In the Gospel Jesus told Peter he was giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Then, the first reading clarified the meaning of giving him the keys. In that reading the Lord summoned the prophet Hilkiah, giving him authority over his people whom he refers to as the House of David. The lord said, “I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder. When he opens no one shall shut. When he shuts no one shall open.”
With both Hilkiah and Peter the Lord was using poetic language, and in practical terms it’s hard to say just how much authority he was giving them.
In the year 250 A.D. St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in north Africa wrote a letter to all the Christian communities in the known world. He told them that they could not call themselves Catholic or Christian if they were not in union with the bishop of Rome. However, Cyprian limited the authority the bishop of Rome could exercise. He wrote that the pope had no right to appoint bishops for Africa.
The barbarian tribes that invaded Europe and the church in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries followed feudalism’s government structures. Each of those nations felt that God gave all authority to their king, allowing him to loan it out in fief to those he chose as his barons. In adapting itself to feudalism, the church came to regard all authority as coming directly to the pope, its king; leaving it up to him to lend out authority to those he chose as bishops. It wasn’t that way in the early church, but that’s the way it is now.
I like the way the Italians call the pope “Papa.” It’s good to honor the Holy Father the way we honored our dads.