Non-Catholics often ask :
What about the pope? Why is he so important? He’s just a man. How can he be infallible?
Catholics take the words of Jesus seriously. In Matthew 16:18, after Peter had proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus turned around and taught his disciples saying “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for no man has revealed this to you (“To be blessed” means ‘to be favored by God’) but my Father in heaven. And I say to you, you are Peter (Kephas = Rock) and on this Rock I will build my Church.” Jesus took a man, changed his name (what does that mean elsewhere in the Bible?) and foretold the building of his Church (singular). That Church, the Catholic Church, was born on Pentecost.
Peter was a man, which means he was a sinner, as were all the apostles. But Jesus entrusted the Church to them, and after he was crucified and resurrected, sent the Holy Spirit to watch over his Church. We know that the Holy Spirit, being God, cannot err. The Holy Spirit picked the successors to each of the apostles, and has done so through the ages. The Holy Spirit only works in matters of faith and morals-this is his concern. So this is where the pope’s infallibility comes from. Can the pope tell us whether the stock market will rise or fall, or predict natural disasters? No, that’s not the gift he is given. His gift, or charism, is to teach, to shepherd his flock. His charge is to keep all Catholics safe from the errors of the Devil. And throughout our history, though there have been corrupt, immoral, deceitful popes- sinful, evil men though they were, they did not err in teaching faith and morals. Bishops in communion with the pope have the same charism of infallibility.
Most people make too much of what the pope is, thinking he has some kind of power in the world. He is the vicar of Christ, the servant of the servants of God. What is a vicar? A representative. (Barbara Boxer is the vicar of the people of Northern California in Congress. She is also called a servant.) Bishops and the upper curia, including the pope, are really servants and shepherds. Their servitude is to assist the servants of God (all of us) to assist each other to get to heaven the best way. We are all servants of God.
The pope owns nothing, has nothing. Even his time isn’t his. No car, nothing. No salary, in fact. He is actually a prisoner of his office.