Roman Catholic Church

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The Roman Catholic Church or Catholic Church (see terminology below) is the Christian Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, currently Pope Benedict XVI. It traces its origins to the original Christian community founded by Jesus Christ and led by the Twelve Apostles, in particular Saint Peter.

The Catholic Church is the largest Christian Church and the largest organized body of any world religion.[1] According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Church's worldwide recorded membership at the end of 2004 was 1,098,366,000 or approximately 1 in 6 of the world's population.[2]

The Catholic Church is a worldwide organization made up of one Western or Latin-Rite and 22 Eastern Rite particular Churches, all of which have the Holy See of Rome as their highest authority on earth. It is divided into jurisdictional areas, usually on a territorial basis. The standard territorial unit is called a diocese in the Latin Rite and an eparchy in the Eastern Rites, each of which is headed by a bishop. At the end of 2005, the total number of all these jurisdictional areas or Sees was 2,770.[3]




The Church described in this article has, throughout its history, used many names to describe itself.[4] It has not declared any of these names to be the name by which it should be known. However, in view of the sensibilities of other Christians, it refers to itself in its relations with them as either "the Catholic Church"[5] or, less preferably, "the Roman Catholic Church".[6]

Divergent usages attach a certain ambiguity to each of the terms Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Church. Some, especially Eastern Rite Catholics,[7] apply the term Roman Catholic Church only to the Western or Latin Church,[8] excluding the Eastern Catholic Churches.[9] As for the term Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Old-Catholic, and other Christians claim to be, or to be part of, the Catholic Church. For their understandings of the term, see Catholicism, Catholic, and One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

English Protestant theologians of the end of the sixteenth century, who saw themselves too as Catholics, were the first to use the term "Roman Catholic" to refer to those who were faithful to the Bishop of Rome, but the latter also sometimes employed it as early as the seventeenth century, not only in English but also in Latin and French,[10] to profess their faith in the importance of communion with the See of Rome. In Portuguese and Spanish, the term "Roman Catholic Apostolic" is very common.[11] Nonetheless, the Church usually avoids the term "Roman Catholic", because of its use by some to posit a distinction between "the Roman Catholic Church" and another supposedly larger body called "the Catholic Church".[12] When in dialogue with other Christians, the Church uses either "Catholic Church" or, if this term is not acceptable to the partner in dialogue, "Roman Catholic Church".[13] Except in such dialogue, the Church most commonly refers to itself as "the Church", and uses "the Catholic Church" far less commonly, and "the Roman Catholic Church" extremely rarely. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an example: in it, "the Church" appears many hundreds of times, compared to 24 uses of "the Catholic Church" (including the title of the book) and no use of the term "the Roman Catholic Church".

The name "Catholic Church" for this Church is formally accepted by some other Christian Churches, as shown in the joint documents referenced above, but most of these groups use "Roman Catholic Church" instead. In informal use, however, members even of the latter groups commonly understand "Catholic Church" as referring to it. As far back as 397, Saint Augustine of Hippo remarked that the term was generally thus understood even by those whom he qualified as heretics:

… the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.[14]

For simplicity and clarity, the simpler term "Catholic Church" is freely used within this article without suggesting acceptance of any claims implicit in that term, while "Roman Catholic Church" is used without endorsing the view that the Church in question is merely part of some larger "Catholic Church"; both terms are used here as alternative names for the entire Church "which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."[15]


Origins and history

Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch appointed by St. Peter.
Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch appointed by St. Peter.

The Church traces its institution to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, and sees the bishops of the Church as the successors of the Apostles in general, and the Pope as the successor of Saint Peter, leader of the Apostles, in particular.[16] The first known use of the term "Catholic Church" was in a letter by Ignatius of Antioch in 107, who wrote: "Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."[17]

Additionally, Catholic writers list a number of quotes from early Church Fathers suggesting the See of Rome had jurisdictional authority or primacy over other churches,[18] while Orthodox writers dispute this claim which was one of the main issues behind the East-West Schism, historically considering the Pope first among equals.[19]

Central to the doctrines of the Catholic Church is Apostolic Succession, the belief that the bishops are the spiritual successors of the original twelve apostles, through the historically unbroken chain of consecration (see: Holy Orders). The New Testament contains warnings against teachings considered to be only masquerading as Christianity,[20] and shows how reference was made to the leaders of the Church to decide what was true doctrine.[21] The Catholic Church teaches that it is the continuation of those who remained faithful to the apostolic and episcopal leadership and rejected false teachings.



