Catholic Church

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This article is about the church in communion with the Holy See. For other uses, see Catholic Church (disambiguation). For churches with similar beliefs, see Catholicism.

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.2 billion members worldwide. It is among the oldest religious institutions in the world and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilisation. The Catholic hierarchy is headed by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. It additionally teaches that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles and that the Pope is the sole successor to Saint Peter who has apostolic primacy.

The Church maintains that the doctrine on faith and morals that it presents as definitive is infallible. There are a variety of doctrinal and theological emphases within the Catholic Church, including the Eastern Catholic Churches and religious communities such as the Jesuit, mendicant, and enclosed monastic orders.

The Catholic Church is Trinitarian and defines its mission as spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity. Catholic worship is highly liturgical, focusing on the Mass or Divine Liturgy during which the sacrament of the Eucharist is celebrated. The Church teaches that bread and wine used during the Mass become the body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members of the Church in a state of grace are ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist.

Catholic social teaching emphasises support for the sick, the poor and the afflicted through the corporal works of mercy. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. Catholic spiritual teaching emphasises spread of the Gospel message and growth in spiritual discipline through the spiritual works of mercy.

The Church holds the Blessed Virgin Mary, as mother of Jesus Christ, in special regard and has defined four specific Marian dogmatic teachings: her Immaculate Conception without original sin, her status as the Mother of God, her perpetual virginity and her bodily Assumption into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. Numerous Marian devotions are also practised.


The crossed keys of Saint Peter, a symbol of the Catholic Church

The term "catholic" is derived from the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos) meaning "universal" and was first used to describe the Church in the early 2nd century. The term katholikos is equivalent to καθόλου (katholou), a contraction of the phrase καθ' ὅλου (kath' holou) meaning "according to the whole". "Catholic Church" (he katholike ekklesia) first appears in a letter of St Ignatius written in about 110. In the Catechetical Discourses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catholic Church" is used to distinguish it from other groups that also call themselves the church.

Since the East–West Schism of 1054, the church that remained in communion with the See of Rome continued to call itself Catholic while the Eastern churches have generally been known as Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. Following the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church continued to use the term Catholic to distinguish itself from the various denominations that split off.

The name "Catholic Church" is the most common designation used in official church documents. It is also the term which Pope Paul VI used when signing documents of the Second Vatican Council. However, Church documents produced both by the Holy See and by certain national episcopal conferences occasionally refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catechism of Pope Pius X, published in 1908, also used the term "Roman" to distinguish the Catholic Church from other Christian communities who are not in full communion with the Church of Rome.

Organisation and demographics

Catholic Church
Major sui iuris Churches
Listed by Liturgical Tradition

Western Tradition
Byzantine Tradition
Antiochian or West Syrian Tradition
Chaldean or East Syrian Tradition
Armenian Tradition
Alexandrian Tradition
Catholicism portal

The Catholic Church is led by clergy who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders. There are three levels of clergy, the Bishopric, whose members are given geographic area to lead called a diocese or eparchy; the priesthood, who serve the bishops by leading local parishes; and the diaconate, who serve the bishops and priests in a variety of ministerial roles. Ultimately leading the entire church is the Bishop of Rome, called the Pope. In parallel to the diocesan structure are variety of religious orders and institutions that function autonomously within the church, often subject only to the authority of the Pope, though sometimes subject to the local bishop. Religious orders may be open to both male or female members. Additionally, lay members aid many liturgical functions during worship services.

Papacy and Roman Curia

Further information: Pope and List of popes

The Church's hierarchy is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope (Latin: papa; "father"), who is the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church composed of the Latin Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the see of Rome. The current Pope is Francis, elected on 13 March 2013 by papal conclave.

The office of the Pope is known as the Papacy. The Church holds that Christ instituted the Papacy, upon giving the keys of Heaven to Saint Peter. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction is called the "Holy See" (Sancta Sedes in Latin), or the "Apostolic See" (meaning the see of the Apostle Saint Peter). Directly serving the Pope is the Roman Curia, the central governing body that administers the day-to-day business of the Catholic Church. The Pope is also Sovereign of Vatican City State, a small theocratic city-state entirely enclaved within the city of Rome. The legal entity of the Holy See is distinct from that of the Vatican City state and all foreign relations are accredited to the Holy See.

The position of cardinal is a rank of honour bestowed by popes on certain ecclesiastics, such as leaders within the Roman Curia, bishops serving in major cities and distinguished theologians. For advice and assistance in governing, the pope may turn to the College of Cardinals.

Following the death or resignation of a pope, members of the College of Cardinals who are under age 80 meet in the Sistine Chapel in Rome to elect a successor. Although this election, known as a papal conclave, can theoretically elect any male Catholic as Pope, since 1389 only fellow cardinals have been elevated to that position.

Autonomous particular churches

The Catholic Church is made up of 23 autonomous particular churches, each of which accepts the paramountcy of the Bishop of Rome on matters of doctrine. These churches, also known by the Latin term sui iuris churches, are communities of Catholic Christians whose forms of worship reflect different historical and cultural influences rather than differences in doctrine. In general, each sui iuris church is headed by a patriarch or high-ranking bishop, and has a degree of self-governance over the particulars of its internal organisation, liturgical rites, liturgical calendar and other aspects of its spirituality.

The largest by far of the particular churches is the Latin Church, which reports over one billion members. It developed in southern Europe and North Africa. Then it spread throughout Western, Central and Northern Europe, before expanding to the rest of the world. The Latin Church considered itself to be the oldest and largest branch of Western Christianity, a heritage of certain beliefs and customs originating in various European countries, some of which are shared also by many Christian denominations that trace their origins to the Protestant Reformation.

Relatively small in terms of adherents compared to the Latin Church, but important to the overall structure of the Church, are the 22 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches with a combined membership of 17.3 million as of 2010. The Eastern Catholic Churches follow the traditions and spirituality of Eastern Christianity and are composed of Eastern Christians who have always remained in full communion with the Catholic Church or who have chosen to reenter full communion in the centuries following the East–West Schism and earlier divisions. Some Eastern Catholic Churches are governed by a patriarch who is elected by the synod of the bishops of that church, others are headed by a major archbishop, others are under a metropolitan, and others are organised as individual eparchies. The Roman Curia has a specific department, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, to maintain relations with them.

