This article is about the church associated with the Holy See. For other uses, see Catholic Church (disambiguation). For churches with similar beliefs, see Catholicism.
Catholic Church
File:File:Petersdom von Engelsburg gesehen.jpg
Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
Governance Hierarchical[1][2]
Distinct fellowships Holy See
Patriarchates: 9
Archdioceses: 632
Regular dioceses: 2,851
Geographical areas Worldwide
Founder Jesus Christ, according to Catholic tradition
Origin 1st century
Jerusalem, Judea, Roman Empire
Members 1.250 billion
Ministers 5,100 bishops
413,000 priests

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.2 billion members worldwide.[3] It is among the oldest religious institutions in the world, and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilisation.[4] The Catholic hierarchy is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ,[5][6] that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles and that the Pope is the sole successor to Saint Peter, who has primacy among the apostles.[7][note 1][8][note 2][note 3] The Church maintains that the doctrine on faith and morals that it presents as definitive is infallible.[9][10][note 4]

The Catholic Church is Trinitarian and defines its mission as spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ,[11] administering the sacraments[12] and exercising charity.[13] Its principal doctrines are found in the Nicene Creed. Worship is highly liturgical, focusing on the Mass in which the sacrament of the Eucharist is offered as a sacrifice for sin.[14] The Church teaches that the sacramental bread and wine become transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ by the consecration of the priest. The Catholic Church practises closed communion and only baptised members deemed to be in a state of grace are ordinarily permitted to receive the Eucharist.[15] 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.[16][17]

The Church venerates and holds in special regard Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and teaches 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,[18] her perpetual virginity and her bodily Assumption into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.[19][note 5] 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. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world.[20] 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.


File:Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg

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.[21] The term katholikos is equivalent to καθόλου (katholou), a contraction of the phrase καθ' ὅλου (kath' holou) meaning "according to the whole".[22] The combination "the catholic Church" (he katholike ekklesia) is recorded for the first time in the letter of St Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, written about 110 AD.[note 6] In the Catechetical Discourses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the name "Catholic Church" is used to distinguish it from other groups that also call themselves the Church.[23][24]

Since the East–West Schism of 1054, the Eastern Church has taken the adjective "Orthodox" as its distinctive epithet, and the Western Church in communion with the Holy See has similarly taken "Catholic", keeping that description also after the 16th-century Reformation, when those that ceased to be in communion became known as Protestants.[25][26]

The name "Catholic Church" is the most common designation used in official church documents.[27] It is also the name which Pope Paul VI used when signing documents of the Second Vatican Council.[28] However, documents produced both by the Holy See[note 7] and by certain national episcopal conferences[note 8] occasionally refer to the Church as 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 Holy See.[29]

Organisation and demographics

Template:Major Sui Iuris Catholic Churches

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

Papacy and Roman Curia

File:Papa Francisco en Canonizazion de Juan XXIII y Juan Pablo II.PNG

Pope Francis, elected in the papal conclave, 2013

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. Pope Francis was elected on 13 March 2013 by papal conclave.

The office of the Pope is known as the papacy. The Catholic 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 Peter).[30][31] 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,[32] a small city-state entirely enclaved within the city of Rome, which is an entity distinct from the Holy See. It is as head of the Holy See, not as head of Vatican City State, that the Pope receives ambassadors of states and sends them his own diplomatic representatives[33]

The position of cardinal is a rank of honour bestowed by popes on certain clergy, 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.[34]

Following the death or resignation of a pope,[note 9] members of the College of Cardinals who are under age 80 meet in a papal conclave to elect a successor.[36] Although the conclave may elect any male Catholic as Pope, since 1389 only cardinals have been elected.[37]

Canon law

The canon law of the Catholic Church is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the hierarchical authorities to regulate the church's external organisation and government and to order and direct the activities of Catholics towards the church's mission.[38] In the Catholic Church, universal positive ecclesiastical laws, based upon either immutable divine and natural law, or changeable circumstantial and merely positive law, derive formal authority and promulgation from the office of pope who, as Supreme Pontiff, possesses the totality of legislative, executive and judicial power in his person.[39] It has all the ordinary elements of a mature legal system:[40] laws, courts, lawyers, judges,[40] a fully articulated legal code,[41] principles of legal interpretation[42] and coercive penalties that are limited to moral coercion.[43]

Canon law concerns the Catholic Church's life and organisation and is distinct from civil law. In its own field it gives force to civil law only by specific enactment in matters such as the guardianship of minors.[44] Similarly, civil law may give force in its field to canon law, but only by specific enactment, as with regard to canonical marriages.[45] Currently, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is in effect primarily for the Latin Church. The distinct 1990 Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches (CCEO, after the Latin initials) applies to the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches.