After an initial period of sporadic but intense persecution, Christianity was legalized in the fourth century, when Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan in 313. Constantine was instrumental in the convocation of the First Council of Nicea in 325, which sought to address the Arian heresy and formulated the Nicene Creed which is used by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and various Protestant churches. On 27 February 380, Emperor Theodosius I enacted a law establishing Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire and ordering others to be called heretics.[22]

Illuminated page from the famous Book of Kells, 800.
Illuminated page from the famous Book of Kells, 800.

Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the Church underwent a time of missionary activity and expansion. During the Middle Ages Catholicism eventually spread among the Germanic peoples (initially in competition with Arianism); the Vikings; the Poles, Croats, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns and Estonians. The success of monasticism gave rise to various centers of learning, most famously in Ireland and Gaul, and contributed to the Carolingian Renaissance. Later in the medieval period, cathedral schools developed into Universities (see University of Paris, University of Oxford, and University of Bologna), the direct ancestors of modern Western institutions of learning.


Great Schism

During the 11th century, through a gradual process over a number of centuries, the Church underwent the Great Schism in which the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church divided over a number of administrative, liturgical, and doctrinal issues, most notably the Filioque clause and papal primacy of jurisdiction. The schism is conventionally dated to 1054, when the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope issued mutual excommunications that have since been revoked. Both the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Basel (1439) attempted to reunite the Churches, but in both cases the Orthodox rejected the councils. The Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy remain in schism to the present day, although excommunications were lifted mutually between Rome and Constantinople in 1965, and efforts to end the schism continue. Some Eastern Churches have since reunited with the Catholic Church, acknowledging papal primacy, and others claim never to have been out of communion with the Pope. (See Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.)



Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, where he preached the First Crusade.
Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, where he preached the First Crusade.

Beginning in 1092 the Crusades, a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, sanctioned by the Papacy, began under the pontificate of Urban II in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion. This and the subsequent crusades ultimately failed to stifle Turkish aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the sacking and occupation of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.



Beginning around 1184, and continuing through the Protestant Reformation, a number of historical movements involving the Catholic Church, broadly referred to as the Inquisition, were aimed at securing religious and doctrinal unity within Christianity through conversion, and sometimes persecution, of alleged heretics. A conviction of heresy, seen as treason against Christendom, could involve penalties ranging from a fine to a sentence of capital punishment such as burning at the stake administered by the state. For an example of the rarity of this sentence, from 1540 to 1700 of all the cases brought before the Spanish Inquisition only 2-3% per year resulted in execution, lower than virtually any secular court of the time.[23] Historians distinguish between the Medieval Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition, and Portuguese Inquisition as distinct historical events. The extent of the Inquisition's activity, and particularly the exact number of deaths, has been the subject of much subsequent propaganda. (See Black Legend.)

Pope John XXIII, opening the Second Vatican Council in 1962, elevates  in order to display the consecrated Host to those assisting at Pontifical High Mass.
Pope John XXIII, opening the Second Vatican Council in 1962, elevates [24] in order to display[25] the consecrated Host to those assisting at Pontifical High Mass.

The second great rift in the history of Christianity began with the Protestant Reformation, beginning in Germany in the 16th century. During this period various groups, often supported by local rulers, repudiated the primacy of the pope, clerical celibacy, the seven sacraments and various other Catholic doctrines and practices, as well as abuses (such as simony) that were common at the time. Reformers within the Catholic Church launched the Counter Reformation or Catholic Reformation, a period of doctrinal clarification, reform of the clergy and the liturgy, and re-evangelization begun by the Council of Trent.

