he supported traditional church doctrines. John Paul II was also the first Polish Pope, and the first non-Italian pope in more than four hundred and fifty years.
Over his time as Pope, John Paul II has survived two brushes with death. On May 13, 1981 a Turkish political dissident attempted to assassinate John Paul II while he was in Saint Peter’s Square. The gunshot wound was not fatal. Later, post-recovery, the Pope went to Portugal’s Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima to give thanks for his recovery. During his visit, a Spanish priest was subdued while attempting to assassinate the Pope with a bayonet. On January 25, 1983 the Pope approved the first revision of the Roman Catholic Church’s canon law since 1917. During John Paul II ‘s reign he has shown through to be more conservative on theological issues than his three predecessors. He wanted no change, on the issues of celibacy for priests and the ordination of women. Though the rule of celibacy was not changed, it was modified to allow those transferring from other domination’s to be married. Along with this, bishops and teacher of theology were disciplined and sometimes relieved of their post if they disagreed with church doctrine. The opposition to abortion was also maintained.
In October 1996 Pope John Paul II released a statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences supporting the theory that the human body developed through some process of evolution. Although the Pope did discuss his agreement in evolution, he did not mention one Charles Darwin, the man who first hypothesized about the theory of evolution. Darwin also said that all living organisms evolved through the process of natural selection. After the previous statement the Pope stated that “fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Although he accepted the theory, John Paul II was very careful not to leave out God. He wrote the following statement about evolution and God: “if the human body has its origin in living material which it preexists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God.” This statement revised the forty six-year-old skepticism concerning evolution. In 1950 Pope Pius XII ‘s “Humani Generis” stated much about evolution. He wrote that although there was nothing wrong in evolution itself, the problem arises when it provides a weapon with which atheists and Communists could attack the idea of God and his role in human creation.
In 1996 John Paul II met with Cuban President Fidel Castro. The meeting occurred at the Vatican and was on the topic of a post-Cold War reconciliation. The meeting between the two lasted for two days and was reportedly on the subject of a normalization of relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church. Most of Cuba’s eleven million people consider themselves Roman Catholic even after years of official condemnation of all religious practices. During this time Catholicism was one which was highly restricted. Rumors concerning a possible papal visit to Cuba had been eminent for weeks prior to the meeting. Finally after the two days of the meeting Pope John Paul II announced he would visit Cuba in 1997. The official announcement of this generated great enthusiasm for a rapprochement between the Pope and the last faction of Cold War’s Communist bloc. As you can see the Pope holds a very high position not only within the Roman Catholic Church but he is also looked upon as a prestigious role model throughout.