Skip to Content

Catholic Church

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 one of 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 Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. The church’s principal doctrines are summarised in the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed; among its distinguishing features are its belief in the supremacy of the Pope and celebration of the seven sacraments. 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 Church maintains that the doctrine on faith and morals that it presents as definitive is infallible. The Latin Church, the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches and religious communities such as the Jesuits, mendicant orders and enclosed monastic orders reflect the variety of theological emphases within the Church. The sacraments are integral to Catholic liturgical worship. The principal sacrament is the Eucharist, also called the Mass. The Church teaches that in this sacrament the bread and the wine consecrated by the priest become the body and the blood of Christ, a change it calls transubstantiation. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members deemed to be in a state of grace, free of unforgiven mortal sin or penalty, are ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist. The Church venerates Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, teaching that through divine intervention she gave birth to him while still a virgin. It 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. Catholic social teaching emphasises support for the sick, the poor and the afflicted through the corporal works of mercy since the care for the poor and disadvantaged are part of Christ’s teachings. 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 spiritual works of mercy. In recent decades, the Catholic Church has been criticised for its doctrines concerning sexual issues and the ordination of women as well as for its handling of sexual abuse cases.