The Council of Trent and its reforms provided the central theme for the next 300 years of Catholic history. The period emphasized catechesis and missionary work, in which the Jesuit and Franciscan orders were prominent. Catholicism spread worldwide, at pace with European colonialism: to the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania.



The 18th and 19th century Church found itself facing not only the teachings of Protestantism, but also Enlightenment and Modernist teachings about the nature of the human person, the state, and morality. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the increased concern about the conditions of urban workers, 19th and 20th century popes issued encyclicals (notably Rerum Novarum) explicating Catholic Social Teaching.

The First Vatican Council (1869–1870) affirmed the doctrine of papal infallibility which Catholics hold to be in continuity with the history of Petrine supremacy in the Church.

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) was convened by Pope John XXIII, primarily as a pastoral but authoritative council,[26] to make the historic teachings of the Catholic Church clear to the modern world. It issued documents on a number of topics, including the nature of the Church, the mission of the laity, and religious freedom. It also issued directions for a revision of the liturgy, including permission for the Latin liturgical rites to use vernacular languages as well as Latin in the Mass and the other sacraments.[27]


Sexual abuse scandals

In 2002 a major scandal erupted in the United States when a wealth of allegations, with supporting evidence, were made of priests sexually abusing children over the course of several decades. Adding to the furor were revelations that the Church was aware of some of the abusive priests, and had originally dealt with them by denying knowledge of their crimes and shuffling them from congregation to congregation instead of taking action. The scandal led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law from the Boston archdiocese. The blow to the Church's public image was devastating — In one survey following the scandal 64% of respondents agreed that most Catholic priests "frequently abused children" (data indicates that only 1.5-1.8% of Catholic priests have actually been accused of child sexual abuse.[28]).

The Catholic News Service reported:

About 4 percent of U.S. priests ministering from 1950 to 2002 were accused of sex abuse with a minor, according to the first comprehensive national study of the issue. The study said that 4,392 clergymen—almost all priests—were accused of abusing 10,667 people, with 75 percent of the incidents taking place between 1960 and 1984. During the same time frame there were 109,694 priests, it said. Sex-abuse related costs totaled $573 million, with $219 million covered by insurance companies, said the study done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The study listed the main characteristics of the sex abuse incidents reported. These included: -- An overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males. The most vulnerable were boys aged 11 to 14, representing more than 40 percent of the victims. This goes against the trend in the general U.S. society where the main problem is men abusing girls.[29]

In Ireland, a number of high-profile cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and brothers, such as that of Andrew Madden, have contributed to a significant decline in influence of the Church in recent years.

Since 2001, the adjudication of charges of sexual abuse by clergy is no longer within the competence of the local bishop, but is reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, in accord with Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela and its accompanying norms (both documents in Latin). Under the Church's 1983 Code of Canon Law clerical sexual abuse against a minor can be punished with dismissal from the clerical state ("laicization").[30]



The Crucifix, a cross with corpus, a symbol used in Catholicism in contrast with some other Christian communions, which use only a cross.
The Crucifix, a cross with corpus, a symbol used in Catholicism in contrast with some other Christian communions, which use only a cross.

The Church's catechesis makes use of the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed, convenient summaries of the main points of Catholic belief. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a "systematic presentation of the faith" and a "complete exposition of Catholic doctrine".[31] The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 2005 and in English in 2006, is a more concise version of the Catechism, in question and answer form.

In addition to all of the main points of orthodox trinitarian Christianity, Catholics place particular importance on the Church as an institution founded by Jesus and kept from doctrinal error by the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and as the font of salvation for humanity. The seven sacraments, of which the most important is the Eucharist, are of prime importance in obtaining salvation.