Dioceses, parishes and religious orders

Individual countries, regions, or major cities are served by particular Churches known as dioceses or eparchies, each overseen by a Catholic bishop. Each diocese is united with one of the worldwide "sui iuris" particular churches such as the Latin Church or one of the Eastern Catholic Churches. In 2008, the Catholic Church had 2,795 dioceses. The bishops in a particular country are members of a national or regional episcopal conference.

Dioceses are divided into parishes, each with one or more priests, deacons or lay ecclesial ministers. Parishes are responsible for the day to day celebration of the sacraments and pastoral care of the Catholic laity.

In the liturgy, Catholic men may serve as deacons or priests. Men and women may be equally recognised as altar servers, Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion or as readers (lectors).

Ordained Catholics, as well as members of the laity, may enter into consecrated life either on an individual basis, as a hermit or consecrated virgin, or by joining an institute of consecrated life (a religious institute or a secular institute) in which to take vows confirming their desire to follow the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Examples of institutes of consecrated life are the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, the Missionaries of Charity, the Legionaries of Christ and the Sisters of Mercy.

"Religious institutes" is a modern term encompassing both "religious orders" and "religious congregations" which were once distinguished in Canon Law. The terms "Religious order" and "religious institute" tend to be used as synonyms colloquially.

Membership statistics

Countries and regions with Catholic majority.
Further information: Catholicism by country

Church membership in 2011 was 1.214 billion (17.5% of the world population), an increase from 437 million in 1950 and 654 million in 1970. Since 2010, the rate of increase was 1.5% with a 2.3% increase in Africa and a 0.3% increase in the Americas and Europe. 48.8% of Catholics live in the Americas, 23.5% in Europe, 16.0% in Africa, 10.9% in Asia and 0.8% in Oceania. Catholics represent over half of all Christians.

In 2011, the Church had 413,418 priests. The main growth areas have been Asia and Africa with 39% and 32% increases respectively since 2000, while the numbers were steady in the Americas and dropped by 9% in Europe. In 2006, members of consecrated life totalled 945,210; 743,200 of whom were female.

Worship and liturgy

Main article: Catholic liturgy
Catholic religious objects— Holy Bible, crucifix and rosary.
The altar, the centre of Catholic worship, where the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass" takes place.

Among the 23 autonomous (sui iuris) churches, numerous forms of worship and liturgical traditions exist, called "rites", which reflect historical and cultural diversity rather than differences in belief. In the definition of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, "a rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris", but the term is often limited to liturgical patrimony. The most commonly used liturgy is the Roman Rite in its ordinary form, but other rites are in use in the Eastern Catholic Churches and even in the Latin Church.

Celebration of the Eucharist

In all rites, the Mass or Divine Liturgy is the centre of Catholic worship. The Catholic Church teaches that at each Mass offered by a validly ordained priest the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. While all aspects of the bread and wine open to the senses (the appearances or "species") remain as before, the Church teaches that the underlying reality is transmuted into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, a change that the Church calls transubstantiation, denoting a change that is real, not merely symbolic.

The Catholic Church also teaches that the Mass is a true, propitiatory sacrifice for sin, with the priest offering Christ to God the Father in persona Christi. Thus the elements of bread and wine are consecrated separately, signifying the sacrificial nature of the Mass, as Christ's blood was separated from his body during the crucifixion.

The words of consecration are drawn from the three synoptic Gospels and a Pauline letter. The Church teaches that Christ established a New Covenant with humanity through the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper (considered "the first Mass") as described in these biblical verses.[citation needed]

Because the Church teaches that Christ is present in the Eucharist, there are strict rules about who may celebrate and who may receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. The sacrament can only be validly confected by a validly ordained priest. Those who are conscious of being in a state of mortal sin are forbidden to receive the sacrament until they have received absolution through the sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance). Catholics are normally obliged to abstain from eating for at least an hour before receiving the sacrament.

Catholics, even if they were in danger of death and unable to approach a Catholic minister, may not ask for the sacraments of the Eucharist, penance or anointing of the sick from someone, such as a Protestant minister, who is not known to be validly ordained in line with Catholic teaching on ordination. Likewise, even in grave and pressing need, Catholic ministers may not administer these sacraments to those who do not manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament. In relation to the churches of Eastern Christianity not in communion with the Holy See, the Catholic Church is less restrictive, declaring that "a certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged."

Western liturgical rites

Catholic Church
Structure of the
Roman Rite Mass

Roman Missal, chalice (with purificator,
paten and pall), crucifix, lit candle

A. Introductory rites
Greeting of the altar
Act of penitence
Kyrie Eleison
B. Liturgy of the Word
Biblical readings
Responsorial psalm
Profession of faith
Prayer of the Faithful
C. Liturgy of the Eucharist

See also: Eucharist in the Catholic Church

Preparation of the gifts
Prayer over the offerings
Eucharistic Prayer
Communion rite:
The Lord’s Prayer
Rite of peace
Reception of Communion
D. Concluding rites
Source: General Instruction of the Roman Missal

Catholicism Portal

Tridentine Mass in a chapel of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston in April 2009. This ancient form of the Roman Rite dates back to 1570; most elements are centuries older

The Roman Rite is the most common rite of worship used by the Catholic Church. Its use is found worldwide, spread by missionary activity originating in European Catholic nations throughout Christian history.

Two forms of the Roman Rite are authorised at present. The generally used ordinary or standard form, celebrated mostly in the vernacular, is that of the post-1969 editions of the Roman Missal, originally promulgated by Pope Paul VI, and is known as the Mass of Paul VI. The 1962 form of the same rite is authorised as an extraordinary form, Celebration of Mass in this usus antiquior (older use) is often referred to as the Latin Mass or Tridentine Mass, the latter name being a reference to its 1570 standardisation by Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent. This was the ordinary form of the Roman-Rite Mass until superseded in 1969 by the Roman Missal of Paul VI. After 1969, its use required permission from bishops; but Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum allowed free use of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962 (the year of the opening of the Second Vatican Council) for Mass celebrated without a congregation and authorised parish priests to permit, under certain conditions, its use even at public Masses. An outline of the major liturgical elements of the Roman-Rite Mass can be found in the side bar.

"Anglican Use" parishes use a variation of the Roman rite that retains some of the wording of the Anglican liturgical rites. 2009 saw the creation of ordinariates for groups of Anglicans who have been approved for entrance into the Catholic Church and who may also use a rite that incorporates elements of Anglican tradition. Other Western liturgical rites (non-Roman) include the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite.

