The Catholic Church is a self-governing society constituted in a hierarchical form, as Christ did not confer his authority and power directly upon the faithful, but on his apostles whose successors are comprised of the body of bishops and the pope.
Christ is the supreme head of the church, and all power in the church is derived from him, and is guided by him through the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Matthew 28:20).
Since the Church is also a visible society, she must also have a visible head. As we see in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ appoints St. Peter the visible head, thus giving him precedence over the apostles; this precedence is called the Primacy (cf. Matthew 16:18). Christ also conferred his office upon all the apostles who formed a corporate body (the bishops) and who exercise their functions under the authority and guidance of St. Peter and his successors.
The Primacy of the papacy did not end with the death of St. Peter, but was passed along to the Bishop of Rome, who today is recognized as the visible head of the Church and Vicar of Christ on earth. The Bishop of Rome today is Pope Francis, the 266th pope in the church’s long lineage of pontiffs since the time of St. Peter.
The teaching on the Primacy of the Papacy is also supported in the writings of the early Church Fathers and documents of the early church councils, such as the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.) which declared, “Peter, the Prince of the apostles, the pillar of the faith, and the foundation of the Catholic Church, continues to live and judge in his successors” (Council of Ephesus, Act. III).Print