Scripture and Tradition

The principal sources for the teachings of the Catholic Church are the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible), Sacred Tradition, and Living Magisterium. In his 1943 encyclical letter, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Pope Pius XII encouraged Biblical scholars to study diligently the original languages of the books of the Bible (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic for the Old Testament; Greek for the New Testament) and other cognate languages, so as to arrive at a deeper and fuller knowledge of the meaning of these texts, stating that "the original text ... having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern."[32] The canonical list of sacred books, and their contents, accepted by the Catholic Church are those as contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition.[33]

There is a variety of sources for knowledge of Sacred Tradition, taught by the Church to be originally passed from the apostles in the form of oral tradition. Many of the writings of the early Church Fathers reflect teachings of Sacred Tradition, such as apostolic succession.


Nature of God

Catholicism is monotheistic: it believes that God is one, eternal, all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), all-good (omnibenevolent), and omnipresent. God exists as distinct from and prior to his creation (that is, everything which is not God, and which depends directly on him for existence) and yet is still present intimately in his creation. In the First Vatican Council the Church taught that, while by the natural light of human reason God can be known in his works as origin and end of all created things,[34] God has also chosen to reveal himself and his will supernaturally in the ways indicated in the Letter to the Hebrews 1:1-2.

Shroud of Turin. Many people believe this to be the face of Jesus, and thus the face of God
Shroud of Turin. Many people believe this to be the face of Jesus, and thus the face of God

Catholicism is also Trinitarian: it believes that, while God is one in nature, essence, and being, this one God exists in three divine persons, each identical with the one essence, whose only distinctions are in their relations to one another: the Father's relationship to the Son, the Son's relationship to the Father, and the relations of both to the Holy Spirit, constitute the one God as a Trinity.

Catholics are baptized in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit — not three gods, but one God subsisting in three Persons. While sharing in the one divine essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, not simply three "masks" or manifestations of one Person. The faith of the Church and of the individual Christian is based on a relationship with these three Persons of the one God.

The Catholic Church believes that God has revealed himself to humanity as Father to his only-begotten Son, who is in an eternal relationship with the Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."[35]

Catholics believe that God the Son, the Divine Logos, the second of the three Persons of God, became incarnate as Jesus Christ, a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. He remained truly divine and was at the same time truly human. In what he said, and by how he lived, he taught all people how to live, and revealed God as Love, the giver of unmerited favours or Graces.

After Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, his followers, foremost among them the Apostles, spread more and more extensively their faith with a vigour that they attributed to the presence of the Holy Spirit, the third of the three Persons of God, sent upon them by Jesus.


Original Sin

Human beings, in Catholic belief, were originally created to live in union with God. Through the disobedience of the first humans, that relationship was broken and sin and death came into the world.[36] The Fall left humans in a state called original sin, that is, separated from their original state of intimacy with God which carried into death through the idea of the individual human soul being immortal. But when Jesus came into the world, being both God and man, he was able through his sacrifice to reconcile humanity with God. By becoming one in Christ, through the Church, humanity was once again capable of intimacy with God but also offered a much more amazing gift: participation in the Divine Life on Earth, which will reach its fullness in heaven in the Beatific Vision. The sacrament of Baptism is the only means for the remission of Original Sin.


The Church

Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455. By the end of the 1400s, Catholics such as Johann Gutenberg were operating 250 print shops all over Europe.
Gutenberg Bible printed in 1455. By the end of the 1400s, Catholics such as Johann Gutenberg were operating 250 print shops all over Europe.

The Church is, as scripture states, "the body of Christ,"[37] and Catholics teach that it is one united body of believers both in heaven and on earth. There is therefore only one true, visible and physical Church, not several. And to this one Church, originally founded by Jesus on Peter and the Apostles, Jesus gave a mandate to be the authoritative teacher and guardian of the faith. To transmit Christ's divine revelation, the apostles were given the mandate to "preach the Gospel," which they performed both orally and in writing, and which they preserved by leaving bishops as their successors. Thus, the Catechism states "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it." [38] The Church is also a fount of divine grace which is administered through the sacraments (see below). The Church claims infallibility in teaching the faith, based on Jesus' scriptural promises to remain with his Church always,[39] and to maintain it in truth through the Holy Spirit.[40] Furthermore, Jesus promised divine protection to the teachings and judgements of the Apostles,[41] and those who succeeded them in their teaching office (i.e. the bishops). Moreover, Jesus set up the Church as the final arbiter between all believers:[42] "And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."[43] In this, it bases its doctrines both on the written Apostolic record, The New Testament, and upon the oral traditions passed down from the Apostles to their successors (the bishops) through the continuous witness of the Church.[44]

The Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the diocese of Rome and so of the Pope.
The Basilica of St. John Lateran, cathedral of the diocese of Rome and so of the Pope.

