What is the difference between the Pope and our Prophet? When asked this question by a friend, I was surprised that I really couldn’t come up with an answer because I don’t know very much about what the role of the Pope is. The obvious answer is that the Prophet receives true revelation from God, but that would be offensive to someone who does not share our common beliefs.
I think that we should never fear to share the truth with someone else because we may think that it would be offensive to them. People are not offended by hearing other beliefs, only by the attitude of those who profess them. If we approach them with kindness and demonstrate a respect for their beliefs, as we anticipate that they would respect our beliefs, then very fruitful discussions may be held where we may each learn of one another’s beliefs.
Concerning the Pope: Let’s start at the beginning. After the days of the Savior, all of the Apostles were put to death except John, who was banished to the isle of Patmos. There had been ordained bishops over the various churches in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, but the office of bishop is a local office. No bishop has the authority to ordain another bishop, so as the bishops either died or left office there was no authority to replace them. The authority to minister for God had disappeared from the earth.
After the disappearance of the Apostles, when a bishop had a question or a problem that he needed help to resolve, he sent a letter stating his problem to all the other bishops, asking their opinion. The letter circulated from bishop to bishop until it was returned to the originator, and he made his decision on the matter from the consensus. These were known as “encyclical letters.”
May of the decisions to be made by the bishops had significant political overtones, and so the bishop at Rome, who had the ear of the emperor, achieved a position of significant power. He actually become known as the “Papa bishop.” It is from that expression that we get the word, “Pope.” So the Papa bishop, or the Pope at Rome gradually became the head of all the Christian churches.
The word, catholic, comes from the Greek, katholikos, which means universal or general. So the word, Catholic, was used to describe the Christian church of that day. Thus the “papa bishop of the catholic church” became formalized into the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope has no more authority to act for God than does any other cleric in the sectarian world.
As you know, in 1823 God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ descended from heaven and appeared to a young man named Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was ordained to the holy Melchizedek priesthood by those who held the keys of authority in the church following the advent of the Savior–Peter, James and John. He also received from heavenly messengers all the authorities and keys necessary to restore to the earth again the true and living Church of Jesus Christ. So the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) today is the veritable Kingdom of God on the earth, and the only organization on the earth that contains the priesthood authority from God to act officially in His name to provide the ordinances and administer the covenants that are required for men to take upon themselves in order that they may return to their Father in Heaven.