Eastern liturgical rites

An Eastern Catholic bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church holding the Mar Thoma Cross which symbolises the heritage and identity of the Saint Thomas Christians of India

The liturgical rites of the Eastern Catholic Churches are very similar to, and often identical with, the rites used by the Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern Christian churches that historically developed in Russia, Caucasus, the Balkans, North Eastern Africa and the Middle East, but are no longer in communion with the Holy See. The Eastern Catholic Churches are either groups of faithful who have restored full communion with the Pope, while preserving their identity as Eastern Christians, or groups with which full communion has never been broken.

The rites used by the Eastern Catholic Churches include the Byzantine Rite, in its Antiochian, Greek and Slavonic varieties, the Alexandrian Rite, the Syriac Rite, the Armenian Rite, the Maronite Rite and the Chaldean Rite. In the past some of the rites used by the Eastern Catholic Churches were subject to some degree of liturgical Latinisation. However, in recent years Eastern Catholic Churches have returned to traditional Eastern practices in accord with the Vatican II decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Each church has its own liturgical calendar.


Further information: Catholic theology

The fundamental beliefs of the Christian religion are summarised in the Nicene Creed. For Catholics, they are detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church holds that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Based on the promises of Christ in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit—which reveals God's truth through Sacred scripture, Sacred tradition and the Magisterium.—and so protected infallibly from falling into doctrinal error.

Sacred Scripture consists of the 73 book Catholic Bible. This is made up of the 46 books found in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament—known as the Septuagint—and the 27 New Testament writings first found in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 and listed in Athanasius' Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. Sacred Tradition consists of those teachings believed by the Church to have been handed down since the time of the Apostles. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are collectively known as the "deposit of faith" (depositum fidei). These are in turn interpreted by the Magisterium (from magister, Latin for "teacher"), the Church's teaching authority, which is exercised by the Pope and the College of Bishops in union with the Pope, the bishop of Rome.


The Crucifixion of Christ featuring Saint Dismas and criminal Gestas by Albrecht Altdorfer, 1526

The Catholic Church holds that there is one eternal God, who exists as a mutual indwelling of three persons: God the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit, which make up the Trinity.

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. In an event known as the Incarnation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God became united with human nature through the conception of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Christ therefore is both fully divine and fully human. It is taught that Christ's mission on earth included giving people his teachings and providing his example for them to follow as recorded in the four Gospels.

The Church teaches that through the passion (suffering) of Christ and his crucifixion as described in the Gospels, all people have an opportunity for forgiveness and freedom from sin and so can be reconciled to God. The Resurrection of Jesus gained for humans a possible spiritual immortality previously denied to them because of original sin. By reconciling with God and following Christ's words and deeds, an individual can enter the Kingdom of God, which is the "... reign of God over people's hearts and lives".

The Greek term "Christ" and the Hebrew "Messiah" both mean "anointed one", referring to the Christian belief that Jesus' death and resurrection are the fulfilment of the Old Testament's messianic prophecies.

The Church teaches that God the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from God the Father and God the Son as a single origin, a belief generally accepted in Western Christianity and expressed in the Filioque clause added to the Latin version of the Nicene Creed of 381, but not included in the versions of the Creed, not derived from the Latin text, that are used in Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Catholic Churches.


According to the Catechism, the Catholic Church professes to be the "sole Church of Christ", which is described in the Nicene Creed as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The church teaches that its founder is Jesus Christ, who appointed the twelve Apostles to continue his work as the Church's earliest bishops. Catholic belief holds that the Church "is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth", and that all duly consecrated bishops have a lineal succession from the apostles. In particular, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), is considered the successor to the apostle Simon Peter, from whom the Pope derives his supremacy over the Church. The Church is further described in the papal encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi as the Mystical Body of Christ.

The Church teaches that the fullness of the "means of salvation" exists only in the Catholic Church, but the Church acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of Christian communities separated from itself to "impel towards Catholic unity" and thus bring people to salvation. It teaches that anyone who is saved is saved through the Church but that people can be saved ex voto and by pre-baptismal martyrdom as well as when conditions of invincible ignorance are present, although invincible ignorance in itself is not a means of salvation.


According to the Council of Trent, Christ instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance), Anointing of the Sick (formerly called Extreme Unction, one of the "Last Rites"), Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Sacraments are visible rituals that Catholics see as signs of God's presence and effective channels of God's grace to all those who receive them with the proper disposition (ex opere operato). The Catechism of the Catholic Church categorises the sacraments into three groups, the "sacraments of Christian initiation", "sacraments of healing" and "sacraments at the service of communion and the mission of the faithful". These groups broadly reflect the stages of people's natural and spiritual lives which each sacrament is intended to serve.

Sacraments of Christian initiation

An Italian priest during the sacrament of Baptism

As viewed by the Catholic Church, Baptism is the first of three sacraments of initiation as a Christian. It washes away all sins, both original sin and personal actual sins. It makes a person a member of the Church. As a gratuitous gift of God that requires no merit on the part of the person who is baptised, it is conferred even on children, who, though they have no personal sins, need it on account of original sin. If a new-born child is in a danger of death, anyone—be it a doctor, a nurse, or a parent—may baptise the child. Baptism marks a person permanently and cannot be repeated. The Catholic Church recognises as valid baptisms conferred even by people who are not Catholics or Christians, provided that they intend to baptise ("to do what the Church does when she baptises") and that they use the Trinitarian baptismal formula.


The Catholic Church sees the sacrament of confirmation as required to complete the grace given in baptism. When adults are baptised, confirmation is normally given immediately afterwards, a practice followed even for infants in the Eastern Catholic Churches. In the West confirmation of children is delayed until they are old enough to understand or even until they are in their teens. In Western Christianity, particularly Catholicism, the sacrament is called confirmation, because it confirms and strengthens the grace of baptism; in the Eastern Churches, it is called chrismation, because the essential rite is the anointing of the person with chrism, a mixture of olive oil and some perfumed substance, usually balsam, blessed by a bishop. Those who receive confirmation must be in a state of grace, which for those who have reached the age of reason means that they should first be cleansed spiritually by the sacrament of Penance; they should also have the intention of receiving the sacrament, and be prepared to show in their lives that they are Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist at the canonisation of Frei Galvão in São Paulo, Brazil on 11 May 2007

For Catholics, the Eucharist is the sacrament which completes Christian initiation. It is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and a banquet in which Christ himself is consumed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life and The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.

