Catholic Church

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.25 billion members worldwide. One of the oldest religious institutions in the world, with a prominent role in the history of Western civilisation, it is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, who has supreme power over the Church. Its principal doctrines are summarised in the Nicene Creed. The Catholic Church is also distinguished by its 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 declares 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 in the Church.

Of the seven sacraments, the principal one is the Eucharist, liturgically celebrated in Mass. The church teaches that in the sacrifice of the Mass, the bread and the wine become the body and the blood of Christ by the consecration of the priest, a change it calls transubstantiation. The Catholic Church practises closed communion with only baptised members believed to be in a state of grace permitted to receive it.

The Church venerates Mary as Mother of God. It teaches that through divine intervention she gave birth to Jesus while still a virgin and has defined four 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.

Integral to Catholicism, apart from spreading the Gospel, are the Seven virtues, exemplified in Catholic social teaching as support for the sick, the poor and the afflicted through the corporal works of mercy. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world.

Criticism of the Catholic Church led to the Protestant reformation. In recent decades, criticism has particularly concerned its doctrines on sexual issues, the ordination of women, and its handling of sexual abuse cases.

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