Autonomous particular churches

The Catholic Church is made up of 23 autonomous particular churches, each of which accepts the supreme authority of the Bishop of Rome on matters of doctrine.[17][46] 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,[47] 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,[48] 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.[48]

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.[49] 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,[50] others are headed by a major archbishop,[51] others are under a metropolitan,[52] and others are organised as individual eparchies.[53] The Roman Curia has a specific department, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, to maintain relations with them.

Dioceses, parishes and religious orders

File:Distribution of Catholics.png

A map of Catholicism by population percentage (for absolute figures, see below).

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.[54] The bishops in a particular country are members of a national or regional episcopal conference.[55]

Dioceses are divided into parishes, each with one or more priests, deacons or lay ecclesial ministers.[56] Parishes are responsible for the day to day celebration of the sacraments and pastoral care of the laity.

In the Latin Church, Catholic men may serve as deacons or priests. Men and women may be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion or readers (lectors); boys and men have always been permitted to be altar servers, and since the 1990s girls and women may also be permitted.

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.[57] 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.[57]

"Religious institutes" is a modern term encompassing both "religious orders" and "religious congregations" which were once distinguished in Canon Law.[58] The terms "Religious order" and "religious institute" tend to be used as synonyms colloquially.[59]

Membership statistics

File:Catholicism by country.png

Countries by number of Catholics in 2010.[60]

  More than 100 million
  More than 50 million
  More than 20 million
  More than 10 million
  More than 5 million
  More than 1 million

See also: List of Christian denominations by number of members

Church membership in 2011 was 1.214 billion (17.5% of the world population),[3] an increase from 437 million in 1950[61] and 654 million in 1970.[62] 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.[3] Catholics represent about half of all Christians.[63]

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.[3] In 2006, members of consecrated life totalled 945,210; 743,200 of whom were female.[64]

Worship and liturgy


Catholic religious objects— Holy Bible, crucifix and rosary.

File:St. Mary's Catholic Church altar, Alexandria, VA.jpg

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.[65] 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".[66]

The liturgy of the sacrament of the Eucharist, called the Mass in the West and Divine Liturgy or other names in the East, is the principal liturgy of the Catholic Church.[67] The most widely used is the Roman Rite, usually in its ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI in 1969, but also in its authorised extraordinary form, the Tridentine Mass as in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal. Eastern Catholic Churches have their own rites.

Celebration of the sacraments

The liturgies of the sacraments are central to the church's mission. According to the catechism:

In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church. the liturgical assembly derives its unity from the "communion of the Holy Spirit" who gathers the children of God into the one Body of Christ. This assembly transcends racial, cultural, social - indeed, all human affinities.[68]

According to church doctrine, the sacraments of the church require the proper form, matter, and intent to be validly celebrated.[69] In addition, the Canon Laws for both the Latin Church and the Eastern Catholic Church govern who may licitly celebrate certain sacraments, as well as strict rules about who may receive the sacraments.[15] Notably, because the Church teaches that Christ is present in the Eucharist,[70] 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).[71] Catholics are normally obliged to abstain from eating for at least an hour before receiving the sacrament.[71] Non-Catholics are ordinarily prohibitted from receiving the Eucharist as well.

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.[72][73] 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."[74]

Western rites

Template:Roman Rite of Mass 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.[75] The present ordinary form of Mass in the Roman Rite, found in the post-1969 editions of the Roman Missal, is usually celebrated in the local vernacular language, using an officially approved translation from the original text in Latin. An outline of its major liturgical elements can be found in the side bar.