The Eucharist includes prayers and Bible readings along with the consecration of the bread and wine which, according to the Church, become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The ceremony in which a Catholic first receives the Eucharist is known as First Communion.

A Catholic believer prays in a church in Mexico.

Sacraments of healing

The two sacraments of healing are the Sacrament of Penance and Anointing of the Sick.


The Sacrament of Penance (also called Reconciliation, Forgiveness, Confession, and Conversion) exists for the conversion of those who, after baptism, separate themselves from Christ by sin. Essential to this sacrament are acts both by the sinner (examination of conscience, contrition with a determination not to sin again, confession to a priest, and performance of some act to repair the damage caused by sin) and by the priest (determination of the act of reparation to be performed and absolution). Serious sins (mortal sins) must be confessed within at most a year and always before receiving Holy Communion, while confession of venial sins also is recommended. The priest is bound under the severest penalties to maintain the "seal of confession", absolute secrecy about any sins revealed to him in confession.

Anointing of the Sick
A painting of the Anointing of the Sick being administered by a priest during the last rites.

While chrism is used only for the three sacraments that cannot be repeated, a different oil is used by a priest or bishop to bless a Catholic who, because of illness or old age, has begun to be in danger of death. This sacrament, known as Anointing of the Sick, is believed to give comfort, peace, courage and, if the sick person is unable to make a confession, even forgiveness of sins.

The sacrament is also referred to as Unction, and in the past as Extreme Unction, and it is one of the three sacraments that constitute the last rites, together with Penance and Viaticum (Eucharist).

Sacraments at the service of communion

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are two sacraments of communion directed towards the salvation of others: priesthood and marriage. Within the general vocation to be a Christian, these two sacraments consecrate to specific mission or vocation among the people of God. Men receive the holy orders to feed the Church by the word and grace. Spouses marry so that their love may be fortified to fulfill duties of their state.


The sacrament of Holy Orders consecrates and deputes some Christians to serve the whole body as members of three degrees or orders: episcopate (bishops), presbyterate (priests) and diaconate (deacons). The Church has defined rules on who may be ordained into the clergy. In the Latin Rite, the priesthood and diaconate are generally restricted to celibate men. Men who are already married may be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Churches in most countries, and the personal ordinariates and may become deacons even in the Western Church (see Clerical marriage). But after becoming a Roman Catholic priest, a man may not marry (see Clerical celibacy) unless he is formally laicised.

All clergy, whether deacons, priests or bishops, may preach, teach, baptise, witness marriages and conduct funeral liturgies. Only bishops and priests can administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance) and Anointing of the Sick. Only bishops can administer the sacrament of Holy Orders, which ordains someone into the clergy.


Marriage, understood as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman, if entered into validly by any baptised man and baptised woman, is considered a sacrament by the Catholic Church. The church does not recognise divorce as ending a valid marriage and allows state recognised divorce only as a means of protecting children or property, without allowing remarriage following such a divorce. Apart from the requirements, such as freedom of consent, that it sees as applicable to all, the church has established certain specific requirements for the validity of marriages by Catholics. Failure to observe the Church's regulations, as well as defects applicable to all marriages, may be grounds for a church declaration of the invalidity of a marriage, a declaration usually referred to as an annulment.

Judgement after death

Before his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ grants salvation to souls by the Harrowing of Hell. Oil on canvas, by Fra Angelico circa 1430s

The Church teaches that, immediately after death, the soul of each person will receive a particular judgement from God. This teaching also attests to another day when Christ will sit in a universal judgement of all mankind. This final judgement, according to Church teaching, will bring an end to human history and mark the beginning of a new and better heaven and earth ruled by God in righteousness. The basis on which each person's soul is judged is detailed in the Gospel of Matthew, which lists works of mercy to be performed even to people considered "the least of Christ's brothers". Emphasis is upon Christ's words that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven".

According to the Catechism, "The Last Judgement will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life." Depending on the judgement rendered, a soul may enter one of three states of afterlife:

  • Heaven is a time of glorious union with God and a life of unspeakable joy that lasts forever.
  • Purgatory is a temporary condition for the purification of souls who, although saved, are not free enough from sin to enter directly into heaven. Souls in purgatory may be aided in reaching heaven by the prayers of the faithful on earth and by the intercession of saints.
  • Final Damnation: Finally, those who persist in living in a state of mortal sin and do not repent before death subject themselves to hell, an everlasting separation from God. The Church teaches that no one is condemned to hell without having freely decided to reject God. No one is predestined to hell and no one can determine whether anyone else has been condemned. Catholicism teaches that through God's mercy a person can repent at any point before death and be saved. Some Catholic theologians have speculated that the souls of unbaptised infants who die in original sin are assigned to limbo although this is not an official doctrine of the Church.

Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary is highly regarded in the Catholic Church, proclaiming her as Mother of God, free from original sin and an intercessor.

Devotions to Mary are part of Catholic piety but are distinct from the worship of God. The Church holds Mary, as Perpetual Virgin and Mother of God, in special regard.Catholic beliefs concerning Mary include her Immaculate Conception without the stain of original sin and bodily assumption into heaven at the end of her life, both of which have been infallibly defined as dogma, by Pope Pius IX in 1854 and Pope Pius XII in 1950 respectively.

Mariology deals not only with her life but also her veneration in daily life, prayer and Marian art, music and architecture. Several liturgical Marian feasts are celebrated throughout the Church Year and she is honoured with many titles such as Queen of Heaven. Pope Paul VI called her Mother of the Church because, by giving birth to Christ, she is considered to be the spiritual mother to each member of the Body of Christ. Because of her influential role in the life of Jesus, prayers and devotions such as the Hail Mary, the Rosary, the Salve Regina and the Memorare are common Catholic practices.

The Church has affirmed certain Marian apparitions, such as at Lourdes, Fátima, and Guadalupe. Pilgrimages to these sites are popular Catholic devotions.

Social teaching

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta advocated for the sick, the poor and the needy by practising the acts of corporal works of mercy.

The social Gospel espoused by Jesus and Catholic social teaching place a heavy emphasis on the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy, namely the support and concern for the sick, the poor and the afflicted. Church teaching calls for a preferential option for the poor while canon law prescribes that "The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor."

