Jesus Christ is regarded as the founder of the Catholic Church, establishing Peter as the first pope.
In the midst of thousands of Christian denominations started by various charismatic leaders, the question is inevitably asked, “Who started the Catholic Church?“
The Catholic Church traces itself directly to Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how this came about.
The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head. Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem. The Twelve and the other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power, but also in his lot. By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church.CCC 765
The specific passage from the Bible that signals this formal structure is in the Gospel of Matthew.
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:17-19
The successor of St. Peter is the pope and there exists an unbroken line that continues today under the leadership of Pope Francis.
In summary, the founder of the Catholic Church is Jesus and the leader he appointed was Peter.