Celebration of Tridentine Mass

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the continued use of the 1962 Roman Missal as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite ("a Forma extraordinaria"), speaking of it also as an usus antiquior (older use), and issued new permissive norms for its employment.[76] An instruction issued four years later spoke of the two forms or usages of the Roman Rite approved by the pope as the ordinary form and the extraordinary form ("the forma ordinaria" and "the forma extraordinaria").[77]

The 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, published a few months before the Second Vatican Council opened, was the last that presented the Mass as standardised in 1570 by Pope Pius V at the request of the Council of Trent and that is therefore known as the Tridentine Mass.[70] Pope Pius V's Roman Missal was subjected to minor revisions by Pope Clement VIII in 1604, Pope Urban VIII in 1634, Pope Pius X in 1911, Pope Pius XII in 1955, and Pope John XXIII in 1962. Each successive edition was the ordinary form of the Roman Rite Mass until superseded by a later edition. When the 1962 edition was superseded by that of Paul VI, promulgated in 1969, its continued use at first required permission from bishops; but Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum allowed free use of it for Mass celebrated without a congregation and authorised parish priests to permit, under certain conditions, its use even at public Masses. Except for the scriptural readings, which Pope Benedict allowed to be proclaimed in the vernacular language, it is celebrated exclusively in liturgical Latin.

File:FN Ailingen Pfarrkirche Prozessionskreuz.jpg

A processional crucifix, used in the ritual procession at the beginning of Mass.

Since 2014, clergy in the small personal ordinariates set up for groups of former Anglicans under the terms of the 2009 document Anglicanorum Coetibus[78] are permitted to use a variation of the Roman Rite called "Divine Worship" or, less formally, "Ordinariate Use",[79] which incorporates elements of the Anglican liturgy and traditions.[note 10]

In the archdiocese of Milan, with around five million Catholics the largest in Europe,[80][81] Mass is celebrated according to the Ambrosian Rite. Other Latin Church rites include the Mozarabic and those of some religious orders. These liturgical rites have an antiquity of at least 200 years before 1570, the date of Pope Pius V's Quo primum, and were thus allowed to continue.

Eastern rites

File:Kanjirappally Bishop Mar Mathew Arackal at Tomb of Mar Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly.jpg

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, India 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.


See also: Biblical canon

Catholic doctrine has developed over the centuries, reflecting direct teachings of early Christians, formal definitions of heretical and orthodox beliefs by ecumenical councils and in papal bulls, and theological debate by scholars. The Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit as it discerns new theological issues and is protected infallibly from falling into doctrinal error when a firm decision on an issue is reached.[82][83]

It teaches that revelation has one common source, God, and two distinct modes of transmission: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,[84][85] and that these are authentically interpreted by the Magisterium.[86][87] Sacred Scripture consists of the 73 books of the Catholic Bible, consisting of 46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament writings. The New Testament books are accepted by Christians of both East and West, however some Protestants place them at three different status levels.[note 11] The Old Testament books include some, referred to as Deuterocanonical, that Protestants exclude but that Eastern Christians too regard as part of the Bible.[88] Sacred Tradition consists of those teachings believed by the Church to have been handed down since the time of the Apostles.[89] 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.[90]

Catholic doctrine is authoritatively summarised in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by the Holy See.[91][92] The doctrine section of the Catechism is organised according to the Apostle's Creed. The Church also accepts the Nicene Creed.

The Holy Trinity

File:Fridolin Leiber - Holy Trinity.jpg

A symbolic image illustrating the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, by Fridolin Leiber.

The Catholic Church holds that there is one eternal God, who exists as a mutual indwelling of three Hypostases, or Persons: God the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit, which together are called the "Most Holy 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, including possessing a human soul. 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.[93]

The Church teaches that, by the passion (suffering) of Christ during his crucifixion as described in the Gospels, Christ made himself an oblation to God the Father in order to reconcile humanity to God.[94] The Resurrection of Jesus gained for humans a possible future immortality previously denied to them because of Original Sin.[95] 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".[96]

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.[97]

The Church teaches that God the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from God the Father and God the Son "as from a single principle", 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 G versions of the Creed that are used in Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Catholic Churches,[98] although the Eastern Catholics also affirm the doctrine of the double-procession of the Holy Spirit.


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".[99] These are collectively known as the Four Marks of the Church. The church teaches that its founder is Jesus Christ, who appointed the twelve Apostles to continue his work as the Church's earliest leaders.[100] The New Testament records Jesus' activities and teaching, his appointment of the Apostles and his Great Commission,[101][102] instructing the Apostles to continue his work. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, in an event known as Pentecost, is to taught to be the beginning of the public ministry of the Catholic Church.[103]

Catholic belief holds that the Church "is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth",[104] and that all duly consecrated bishops have a lineal succession from the apostles, known as apostolic succession.[105] In particular, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), is considered the successor to the apostle Simon Peter, a position from which he derives his supremacy over the Church.[106] The Church is further described in the papal encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi as the Mystical Body of Christ.[107]

In responding to some questions regarding the doctrine of the Church concerning itself, the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated, "Clarius dicendum esset veram Ecclesiam esse solam Ecclesiam catholicam romanam..." ("It should be said more clearly that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the true Church..")[108] And it also clarified that the term "subsistit in" in Lumen Gentium "indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church".