The Church enumerates "corporal works of mercy" and "spiritual works of mercy" as follows:

Corporal Works of Mercy Spiritual Works of Mercy
1. To feed the hungry. 1. To instruct the ignorant.
2. To give drink to the thirsty. 2. To counsel the doubtful
3. To clothe the naked. 3. To admonish sinners.
4. To harbour the harbourless (shelter the homeless). 4. To bear wrongs patiently.
5. To visit the sick. 5. To forgive offences willingly.
6. To ransom the captive. 6. To comfort the afflicted.
7. To bury the dead. 7. To pray for both the living and the dead.

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. In 2010, the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy.

Religious institutes for women have played a particularly prominent role in the provision of health and education services, as with orders such as the Sisters of Mercy, Little Sisters of the Poor, the Missionaries of Charity, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The Church is also actively engaged in international aid and development through organisations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, Aid to the Church in Need, refugee advocacy groups such as the Jesuit Refugee Service and community aid groups such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.


This fresco (1481–82) by Pietro Perugino in the Sistine Chapel shows Jesus giving the keys of heaven to Saint Peter.

Catholic tradition and doctrine hold that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ in the 1st century AD in the province of Judea of the Roman Empire. The New Testament records Jesus' activities and teaching, his appointment of the twelve Apostles and his instructions to them to continue his work.

The Catholic Church teaches that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, in an event known as Pentecost, signalled the beginning of the public ministry of the Catholic Church.Catholic doctrine teaches that the contemporary Catholic Church is the continuation of this early Christian community. It interprets the Confession of Peter found in the Gospel of Matthew as Christ's designation of Saint Peter the Apostle and his successors, the Bishops of Rome to be the temporal head of his Church, a doctrine known as apostolic succession.

Antiquity and Roman Empire

Conditions in the Roman Empire facilitated the spread of new ideas. The empire's well-defined network of roads and waterways facilitated travel, and the Pax Romana made travelling safe. The empire encouraged the spread of a common culture with Greek roots, which allowed ideas to be more easily expressed and understood.

Unlike most religions in the Roman Empire, however, Christianity required its adherents to renounce all other gods, a practice adopted from Judaism (see Idolatry). The Christians' refusal to join pagan celebrations meant they were unable to participate in much of public life, which caused non-Christians—including government authorities—to fear that the Christians were angering the gods and thereby threatening the peace and prosperity of the Empire. The resulting persecutions were a defining feature of Christian self-understanding until Christianity was legalised in the 4th century.

Nineteenth-century drawing of Old St. Peter's Basilica, originally built in 318 by Constantine

In 313, Emperor Constantine I's Edict of Milan legalised Christianity, and in 380 the Edict of Thessalonica made Catholic Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire which would persist until the empire itself ended with the Fall of Constantinople. During this time (the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils) five primary sees emerged, an arrangement formalised by Emperor Justinian I as the pentarchy of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria. On 11 May 330, Constantine moved the imperial capital to Constantinople, modern Istanbul, Turkey, and in 451 the Council of Chalcedon, in a canon of disputed validity, elevated the see of Constantinople to a position "second in eminence and power to the bishop of Rome". But from c. 350 to c. 500, in spite of these developments, the bishops, or popes, of Rome, a city no longer the capital of the empire, steadily increased in authority.

Most of the Germanic tribes who in the following centuries invaded the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity in its Arian form, which the Catholic Church declared heretical. The resulting religious discord between Germanic rulers and Catholic subjects was avoided when, in 497, Clovis I, the Frankish ruler, converted to orthodox Catholicism, allying himself with the papacy and the monasteries. The Visigoths in Spain followed his lead in 589, and the Lombards in Italy in the course of the 7th century. Western Christianity, particularly through its monasteries, was a major factor in preserving classical civilisation, with its art (see Illuminated manuscript) and literacy.

The massive Islamic invasions of the mid-7th century began a long struggle between Christianity and Islam throughout the Mediterranean Basin. The Byzantine Empire soon lost the lands of the eastern patriarchates of Jerusalem, Alexandria and Antioch and was reduced to that of Constantinople, the empire's capital. The battles of Toulouse and Poitiers halted the Islamic advance in the West, although Rome itself later suffered the pillaging of its outskirts in 846.

Medieval and Renaissance periods

The Catholic Church was the dominant influence on Western civilisation from late antiquity to the dawn of the modern age. It was the primary sponsor of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque styles in art, architecture and music. Renaissance figures such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Titian, Bernini and Caravaggio are examples of the numerous visual artists sponsored by the Church.

In the eleventh century, the efforts of Hildebrand of Sovana led to the creation of the College of Cardinals to elect new Popes, starting with Pope Alexander II in the papal election of 1061. When Alexander II died, Hildebrand was elected to succeed him, as Pope Gregory VII. The basic election system of the College of Cardinals which Gregory VII helped establish has continued to function into the twenty-first century. Pope Gregory VII further initiated the Gregorian Reforms regarding the independence of the clergy from secular authority. This led to the Investiture Controversy between the church and the Holy Roman Emperors, over which had the authority to appoint bishops and Popes.

In 1095, Byzantine emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II for help against renewed Muslim invasions in the Byzantine–Seljuk Wars, which caused Urban to launch the First Crusade aimed at aiding the Byzantine Empire and returning the Holy Land to Christian control. In the 11th century, strained relations between the primarily Greek church and the Latin Church separated them in the East–West Schism, partially due to conflicts over papal authority. The Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople by renegade crusaders proved the final breach.

The Renaissance period was a golden age for Roman Catholic art. Pictured: the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

In the early 13th century mendicant orders were founded by Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán. The studia conventuale and studia generale of the mendicant orders played a large role in the transformation of Church sponsored cathedral schools and palace schools, such as that of Charlemagne at Aachen, into the prominent universities of Europe.Scholastic theologians and philosophers such as the Dominican priest Thomas Aquinas studied and taught at these studia. Aquinas' Summa Theologica was an intellectual milestone in its synthesis of the legacy of Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle with the content of Christian revelation.

A growing sense of church-state conflicts marked the 14th century. To escape instability in Rome, Clement V in 1309 became the first of seven popes to reside in the fortified city of Avignon in southern France during a period known as the Avignon Papacy. The Avignon Papacy ended in 1376 when the Pope returned to Rome, but was followed in 1378 by the 38-year-long Western schism with claimants to the papacy in Rome, Avignon and (after 1409) Pisa. The matter was finally resolved in 1417 at the Council of Constance where the cardinals called upon all three claimants to the papal throne to resign, and held a new election naming Martin V pope.


Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church in 1517

In Germany in 1517, Martin Luther sent his Ninety-Five Theses to several bishops. His theses protested key points of Catholic doctrine as well as the sale of indulgences. In Switzerland, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and others further criticised Catholic teachings. These challenges developed into the European movement called the Protestant Reformation. The English Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII began as a political dispute. When the pope denied Henry's petition for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he had the Acts of Supremacy passed, making him head of the English Church.

In Germany, the Reformation led to war between the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic Emperor Charles V. The first nine-year war ended in 1555 but continued tensions produced a far graver conflict, the Thirty Years' War, which broke out in 1618. In France, a series of conflicts termed the French Wars of Religion was fought from 1562 to 1598 between the Huguenots and the forces of the French Catholic League. A series of popes sided with and became financial supporters of the Catholic League. This ended under Pope Clement VIII, who hesitantly accepted King Henry IV's 1598 Edict of Nantes, which granted civil and religious toleration to Protestants.

The Council of Trent (1545–1563) became the driving force behind the Counter-Reformation in response to the Protestant movement. Doctrinally, it reaffirmed central Catholic teachings such as transubstantiation and the requirement for love and hope as well as faith to attain salvation. In subsequent centuries, Catholicism spread widely across the world despite experiencing a reduction in its hold on European populations due to the growth of religious scepticism during and after the Enlightenment.[citation needed]

Early Modern Period

The Age of Discovery saw the expansion of Western Europe's political and cultural influence worldwide. Because of the prominent role the strongly Catholic nations of Spain and Portugal played in Western Colonialism, Catholicism was spread to the Americas, Asia and Oceania by explorers, conquistadors, and missionaries, as well as by the transformation of societies through the socio-political mechanisms of colonial rule. Pope Alexander VI had awarded colonial rights over most of the newly discovered lands to Spain and Portugal and the ensuing patronato system allowed state authorities, not the Vatican, to control all clerical appointments in the new colonies. In 1521 the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan made the first Catholic converts in the Philippines. Elsewhere, Portuguese missionaries under the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier evangelised in India, China, and Japan.

Ruins of the Jesuit Reduction at São Miguel das Missões in Brazil.

From the 17th century onward, the Enlightenment questioned the power and influence of the Catholic Church over Western society. 18th century writers such as Voltaire and the Encyclopedists wrote biting critiques of both religion and the Church. One target of their criticism was the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes by King Louis XIV, which ended a century-long policy of religious toleration of Protestant Huguenots. The French Revolution of 1789 brought about a shifting of powers from the Church to the State, destruction of churches and the establishment of a Cult of Reason. In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte's General Louis Alexandre Berthier invaded Italy, imprisoning Pope Pius VI, who died in captivity. Napoleon later re-established the Catholic Church in France through the Concordat of 1801. The end of the Napoleonic wars brought Catholic revival and the return of the Papal States.

In 1854 Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic bishops, whom he had consulted from 1851 to 1853, proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as a dogma. In 1870, the First Vatican Council affirmed the doctrine of papal infallibility when exercised in specifically defined pronouncements. Controversy over this and other issues resulted in a breakaway movement called the Old Catholic Church.

Italian unification of the 1860s incorporated the Papal States, including Rome itself from 1870, into the Kingdom of Italy, thus ending the papacy's millennial temporal power. The pope rejected the Italian Law of Guarantees, which granted him special privileges, and to avoid placing himself in visible subjection to the Italian authorities remained a "prisoner in the Vatican". This stand-off, which was spoken of as the Roman Question, was resolved by the 1929 Lateran Treaties, whereby the Holy See acknowledged Italian sovereignty over the former Papal States and Italy recognised papal sovereignty over Vatican City as a new sovereign and independent state.

Twentieth century

The 20th century saw the rise of various politically radical and anti-clerical governments. The 1926 Calles Law separating church and state in Mexico led to the Cristero War in which over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated, churches desecrated, services mocked, nuns raped and captured priests shot. In the Soviet Union following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, persecution of the Church and Catholics continued well into the 1930s. In addition to the execution and exiling of clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscation of religious implements and closure of churches was common. In the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, the Catholic hierarchy allied itself with Franco's Nationalists against the Popular Front government, citing Republican violence against the Church and "foreign elements which have brought us to ruin".Pope Pius XI referred to these three countries as a "terrible triangle" and the failure to protest in Europe and the United States as a "conspiracy of silence".

After violations of the 1933 Reichskonkordat that had guaranteed the Church in Nazi Germany some protection and rights,Pope Pius XI issued the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, which publicly condemned the Nazis' persecution of the Church and their ideology of neopaganism and racial superiority. After the Second World War began in September 1939, the Church condemned the invasion of Poland and subsequent 1940 Nazi invasions. Thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and brothers were imprisoned and murdered throughout the areas occupied by the Nazis including Saints Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. In the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII directed the Church hierarchy to help protect Jews from the Nazis. While Pius XII has been credited with helping to save hundreds of thousands of Jews by some historians, the Church has also been accused of encouraging centuries of antisemitism and Pius himself of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Debate over the validity of these criticisms continues to this day.

Postwar Communist governments in Eastern Europe severely restricted religious freedoms. Although some priests and religious collaborated with Communist regimes, many were imprisoned, deported or executed and the Church would be an important player in the fall of communism in Europe. The rise to power of the Communists in China in 1949 led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries. The new government also created the Patriotic Church whose unilaterally appointed bishops were initially rejected by Rome before many of them were accepted. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s led to the closure of all religious establishments. When Chinese churches eventually reopened they remained under the control of the Patriotic Church. Many Catholic pastors and priests continued to be sent to prison for refusing to renounce allegiance to Rome.

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s introduced the most significant changes to Catholic practices since the Council of Trent four centuries before.[citation needed] Initiated by Pope John XXIII, this ecumenical council modernised the practices of the Catholic Church, allowing the Mass to be said in the vernacular (local language) and encouraging "fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations". It intended to engage the Church more closely with the present world (aggiornamento), which was described by its advocates as an "opening of the windows". In addition to changes in the liturgy, it led to changes to the Church's approach to ecumenism, and a call to improved relations with non-Christian religions, especially Judaism, in its document Nostra Aetate.

