Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? . . . And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. (Matthew 21:42, 44)
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. (1 Peter 2:6-8)
Jesus often warned people that his person and his message could be a scandalon–a “rock of offense”–to many. We humans are not as wise as we like to think. We’re often on the wrong track, and when God comes to tell us that, his message is not always welcome (to put it mildly). Think of the prophets and how they were received. Think of the apostles. And Jesus himself, the Truth Incarnate, was hung on a cross to die for confronting people with God’s truth.
Jesus appointed the apostles to succeed him as the leaders of his Church. The apostles, in turn, appointed bishops to continue the succession of leaders to the end of time. St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, died in Rome and left his apostolic authority to the bishops of Rome. Since that time, as Catholics know, the Bishop of Rome has had a special role in leading the people of God. The First Vatican Council articulates this thoroughly:
And since by the divine right of Apostolic primacy, the Roman Pontiff is placed over the Universal Church, we further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal, and that none may re-open the judgment of the Apostolic See, than whose authority there is no greater, nor can any lawfully review its judgment. Wherefore they err from the right course who assert that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an Ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than that of the Roman Pontiff. (Vatican I, Session 4, Chapter 3, as found in The Vatican Council and Its Definitions: A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy, Second Edition, by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, Archbishop of Westminster [New York: D & J Sadlier, 1871], 234-240, edited and footnotes removed by Mark Hausam, found here)
. . . [T]he Holy Roman Church enjoys supreme and full Primacy and preeminence over the whole Catholic Church, which it truly and humbly acknowledges that it has received with the plenitude of power from our Lord Himself in the person of blessed Peter, Prince or Head of the Apostles, whose successor the Roman Pontiff is; and as the Apostolic See is bound before all others to defend the truth of faith, so also if any questions regarding faith shall arise, they must be defined by its judgment. . . .
Therefore the Bishops of the whole world, now singly, now assembled in synod, following the long-established custom of Churches, and the form of the ancient rule, sent word to this Apostolic See of those dangers especially which sprang up in matters of faith, that there the losses of faith might be most effectually repaired where the faith cannot fail. . . .
And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their Apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.
This gift, then, of truth and never-failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in this Chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all; that the whole flock of Christ kept away by them from the poisonous food of error, might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine; that the occasion of schism being removed the whole Church might be kept one, and, resting on its foundation, might stand firm against the gates of hell. (Chapter 4)