However, while the Church teaches that the Catholic Church is "the universal sacrament of salvation for the human race"[109] and the "true religion",[109] and the "one true Church"[110] it also 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, because these separated communities contain some elements of proper doctrine, albeit admixed with errors. 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,[85] 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.[111] These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, 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).[112] 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.[113]

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.[114] It washes away all sins, both original sin and personal actual sins.[115] It makes a person a member of the Church.[116] 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,[117] who, though they have no personal sins, need it on account of original sin.[118] 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.[119] Baptism marks a person permanently and cannot be repeated.[120] 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.[121]


The Catholic Church sees the sacrament of confirmation as required to complete the grace given in baptism.[122] When adults are baptised, confirmation is normally given immediately afterwards,[123] a practice followed even for infants in the Eastern Catholic Churches.[124] In the West confirmation of children is delayed until they are old enough to understand or even until they are in their teens.[125] 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,[126] a mixture of olive oil and some perfumed substance, usually balsam, blessed by a bishop.[127] 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.[128]

File:BentoXVI-51-11052007 (frag).jpg

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 described as "the source and summit of the Christian life".[129] The ceremony in which a Catholic first receives the Eucharist is known as First Communion.

The Eucharistic celebration, also called the Mass or Divine liturgy, includes prayers and scriptural readings leading to the consecration of the bread and wine, which become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, a change called transubstantiation.[130] The words of consecration reflect the words spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper, where Christ offered his body and blood to his Apostles the night before his crucifixion. The sacrament re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross,[131] and perpetuates it. Christ's death and resurrection gives grace through the sacrament that unites the faithful with Christ and one another, remits venial sin, and aids against committing moral sin (though mortal sin itself is forgiven through the sacrament of penance).[132]

File:Convento de San Francisco - Ciudad de México - Creyente.jpg

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[133]) exists for the conversion of those who, after baptism, separate themselves from Christ by sin.[134] 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).[135] 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.[136] The priest is bound under the severest penalties to maintain the "seal of confession", absolute secrecy about any sins revealed to him in confession.[137]

Anointing of the Sick
File:Extreme Unction Rogier Van der Weyden.jpg

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.[138] 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.[139]

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.[140] 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.[141]


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).[142][143] 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.[144][145] Men who are already married may be ordained in the Eastern Catholic Churches in most countries,[146] and the personal ordinariates and may become deacons even in the Western Church[144][145] (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.[147] Only bishops and priests can administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance) and Anointing of the Sick.[148][149] Only bishops can administer the sacrament of Holy Orders, which ordains someone into the clergy.[150]


Marriage, understood as an indissoluble union between a man and a woman,[151] if entered into validly by any baptised man and baptised woman, is considered a sacrament by the Catholic Church.[152] 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.[153] 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.[154] Marriage is considered the only appropriate context for sexual activity (see sexuality and gender issues below).

Judgement after death

File:Fra Angelico 024.jpg

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.[155] 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.[156] 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".[157] 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".[158]

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."[158] 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.[159]
  • Purgatory is a temporary condition for the purification of souls who, although saved, are not free enough from sin to enter directly into heaven.[160] Souls in purgatory may be aided in reaching heaven by the prayers of the faithful on earth and by the intercession of saints.[161]
  • 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.[162] The Church teaches that no one is condemned to hell without having freely decided to reject God.[163] No one is predestined to hell and no one can determine whether anyone else has been condemned.[164] Catholicism teaches that through God's mercy a person can repent at any point before death and be saved.[165] 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.[166]

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.

