The Pope is certainly right in the first part of his statement. From Matthew 16:18 we learn that Christ did indeed establish only one church here on Earth. Notice what Jesus said in response to Peter's confession that Jesus was the Messiah - "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."
The "rock" Jesus refers to here is not an allusion to Peter. Rather, it refers to the foundational truth that Peter had just declared (i.e., that Jesus is the Son of God). It must also be remembered that Jesus said He would build His church (singular). He did not use a plural term to indicate that He would build a multiplicity of churches. The Lord never intended for the religious landscape to be dotted with a plurality of churches. In fact, the continued admonition of Scripture is that of unity for the followers of Jesus. John 17:20,21 reads - "I do not pray for these alone but also for those who believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me." The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians - "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (I Cor. 1:10).
Although the Pope was absolutely right about the first part of His statement quoted above, what about the rest of his quote? My wife and I know some folks who are members of the Catholic church. We don't mean them any disrespect personally, but we must speak the truth. The rest of the Pope's statement is simply not true.
The Catholic view that the authenticity of the true church is determined by "apostolic succession" is not supported biblically. Catholicism teaches that their priests and church hierarchy have a direct link with Peter and the other apostles. If this is true, where is the evidence in God's word? The Bible is silent on this matter. Peter, who was a married man (cf. Matt. 8:14), was never designated as a Pope and the church in the first century was never organized on any level above local congregations.
It is also the case that in the New Testament all Christians are referred to as priests (cf. I Pet. 2:9), not just a select subset. We serve with Christ who is the High Priest (cf. Heb. 4:15). The church that Jesus built was faithful to the apostles' doctrine (cf. Acts 2:42). The teaching of the apostles--all of them--was authoritative. Although Peter served as God's spokesman on the day of Pentecost (cf. Matt. 16:19), all of the apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:4).
God's church today is composed of all who have come to Christ in faith and obedience (cf. Acts 2:36-47). The identity of the one true church is not determined by a man-made "apostolic succession" or any other human tradition but by its faithfulness to the Scriptures. The one, true church is the church that is faithful to the New Testament pattern of sound words (cf. II Tim. 1:13). I want to be a member of that church. How about you?