Section 8 of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Church, Lumen Gentium states that "the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic" subsists "in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."[15] (The term successor of Peter refers in to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope; see Petrine theory).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 85 states that authentic interpretation of the Word of God is entrusted to the living Magisterium of the Church, namely the bishops in communion with the successor of Saint Peter.[45] Catholic theology places the authoritative interpretation of Scripture in the hands of the consistent judgment of the Church down the ages (what has always and everywhere been taught) rather than the private judgment of the individual. The Magisterium does, however, encourage its flock to read Sacred Scripture.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the Church's first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God." Thus the Church's "structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members."[46]



The Church teaches that salvation to eternal life is God's will for all people, and that God grants it to sinners as a free gift, a grace, through the sacrifice of Christ. "With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator." [47] It is God who justifies, that is, who frees from sin by a free gift of holiness (sanctifying grace, also known as habitual or deifying grace). We can either accept the gift God gives through faith in Jesus Christ[48] and through baptism,[49] or refuse it. Human cooperation is needed, in line with a new capacity to adhere to the divine will that God provides.[50] The faith of a Christian is not without works, otherwise it would be dead.[51] In this sense, "by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone,"[52] and eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits.[53] Faith, and subsequently works, are a result of God's grace - thus, it is only because of grace that the believer can be said to "merit" salvation.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that through the graces Jesus won for humanity by sacrificing himself on the cross, salvation is possible even for those outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Christians and even non-Christians, if in life they respond positively to the grace and truth that God reveals to them through the mercy of Christ, may be saved (an attitude often referred to, in the case of non-Christians, as "baptism of desire"). This may sometimes include awareness of an obligation to become part of the Catholic Church. In such cases, "whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved."[54]


Catholic life

Catholics are obliged to endeavour to be true disciples of Jesus. They seek forgiveness of their sins and follow the example and teaching of Jesus. They believe that Jesus has provided seven sacraments which give Grace from God to the believer.

Unless a Catholic dies in unrepented mortal sin, which is remitted in the Sacrament of Penance, it is believed that person has God's promise of inheriting eternal life. Before entering heaven, some undergo a purification, known as Purgatory.

Armenian-Rite concelebrated Divine Liturgy, "the eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life."
Armenian-Rite concelebrated Divine Liturgy, "the eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life."[55]

Catholics believe that God works actively in the world. Catholics grow in grace through participation in the sacramental life of the Church, and through prayer, the work of mercy, and spiritual disciplines such as fasting and pilgrimage. The Catholic laity also grow in grace when they fulfill their secular duties and try to imbue society with Christian values by being a model of Christ and his teachings.

Prayer for others, even for enemies and persecutors is a Christian duty.[56] Catholics say there are four types of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication. Catholics may address their requests for the intercession of others not only to people still in earthly life, but also to those in heaven, in particular the Virgin Mary and the other Saints. As Mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary is also considered to be the spiritual mother of all Catholics.