See also: Mary (mother of Jesus)

Devotions to Mary are part of Catholic piety but are distinct from the worship of God.[167] The Church holds Mary, as Perpetual Virgin and Mother of God, in special regard.[18] 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.[168]

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.[168] 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.[169]

The Church has affirmed certain Marian apparitions, such as at Lourdes, Fátima, and Guadalupe.[170] Pilgrimages to these sites are popular Catholic devotions.[171]


See also: Early history of Christianity, Historiography of early Christianity, and Apostolic Age
File:Perugino - Entrega de las llaves a San Pedro (Capilla Sixtina, 1481-82).jpg

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

The Christian religion is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who lived and preached in the 1st century AD in the province of Judea of the Roman Empire. Catholic doctrine teaches that the contemporary Catholic Church is the continuation of this early Christian community established by Jesus.[5] Christianity spread throughout the early Roman Empire, despite persecutions due to conflicts with the pagan state religion. Emperor Constantine legalised the practice of Christianity in 313, and it became the state religion in 380. Germanic invaders of Roman territory in the 5th and 6th centuries, many of whom had previously adopted Arian Christianity, eventually adopted Catholicism to ally themselves with the papacy and the monasteries.

In the 7th and 8th centuries, expanding Muslim conquests following the advent of Islam led to an Arab domination of the Mediterranean that severed political connections between that area and northern Europe, and weakened cultural connections between Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Conflicts involving authority in the church, particularly the authority of the Bishop of Rome finally culminated in the East–West Schism in the 11th century, splitting the Church into the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Earlier splits within the Church occurred after the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Council of Chalcedon (451). However, a few Eastern Churches remained in communion with Rome, and portions of some others established communion in the 1400s and later, forming what are called the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Early monasteries throughout Europe helped preserve Greek and Roman classical civilisation. The Church eventually became the dominant influence in Western civilisation into the modern age. Many Renaissance figures were sponsored by the church. The 16th century, however, began to see challenges to the Church, in particular to its religious authority, by figures in the Protestant Reformation, as well as in the 17th century by secular intellectuals in the Enlightenment. Concurrently, Spanish and Portuguese explorers and missionaries spread the Church's influence through Africa, Asia, and the New World.

In 1870, the First Vatican Council declared the dogma of papal infallibility. Also in 1870, the Kingdom of Italy annexed the city of Rome, the last portion of the Papal States to be incorporated in the new nation. In the 20th century, the church endured a massive backlash at the hands of anti-clerical governments around the world, including Mexico and Spain, where thousands of clerics and laypersons were persecuted or executed. During the Second World War, the Church condemned Nazism, and protected hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust; its efforts, however, have been criticised as potentially inadequate. After the war, freedom of religion was severely restricted in the Communist countries newly aligned with the Soviet Union, several of which had large Catholic populations.

In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council led to several controversial reforms of the church liturgy and practices, an effort descried as "opening the windows" by defenders, but leading to harsh criticism in several conservative circles. In the face of increased criticism from both within and without, the Church has upheld or reaffirmed at various times controversial doctrinal positions regarding sexuality and gender, including limiting clergy to males, and moral exhortations against abortion, contraception, sexual activity outside of marriage, remarriage following divorce without annulment, and against homosexual marriage.

Apostolic era and papacy

The New Testament, in particular the Gospels, records Jesus' activities and teaching, his appointment of the twelve Apostles and his Great Commission of the Apostles, instructing them to continue his work.[101][102] The book Acts of Apostles, tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman empire.[172]

 The Catholic Church teaches that its public ministry began on Pentecost, occurring fifty days following the date Christ is believed to have resurrected.[103] At Pentecost, the Apostles are believed to have received the Holy Spirit, preparing them for their mission in leading the church.[173][174] The Catholic Church teaches that the college of bishops, led by the Bishop of Rome are the successors to the Apostles.[175]

In the account of the Confession of Peter found in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ designates Peter as the "rock" upon which Christ's church will be built.[176][177] The Catholic Church considers the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, to be the successor to Saint Peter.[178] Some scholars state Peter was the first Bishop of Rome.[179][note 12] Others say that the institution of the papacy is not dependent on the idea that Peter was Bishop of Rome or even on his ever having been in Rome.[180] Many scholars hold that a church structure of plural presbyters/bishops persisted in Rome until the mid-2nd century, when the structure of a single bishop and plural presbyters was adopted,[181] and that later writers retrospectively applied the term "bishop of Rome" to the most prominent members of the clergy in the earlier period and also to Peter himself.[181] On this basis, Oscar Cullmann,[182] Henry Chadwick,[183] and Bart D. Ehrman[note 13] question whether there was a formal link between Peter and the modern papacy. Raymond E. Brown also says that it is anachronistic to speak of Peter in terms of local bishop of Rome, but that Christians of that period would have looked on Peter as having "roles that would contribute in an essential way to the development of the role of the papacy in the subsequent church". These roles, Brown says, "contributed enormously to seeing the bishop of Rome, the bishop of the city where Peter died, and where Paul witnessed to the truth of Christ, as the successor of Peter in care for the church universal".[181]

