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Pope

The Pope (from Latin: papa; from Greek: πάππας (pappas), a child's word for father) is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church (which is composed of the Latin Rite and the Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the see of Rome). In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle. The current office-holder is Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected in a papal conclave on 19 April 2005.

The office of the pope is known as the Papacy. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction is often called the "Holy See" (Sancta Sedes in Latin), or the "Apostolic See" based upon the Church tradition that the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome. The pope is also head of state of Vatican City, a sovereign city-state entirely enclaved within the city of Rome.

Early popes helped to spread Christianity and resolve doctrinal disputes. After the conversion of the rulers of the Roman Empire (the conversion of the populace was already advanced even before the Edict of Milan, 313), the Roman emperors became the popes' secular allies until the 8th century when Pope Stephen II was forced to appeal to the Franks for help, beginning a period of close interaction with the rulers of the west. For centuries, the Donation of Constantine, later proved to be a forgery, provided support for the papacy's claim of political supremacy over the entire former Western Roman Empire. In medieval times, popes played powerful roles in Western Europe, often struggling with monarchs for control over the wide-ranging affairs of Church and state, crowning emperors (Charlemagne was the first emperor crowned by a pope), and regulating disputes among secular rulers.

Gradually forced to give up temporal power, popes now focus almost exclusively on religious matters. Over the centuries, papal claims of spiritual authority have been ever more clearly expressed, culminating in 1870 with the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra (literally "from the chair (of St. Peter)") to issue a formal definition of faith or morals. The first (after the proclamation) and so far the last such occasion was in 1950, with the definition of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

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