Social teaching

Catholic teachings stress forgiveness, doing good for others, especially those most in need, and the sanctity of life. Catholics were pacifists in the earliest days of the Church, as witnessed by the fact that Christians were forbidden to join the Roman Army. This was part of the cause of their political persecution in the empire.[57] Today, however, only some Catholics hold that position, with various analyses of the "just war" theory more widely held. It should be noted that the purpose of the Catholic "just war" criteria is to prevent and limit war rather than to justify it.[58]

Capital punishment, though it has not been absolutely condemned by the Church, has come under increasing criticism by theologians and Church leaders. Pope John Paul II, for instance, opposed capital punishment in all instances as being immoral, because there are other options for punishment and deterrence in the modern world. He, along with most other modern Catholic theologians, held that if capital punishment was ever moral—a position some dispute—it would only be justifiable when there was no other option for the protection of the lives of others. After four years of consultations with the world's Catholic bishops, John Paul II wrote that execution is only appropriate "in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."[59] This position is also held today by Avery Cardinal Dulles, Msgr. William Smith, Germain Grisez and other Catholic moral theologians.


Human life and sexuality

Further information: Roman catholic views on abortion and Roman Catholic views on contraception
Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Pope John Paul II taught that, "by means of his corporality, his masculinity and femininity, (man) becomes a visible sign of the economy of truth and love, which has its source in God himself."
Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Pope John Paul II taught that, "by means of his corporality, his masculinity and femininity, (man) becomes a visible sign of the economy of truth and love, which has its source in God himself."[60]

The Catholic Church affirms the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death. The Church believes that each person is made in the "image and likeness of God," and that human life should not be weighed against other values such as economy, convenience, personal preferences, or social engineering. Therefore, the Church opposes activities that it believes destroy or devalue divinely created life, including euthanasia, eugenics and abortion.

A distinction has been made since ancient times between the direct killing of innocent human life, and the direct killing of guilty human life, viz. capital punishment. This distinction is based upon the permission reported to have been given by God that a human being may be killed only when necessary, as reported in the Old Testament Book of Exodus. Hence, the Fifth Commandment is interpreted to actually mean, transliterally, "Thou Shalt Not Murder," not, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," in harmony with the original Hebrew rendering.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2267, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender "today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent" (John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56).

The Church teaches that Manichaeism, the belief that the spirit is good while the flesh is evil, is a heresy. Therefore, the Church does not teach that sex is sinful or an impairment to a grace-filled life. As God created the human body in his own image and likeness, and because he found everything he created to be "very good,"[61] then the human body and sex must likewise be good. The Catechism teaches that "the flesh is the hinge of salvation."[62]

However the Church does teach that sexuality outside of marriage is a capital sin because it violates the purpose of human sexuality to participate in the "conjugal act" before one is actually married. The conjugal act "aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul" (Catechism 1643) since the marriage bond is to be a sign of the love between God and humanity (Catecism 1617).

Pope John Paul II's first major teaching was on the Theology of the Body. Over the course of five years he elucidated a vision of sex that was not only positive and affirming but was about redemption, not condemnation. He taught that by understanding God's plan for physical love we could understand "the meaning of the whole of existence, the meaning of life."[63] "The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus to be a sign of it."[60]



The Catholic Church is fundamentally liturgical in its public life of worship. Liturgy is derived from the Greek for "work of the people." The Second Vatican Council stated "for the liturgy, 'through which the work of our redemption is accomplished,' most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church."[64]



See also: Minister (Catholic Church)
Mass celebrated at the Grotto at Lourdes. The chalice is displayed immediately after the transubstantiation of the wine into the Blood of Christ.
Mass celebrated at the Grotto at Lourdes. The chalice is displayed immediately after the transubstantiation of the wine into the Blood of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131 teaches: "The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."

The seven sacraments are:


Devotional life of the Church

In addition to the sacraments, instituted by Jesus, there are many sacramentals, sacred signs (rituals or objects) that derive their power from the prayer of the Church. They involve prayer accompanied by the sign of the cross or other signs. Important examples are blessings (by which praise is given to God and his gifts are prayed for), consecrations of persons, and dedications of objects to the worship of God. Popular devotions are not strictly part of the liturgy, but if they are judged to be authentic, the Church encourages them. They include veneration of relics of saints, visits to sacred shrines, pilgrimages, processions (including Eucharistic processions), the Stations of the Cross (also known as the Way of the Cross), Holy Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Rosary.