Antiquity and Roman Empire

See also: Early centers of Christianity and List of Christian heresies

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.[185]

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.[186]

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 330 Constantine moved the imperial capital to Constantinople, modern Istanbul, Turkey. In 380 the Edict of Thessalonica made Catholic Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire, a position that within the diminishing territory of the Byzantine Empire would persist until the empire itself ended in the fall of Constantinople in 1453, while elsewhere the church was independent of the empire, as became particularly clear with the East–West Schism. During the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, five primary sees emerged, an arrangement formalised in the mid-6th century by Emperor Justinian I as the pentarchy of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria.[187][188] In 451 the Council of Chalcedon, in a canon of disputed validity,[189] elevated the see of Constantinople to a position "second in eminence and power to the bishop of Rome".[190] From c. 350 to c. 500, the bishops, or popes, of Rome, steadily increased in authority through their consistent intervening in support of orthodox leaders in theological disputes, which encouraged appeals to them.[191] Emperor Justinian, who in the areas under his control definitively established a form of caesaropapism,[192] in which "he had the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline, and also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church",[193] reestablished imperial power over Rome and other parts of the West, initiating the period termed the Byzantine Papacy (537–752), during which the bishops of Rome, or popes, required approval from the emperor in Constantinople or from his representative in Ravenna for consecration, and most were selected by the emperor from his Greek-speaking subjects,[194] resulting in a "melting pot" of Western and Eastern Christian traditions in art as well as liturgy.[195]

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.[196] The resulting religious discord between Germanic rulers and Catholic subjects[197] was avoided when, in 497, Clovis I, the Frankish ruler, converted to orthodox Catholicism, allying himself with the papacy and the monasteries.[198] The Visigoths in Spain followed his lead in 589,[199] 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.[200][201] 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]

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. As a result of Islamic domination of the Mediterranean, the Frankish state, centred away from that sea, was able to evolve as the dominant power that shaped the Western Europe of the Middle Ages.[202] The battles of Toulouse and Poitiers halted the Islamic advance in the West. Two or three decades later, in 751, the Byzantine Empire lost to the Lombards the city of Ravenna from which it governed the small fragments of Italy, including Rome, that acknowledged its sovereignty. The fall of Ravenna meant that confirmation by a no longer existent exarch was not asked for the election in 752 of Pope Stephen II and that the papacy was forced to look elsewhere for a civil power to protect it.[203] In 754, at the urgent request of Pope Stephen, the Frankish king Pepin the Short conquered the Lombards. He then gifted the lands of the former exarchate to the pope, thus initiating the Papal States.

Medieval and Renaissance periods

The Catholic Church was the dominant influence on Western civilisation from late antiquity to the dawn of the modern age.[4] It was the primary sponsor of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque styles in art, architecture and music.[204] 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.[205]

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,[206] which caused Urban to launch the First Crusade aimed at aiding the Byzantine Empire and returning the Holy Land to Christian control.[207] 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.

File:Chapelle sixtine plafond.jpg

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 conventualia and studia generalia 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.[208] 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.[209]

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[210] during a period known as the Avignon Papacy. The Avignon Papacy ended in 1376 when the Pope returned to Rome,[211] but was followed in 1378 by the 38-year-long Western schism with claimants to the papacy in Rome, Avignon and (after 1409) Pisa.[211] 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.[212]

In 1438, the Council of Florence convened, which featured a strong dialogue focused on understanding the theological differences between the East and West, with the hope of reuniting the Catholic and Orthodox churches.[213] Several eastern churches reunited, forming the Eastern Catholic Churches.



File:Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach der Ältere.jpeg

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.[214] His theses protested key points of Catholic doctrine as well as the sale of indulgences.[214][215] In Switzerland, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and others further criticised Catholic teachings. These challenges developed into the European movement called the Protestant Reformation.[216] The English Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII began as a political dispute. When the pope denied Henry's petition for a declaration of nullity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he had the Acts of Supremacy passed, making him head of the English Church.[217]

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.[218] 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.[219] 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.[218][219]

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.[220] 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

See also: Catholic Church and the Age of Discovery

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[221] and the ensuing patronato system allowed state authorities, not the Vatican, to control all clerical appointments in the new colonies.[222] In 1521 the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan made the first Catholic converts in the Philippines.[223] Elsewhere, Portuguese missionaries under the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier evangelised in India, China, and Japan.[224]

File:São Miguel das Missões (Brazil).jpg

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.[225] 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.[226] 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.[227] The end of the Napoleonic wars brought Catholic revival and the return of the Papal States.[228]

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.[229] In 1870, the First Vatican Council affirmed the doctrine of papal infallibility when exercised in specifically defined pronouncements.[230][231] Controversy over this and other issues resulted in a breakaway movement called the Old Catholic Church.[232]

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".[233] 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[234] in which over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated,[235] churches desecrated, services mocked, nuns raped and captured priests shot.[234] In the Soviet Union following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, persecution of the Church and Catholics continued well into the 1930s.[236] In addition to the execution and exiling of clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscation of religious implements and closure of churches was common.[237] In the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War, the Catholic hierarchy allied itself with Franco's Nationalists against the Popular Front government,[238] citing Republican violence against the Church[239] and "foreign elements which have brought us to ruin".[240] 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,[241] Pope Pius XI issued the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge,[242] which publicly condemned the Nazis' persecution of the Church and their ideology of neopaganism and racial superiority.[243] After the Second World War began in September 1939, the Church condemned the invasion of Poland and subsequent 1940 Nazi invasions.[244] 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.[245] In the Holocaust, Pope Pius XII directed the Church hierarchy to help protect Jews from the Nazis.[246] While Pius XII has been credited with helping to save hundreds of thousands of Jews by some historians,[247] the Church has also been accused of encouraging centuries of antisemitism[248] and Pius himself of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities.[249] Debate over the validity of these criticisms continues to this day.[247]

Postwar Communist governments in Eastern Europe severely restricted religious freedoms.[250] Although some priests and religious collaborated with Communist regimes,[251] many were imprisoned, deported or executed and the Church would be an important player in the fall of communism in Europe.[252] The rise to power of the Communists in China in 1949 led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries.[253] The new government also created the Patriotic Church whose unilaterally appointed bishops were initially rejected by Rome before many of them were accepted.[254] 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.[255]

Second Vatican Council

See also: Post Vatican II history of the Catholic Church and Spirit of Vatican II

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".[256] 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".[257] In addition to changes in the liturgy, it led to changes to the Church's approach to ecumenism,[258] and a call to improved relations with non-Christian religions, especially Judaism, in its document Nostra Aetate.[259]

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.[260] 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.[261] Several teachings of the Catholic Church came under increased scrutiny both concurrent with and following the council.

The church's teaching regarding the immorality of contraception in particular was examined. The recent introduction of hormonal contraception (including "the pill"), which were believed by some to be morally different than previous methods, prompted John XXIII to form a committee to study the matter, an effort expanded by Paul VI. Paul was "determined not to ask anything of married couples that God does not require of them", and allowed the committee to freely study the issue. The committee's unreleased final report was rumored to be highly favorable towards permitting contraception. Paul, however, found what he considered severe theological errors with the committee's findings and eventually issued Humanae Vitae, which he said upheld the constant teaching of the church against contraception, expressly including hormonal methods as prohibited.[note 14] A large negative response to this document followed its release.[262] (See also contraception below).

The Catholic nun Mother Teresa of Calcutta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work among India's poor.[263] 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".[264]

John Paul II

File:President and Mrs. Reagan meet Pope John Paul II 1982.jpg

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.[265] Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the Soviet Union, credited the Polish Pope with hastening the fall of Communism in Europe.[266]

John Paul 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.[267] He travelled more than any other Pope, visiting 129 countries,[268] and used television and radio as means of spreading the Church's teachings. He also emphasised the dignity of work and natural rights of labors to have fair wages and safe conditions in Laborem Exercens,[269] and also emphasised several church teachings, including moral exhortations against abortion, euthanasia, and against widespread use of the death penalty, in Evangelium Vitae.[270]

Twenty-first century

In 2005, following the death of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI was elected. Originally from Germany, he served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul. He was known for upholding traditional Christian values as a means to ward off secularisation, and for liberalising use of the Tridentine Mass as found in the Roman Missal of 1962. In 2012, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, an assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss re-evangelising lapsed Catholics in the developed world. Benedict resigned due to health concerns in 2013, the first Pope to do so in hundreds of years.

