EWTN Catholic Q&A
Bishop of Rome
Question from Jun Correa on 04-19-2005:

I read somewhere that the cardinal electors are actually electing the new bishop of Rome who automatically becomes Pope and not vice versa. Is this correct?

Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 04-26-2005:

Yes, it is true.

Peter was the founding bishop of Antioch before he came to Rome. Yet, the Bishop of Antioch, while a successor of St. Peter in that see, and a Patriarch of one of the ancient apostolic sees (Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome), is NOT the Supreme Pastor of the Church. Peter went on to Rome, where he was bishop for a far longer time (about 35 years) and was martyred. From that fact, from the fact that Paul also ministered there and was martyred, from its location at the center of the empire, in the Lion's den, or the heart of the beast, so to speak, the successor of Peter in Rome has always been accorded primacy within the Church. Note that the Cardinals are more fully described as the "Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church". This is because they are electing the bishop of that Church, who is also the Supreme Pastor of the universal Church, just as Peter was.