Catholic Church

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The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, There is some ambiguity about the title "Catholic Church", since the Church is not the only institution to claim catholicity. The Church is referred to and refers to itself in various ways, in part depending upon circumstance. The Greek word καθολικός (katholikos), from which we get "Catholic," means "universal".

The Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. As the Pope's seat, it is considered as the mother of all Catholic churches. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Peter Clarke)

After the East-West Schism, the Western Church took the name "Catholic", while the Eastern Church took the name "Orthodox." Following the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the church in communion with the Bishop of Rome used the name "Catholic" to distinguish itself from the various Protestant churches. The name "Catholic Church", rather than "Roman Catholic Church", is usually the term that the Church uses in its own documents. It appears in the title of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is also the term that Pope Paul VI used when signing the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Especially in English-speaking countries, the Church is regularly referred to as the "Roman" Catholic Church; occasionally, it refers to itself in the same way. At times, this can help distinguish the Church from other churches that also claim catholicity. Hence this has been the title used in some documents involving ecumenical relations. However, the name "Roman Catholic Church" is disliked by many Catholics, as a label applied to them by others to suggest that theirs is only one of several catholic churches, and to imply that Catholic allegiance to the Pope renders them in some way untrustworthy. Within the Church, the name "Roman Church", in the strictest sense, refers to the Diocese of Rome. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states:

"There is a further aspect of the term Roman Catholic that needs consideration. The Roman Church can be used to refer, not to the Church universal insofar as it possesses a primate who is bishop of Rome, but to the local Church of Rome, which has the privilege of its bishop being also the primate of the whole Church."

With more than a billion members, over half of all Christians and more than one-sixth of the world's population, the Catholic Church is a communion of the Western, or (Latin Rite) Church, and 22 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches (called particular churches), comprising a total of 2,795 dioceses in 2008. The Church's highest earthly authority in matters of faith, morality, and governance is the Pope, currently Pope Francis, who holds supreme authority in concert with the College of Bishops, of which he is the head.

The Catholic community is made up of an ordained ministry and the laity; members of either group may belong to organized religious communities.

The Church defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity. It operates social programs and institutions throughout the world, including Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, missions and shelters, as well as Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities that help families, the poor, the elderly and the sick.

The Catholic Church believes itself to be original Church founded by Jesus upon the apostles and that the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) as the successor of Peter, possesses a universal primacy of jurisdiction and pastoral care.

Church doctrines have been defined through various ecumenical councils, following the example set by the first Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem. On the basis of promises made by Jesus to his apostles, described in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is guided by the Holy Spirit and so protected from falling into doctrinal error.

Pope Francis imparting his apostolic blessing to the attendees of the General Audience held at Malacañan Palace on January 16, 2015. Francis, who visited the Philippines in 2015, is the 266th Bishop of Rome or the head of the worldwide Catholic Church. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Benhur Arcayan - Malacañang Photo Bureau)

Catholic beliefs are based on the deposit of Faith (containing both the Holy Bible and Sacred Tradition) handed down from the time of the Apostles, which are interpreted by the Church's teaching authority. Those beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed and formally detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Formal Catholic worship is termed the liturgy. The Eucharist is the center of Catholic worship. It is one of seven sacraments which mark key stages in the lives of believers.

With a history spanning almost two thousand years, the Church is "the world's oldest and largest institution and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization since at least the 4th century. In the 11th century, a major split, sometimes called the Great Schism, occurred between Eastern and Western Christianity. Those Eastern churches which remained in, or later re-established, communion with the Pope, form the Eastern Catholic churches and those which remain independent of papal authority are usually known as Orthodox churches. In the 16th century, partly in response to the rise of the Protestant Reformation, the Church engaged in its own process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation.

Although the Church maintains that it is the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" founded by Jesus and in which is found the fullness of the means of salvation, it also acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of other Christian communities to bring people to salvation. It believes that it is called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians, a movement known as ecumenism.

Modern issues facing the Church include secularism, abortion, euthanasia, birth control, and sexual ethics.

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