Pope Francis succeeded Benedict in 2013. He was warmly received by many, although he drew concerns from some conservatives. In 2014, the first of two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops addressed the church's ministry towards families and marriages. Particular media attention focused on the proposed wording of an interim document addressing Catholics in "irregular" relationships, such as Catholics who divorced and remarried outside of the church without a declaration of nullity. The first of the two, the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, ran from 5 to 19 October 2014.[271][272]

Social and cultural issues

See also: Catholic social teaching, Catholicism and sexuality, and Criticism of the Catholic Church

Catholic teaching regarding most social issues involves maintaining bodily integrity. 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.[13] 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."[273]

Catholic teaching regarding sexuality calls for a practice of chastity, with a focus on maintaining the spiritual and bodily integrity of the human person. Marriage is considered the only appropriate context for sexual activity[274] Church teachings about sexuality have become an issue of increasing controversy, especially after the close of the Second Vatican Council, due to changing cultural attitudes in the Western world (see the sexual revolution).

Social services

See also: Catholic Church and health care
File:MotherTeresa 090.jpg

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

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world.[275] 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.[276]

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.

Women and clergy

Women religious engage in a variety of occupations, from contemplative prayer, to teaching, to providing health care, to working as missionaries.[64] 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.[277]

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."[278] 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[279] of the sacrament of ordination.[280][note 15] 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.[281]

Sexual morality

Chastity and marriage

Sexuality is considered integral to a person's identity and ability to form lasting relationship. The Catholic Church calls all members to live chastely according to their state in life. Chasity includes temperance, self-mastery, personal and cultural growth and grace. It requires refraining from lust, masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution and, especially, rape. Chasity for those who are not married requires living in continence, abstaining from sexual activity; for those who are married a call to conjugal chastity.[282]

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a social and spiritual bond between a man and women, ordered towards the good of the spouses and procreation of children. A Catholic marriage, or any marriage between baptised individuals of any Christian denomination, is viewed as a sacrament and, once consummated, cannot be dissolved except by death.[283] Chastity in marriage requires in particular conjugal fidelity and protecting the fecundity of marriage.[284]

Canon law makes no provision for divorce among baptised individuals,[285] but a declaration of nullity may be granted when proof is produced that essential conditions for contracting a valid marriage were absent from the beginning — in other words, that the marriage was not valid due to some impediment. A declaration of nullity, commonly called an annulment, is a judgement on the part of an ecclesiastical tribunal determining that a marriage was invalidly attempted.[286] Marriages among unbaptised individuals, however, may be dissolved under certain situations, such as a desire to marry a Catholic, under Pauline or Petrine privilege.[287][288]

An attempt at remarriage following divorce without a declaration of nullity places "the remarried spouse [...] in a situation of public and permanent adultery". An innocent spouse who lives in continence following divorce, or couples who live in continence following a civil divorce for a grave cause, do not sin.[289] In some predominantly Catholic countries it is only in recent years that divorce was introduced (i.e. Italy (1970), Portugal (1975), Brazil (1977), Spain (1981), Ireland (1996), Chile (2004) and Malta (2011) – see Divorce law by country), while the Philippines and the Vatican City have no procedure for divorce (the Philippines does, however, allow divorce for Muslims).


Further information: Catholic view on 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[290] (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".[291]

Many Western Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's teaching on contraception.[292] 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.[293] 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,[294] 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.[295]

As Catholic health providers are among the largest providers of services to patients with HIV/AIDS worldwide, there is significant controversy within and outside the church regarding the use of condoms as a means of limiting new infections, as condom use ordinarily constitutes prohibited contraceptive use. See Catholic Church and HIV/AIDS.


The Catholic Church also teaches that homosexual acts are "contrary to the natural law", and thus sinful, but that persons experiencing homosexual tendencies must be accorded respect and dignity.[296] 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.[297]

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?[298]

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,[299] which includes opposition to same-sex marriage.[300] Certain dissenting Catholic groups oppose the position of the Catholic Church and seek to change it.[301][302][303][304]

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 Catholic 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, formal procedures have been established to help prevent abuse, encourage the reporting of any abuse that occurs and to handle such reports promptly, although groups representing victims have disputed their effectiveness.[305]

See also

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