The council, however, generated significant controversy in implementing its reforms: proponents of the "Spirit of Vatican II" such as Swiss theologian Hans Küng said that Vatican II had "not gone far enough" to change church policies.Traditionalist Catholics, such as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, however, strongly criticised the council, arguing that its liturgical reforms led "to the destruction of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments", among other issues.

Pope John Paul II with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, in 1982.

In 1978, Pope John Paul II, formerly archbishop of Kraków in then-Communist Poland, became the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. His 27-year pontificate was one of the longest in history.Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, credited the Polish Pope with hastening the fall of Communism in Europe.

Pope John Paul II sought to evangelise an increasingly secular world. He instituted World Youth Day as a "worldwide encounter with the Pope" for young people which is now held every two to three years. He travelled more than any other Pope, visiting 129 countries, and used television and radio as means of spreading the Church's teachings. In 2012, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the Church called a new Synod to discuss re-evangelising lapsed Catholics in the developed world.

The Catholic nun Mother Teresa of Calcutta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work among India's poor. Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo won the same award in 1996 for "work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor".

Contemporary issues

Sexuality and gender

Soon after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Church teachings about sexuality became an issue of increasing controversy due to changing cultural attitudes in the Western world (see the sexual revolution).

Sex and contraception

The Church teaches that sexual intercourse should only take place between a married man and woman, and should be without the use of birth control or contraception. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), Pope Paul VI firmly rejected all contraception, thus contradicting dissenters in the Church that saw the birth control pill as an ethically justifiable method of contraception, though he permitted the regulation of births by means of natural family planning. This teaching was continued especially by John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he clarified the Church's position on contraception, abortion and euthanasia by condemning them as part of a "culture of death" and calling instead for a "culture of life".

Many Western Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception.Catholics for Choice stated in 1998 that 96% of U.S. Catholic women had used contraceptives at some point in their lives and that 72% of Catholics believed that one could be a good Catholic without obeying the Church's teaching on birth control. Use of natural family planning methods among United States Catholics purportedly is low, although the number cannot be known with certainty. In 2002, 24% of the U.S. population identified as Catholic, but according to a 2002 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of sexually active Americans avoiding pregnancy, only 1.5% were using NFP.


The Catholic Church also teaches that homosexual acts are "contrary to the natural law", but that persons experiencing homosexual tendencies must be accorded respect. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided….

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

This part of the Catechism was quoted by Pope Francis in a press interview in which he remarked:

I think that when you encounter a person like this [a homosexual person], you must make a distinction between the fact of a person being gay from the fact of being a lobby, because lobbies, all are not good. That is bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?

This remark and others made in the same interview were seen as a change in the tone, but not in the substance of the teaching of the Church, which includes opposition to same-sex marriage. A number of Catholics and Catholic groups oppose the position of the Catholic Church and seek to change it.

Women and clergy

Women religious engage in a variety of occupations, from contemplative prayer, to teaching, to providing health care, to working as missionaries. While Holy Orders are reserved for men, Catholic women have played diverse roles in the life of the church, with religious institutes providing a formal space for their participation and convents providing spaces for their self-government, prayer and influence through many centuries. Religious sisters and nuns have been extensively involved in developing and running the Church's worldwide health and education service networks.

Efforts in support of the ordination of women led to several rulings by the Roman Curia or Popes against the proposal, as in Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (1976), Mulieris Dignitatem (1988) and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994). According to the latest ruling, found in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II concluded, "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." In defiance of these rulings, opposition groups such as Roman Catholic Womenpriests have performed ceremonies they affirm as sacramental ordinations (with, reputedly, an ordaining male Catholic bishop in the first few instances) which, according to canon law, are both illicit and invalid and considered mere simulations of the sacrament of ordination. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded by issuing a statement clarifying that any Catholic bishops involved in ordination ceremonies for women, as well as the women themselves if they were Catholic, would automatically receive the penalty of excommunication (latae sententiae, literally "with the sentence already applied", i.e. automatically), citing canon 1378 of canon law and other church laws.

Sex abuse cases

In the 1990s and 2000s, the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and monastics became the subject of civil litigation, criminal prosecution, media coverage, and public debate in countries around the world. The Church was criticised for its handling of abuse complaints when it became known that some bishops had shielded accused priests, transferring them to other pastoral assignments where some continued to commit sexual offences. In response to the scandal, the Church has established formal procedures to prevent abuse, encourage reporting of any abuse that occurs and to handle such reports promptly, although groups representing victims have disputed their effectiveness.

See also


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 77: "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority." Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."
  2. [Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church "Dominus Iesus", 17: Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church. ... “The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach.”
  3. Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church: It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 890: "The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:"
  5. According to Munificentissimus Deus, paragraph 44: "...we [Pope Pius XII] pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."
  6. The Annuario Pontificio, the list of Popes, does not assign numbers to the positions in its listing.
  7. The last resignation occurred on 28 February 2013, when Pope Benedict XVI retired, citing ill health in his advanced age. The next most recent resignation occurred in 1415, as part of the Council of Constance's resolution of the Avignon Papacy.
  8. In 1980, Pope John Paul II issued a pastoral provision that allows establishment of personal parishes in which members of the Episcopal Church (the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion) who join the Catholic Church retain many aspects of Anglican liturgical rites as a variation of the Roman rite.
  9. The 73-book Catholic Bible contains the Deuterocanonicals, books not in the modern Hebrew Bible and not upheld as canonical by Protestants. The process of determining which books were to be considered part of the canon took many centuries and was not finally resolved in the Catholic Church until the Council of Trent.
  10. Through his Rule, Benedict of Nursia (c.480–543), one of the founders of Western monasticism, exerted an enormous influence on European culture through the appropriation of the monastic spiritual heritage of the early Church and, with the spread of the Benedictine tradition, through the preservation and transmission of ancient culture. During this period, monastic Ireland became a centre of learning and early Irish missionaries such as St Columbanus and St Columba spread Christianity and established monasteries across continental Europe.[1]
  11. According to Roman Catholic Womanpriests "The principal consecrating Roman Catholic male bishop who ordained our first women bishops is a bishop with apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church in full communion with the pope."


