The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian Church, with more than 1.29 billion members worldwide.As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation.Headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, the church’s doctrines are summarised in the Nicene Creed. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, enclaved within Rome, Italy.
The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ,that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles, and that the Pope is the successor to Saint Peter. The Catholic Church maintains that the doctrine on faith and morals that it declares as definitive is infallible.The Latin Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as institutes such as mendicant orders and enclosed monastic orders, reflect a variety of theological and spiritual emphases in the Church.
The Catholic Church is notable within Western Christianity for its sacred tradition and seven sacraments. The principal sacrament, the Eucharist, is celebrated liturgically in the Mass. The church teaches that through consecration by a priest the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Catholic Church practises closed communion, with only baptised members in a state of grace ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist.
The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic Church as Queen of Heaven and is honoured in numerous Marian devotions. The Catholic Church has defined four Marian dogmas: the Immaculate Conception, the dogma that Mary was conceived 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.
The Catholic Church has influenced Western philosophy, science, art and culture. Its spiritual teaching includes spreading the Gospel while its social teachings emphasise support for the sick, the poor and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world.
From the late 20th century, the Catholic Church has been criticised for its doctrines on sexuality, its refusal to ordain women and its handling of sexual abuse cases.