  1. ^ "World's Catholic population steady". Catholic 13 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2013. .
  2. ^ O'Collins, p. v (preface).
  3. ^ "Vatican congregation reaffirms truth, oneness of Catholic Church". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 17 March 2012. 
  4. ^ "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church". Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 29 June 2007. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  5. ^ "The Apostolic Tradition". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  6. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (6 August 2000). "Dominus Iesus, 1 and 17". Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  7. Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium, 25
  8. "The teaching office". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican. Retrieved 28 April 2011. "889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility." 
  9. ^ "The teaching office". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican. Retrieved 24 July 2010. 
  10. Second Vatican Council. "Chapter III, paragraph 25". Lumen Gentium. Vatican. Retrieved 24 July 2010. "by the light of the Holy Spirit ... ... vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock." 
  11. ^ Colin Gunton. "Christianity among the Religions in the Encyclopedia of Religion," Religious Studies, Vol. 24, number 1, on page 14. In a review of the an article from the Encyclopedia of Religion, Gunton writes" ...[T] he article [on Catholicism in the encyclopedia] rightly suggests caution, suggesting at the outset that Roman Catholicism is marked by several different doctrinal and theological emphases."
  12. "Compendium of the CCC, 11". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  13. "Compendium of the CCC, 226". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  14. ^ "Compendium of the CCC, 388". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "CCC, 1399". Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  16. Agnew, John (12 Feb 2010). "Deus Vult: The Geopolitics of Catholic Church". Geopolitics 15 (1): 39–61. doi:10.1080/14650040903420388. 
  17. "Pope Benedict XVI. 1 January 2012 – Feast of Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary". 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  18. ^ Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII: "Munificentissimus Deus: Defining the Dogma of the Assumption". 1 November 1950. Accessed 15 June 2011.
  19. MacCulloch, Christianity, p. 127.
  20. "Definition at". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  21. ^ "Catholic". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1 November 1908. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  22. "Cyril of Jerusalem, Lecture XVIII, 26". 6 August 2004. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  23. ^ McBrien, Richard (2008). The Church. Harper Collins. p. xvii. Online version available Quote: "[T]he use of the adjective 'Catholic' as a modifier of 'Church' became divisive only after the East–West Schism ... and the Protestant Reformation ... In the former case, the Western Church claimed for itself the title Catholic Church, while the East appropriated the name Orthodox Church. In the latter case, those in communion with the Bishop of Rome retained the adjective "Catholic", while the churches that broke with the Papacy were called Protestant."
  24. Libreria Editrice Vaticana (2003). Catechism of the Catholic Church Retrieved 1 May 2009.
  25. The Vatican. Documents of the II Vatican Council. Retrieved 2009-05-04. Note: The Pope's signature appears in the Latin version.
  26. Examples: the encyclicals Divini Illius Magistri of Pope Pius XI and Humani generis of Pope Pius XII; joint declarations signed by Pope Benedict XVI with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on 23 November 2006 and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople on 30 November 2006.
  27. Example: The Baltimore Catechism, an official catechism authorised by the Catholic bishops of the United States, states: "That is why we are called Roman Catholics; to show that we are united to the real successor of St Peter" (Question 118) and refers to the Church as the "Roman Catholic Church" under Questions 114 and 131 (Baltimore Catechism).
  28. "The Catechism of St Pius X, The Ninth Article of the Creed, Question 20". Retrieved 28 October 2010. 
  29. Jaroslav Pelikan, Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300–1700) (University of Chicago Press 1985 ISBN 978-0-226-65377-8), p. 114
  30. Robert Feduccia (editor), Primary Source Readings in Catholic Church History (Saint Mary's Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-88489-868-9), p. 85. Accessed at Google Books
  31. "Vatican City State – State and Government". Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  32. British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Country Profile: Vatican City State/Holy See". Travel and Living Abroad, 27 February 2012. Retrieved 26 June 2012
  33. McDonough (1995), p. 227
  34. Duffy (1997), p. 415
  35. Duffy (1997), p. 416
  36. Duffy (1997), pp. 417–8
  37. "Orientalium Ecclesiarum". Vatican Council II. 2. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  38. CCEO, Canon 56. English Translation
  39. ^ "General Essay on Western Christianity", Overview of World Religions. Division of Religion and Philosophy, University of Cumbria. 1998/9 ELMAR Project. Accessed 1 April 2012.
  40. Ronald G. Roberson. "Eastern Catholic Churches Statistics 2010". CNEWA. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  41. CCEO, Canons 55–150. English Translation
  42. CCEO, Canons 151–154
  43. CCEO, Canons 155–173
  44. CCEO, Canons 174–176
  45. Vatican, Annuario Pontificio 2009, p. 1172.
  46. Annuario Pontifico per l'anno 2010 (Città di Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010)
  47. Barry, p. 52
  48. ^ Code of Canon Law, 573–746. Retrieved 9 March 2008.
  49. Robert T. Kennedy, Study related to a pre-1983 book by John J. McGrath – Jurist, 1990, pp. 351-401
  50. Cafardi, Nicolas P. "Catholic Law Schools and Ex Corde Ecclesiae", Theological Exploration, vol. 2. no. 1 of Duquesne University and in Law Review of University of Toledo, vol 33]
  51. Froehle, pp. 4–5
  52. Bazar, Emily (16 April 2008). "Immigrants Make Pilgrimage to Pope". USA Today. Retrieved 3 May 2008. 
  53. "Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents". Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  54. ^ "Europe | Catholic nuns and monks decline". BBC News. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  55. CCC, 1200–1209
  56. CCEO, canon 28 §1 in an unofficial English translation. The official text is "Ritus est patrimonium liturgicum, theologicum, spirituale et disciplinare cultura ac rerum adiunctis historiae populorum distinctum, quod modo fidei vivendae uniuscuiusque Ecclesiae sui iuris proprio exprimitur." (A rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary heritage, differentiated by peoples' culture and historical circumstances, that finds expression in each sui iuris Church's own way of living the faith).
  57. ^ Canon 900 of the Code of Canon Law
  58. CCC, 1373–1381
  59. See Luke 22:19, Matthew 26:27–28, Mark 14:22–24, 1Corinthians 11:24–25
  60. Kreeft, p. 326
  61. Instruction Redemptionis sacramentum, 146 and 154
  62. Canon 699 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
  63. ^ Kreeft, p. 331
  64. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, 132
  65. "CCC, 1400". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  66. "CCC, 1399". Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
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