Personal prayer

Likewise, the great variety of Catholic spirituality enables individual Catholics to pray privately in many different ways. The fourth and last part of the Catechism thus summarized the Catholic's response to the mystery of faith: "This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer."[66]


Particular Churches within the single Catholic Church

St. Ephrem the Syrian, venerated by the Maronites, who have always been in communion with Rome.
St. Ephrem the Syrian, venerated by the Maronites, who have always been in communion with Rome.

Unlike "families" or "federations" of Churches formed through the grant of mutual recognition by distinct ecclesial bodies, the Catholic Church considers itself a single Church ("one Body") composed of a multitude of local or particular Churches, each of which embodies the fullness of the one Catholic Church. The universal Church, however, is believed to be "a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church."[67]

However, the Catholic Church attaches great importance to the particular Churches within it, whose theological significance the Second Vatican Council highlighted. Two uses of the term particular Church are distinguished.

  • Autonomous (sui iuris) particular Churches or Rites. See: Eastern Rite Catholic Churches
  • Particular or local Churches (Dioceses and National Conferences of Bishops). See: Particular church

Relations with other Christians

While the Catholic Church sees itself as the Church founded by Jesus, it recognizes that many of the salvific elements of the Gospel are found in other Churches and ecclesial communities also. The Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium says that "the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic... subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure.[68] Likewise, the document affirms the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus.[69]

The Catholic Church has, since the Second Vatican Council, reached out to Christian bodies, seeking reconciliation to the greatest degree possible. Significant agreements have been achieved on Baptism, ministry, and the Eucharist with Anglican theologians. With Lutheran bodies a similar agreement has been reached on the theology of justification. These landmark documents have brought closer fraternal ties with those ecclesial communities. However, recent developments, such as the ordination of women and accepting of couples living in homosexual relationships, present new obstacles to reconciliation with, in particular, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed Churches.

Consequently, in recent years the Catholic Church has focused its efforts at reconciliation with the Orthodox Churches of the East, with which the theological differences are not as great. Relations with the Russian Orthodox Churches were strained in the 1990s over property issues in countries that were formerly Soviet-dominated, and these differences are not solved (most notably the parishes belonging to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church), however fraternal relations with other Eastern churches continue to progress.


Hierarchical constitution of the Church

The Church is a hierarchical organization headed by the Pope, with ordained clergy divided into the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons.



The Bishops, who possess the fullness of Christian priesthood, are as a body (the College of Bishops) the successors of the Apostles [70] and are "constituted Pastors in the Church, to be the teachers of doctrine, the priests of sacred worship and the ministers of governance."[71]

The pope, cardinals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops and metropolitans are all bishops and members of the Catholic episcopate or college of bishops.


The Pope

The current Pope is Benedict XVI (born Joseph Alois Ratzinger). His first encyclical is Deus Caritas Est, God is love.
The current Pope is Benedict XVI (born Joseph Alois Ratzinger). His first encyclical is Deus Caritas Est, God is love.

What most obviously distinguishes the Catholic Church from other Christian bodies is the link between its members and the Pope. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 882, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium, states: "The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’"[72]

The Pope is referred to as the Vicar of Christ and the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. He may sometimes also use the less formal title of "Servant of the Servants of God". Applying to him the term "absolute" would, however, give a false impression: he is not free to issue decrees at whim. Instead, his charge forces on him awareness that he, even more than other bishops, is "tied", bound, by an obligation of strictest fidelity to the teaching transmitted down the centuries in increasingly developed form within the Catholic Church.

In certain limited and extraordinary circumstances, this papal primacy, which is referred to also as the Pope's Petrine authority or function, involves papal infallibility, i.e. the definitive character of the teaching on matters of faith and morals that he propounds solemnly as visible head of the Church. In any normal circumstances, exercise of this authority will involve previous consultation of all Catholic bishops (usually taking place in holy synods or an ecumenical council).


College of cardinals

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, pictured with Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State, when he was Cardinal Secretary of State.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, pictured with Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State, when he was Cardinal Secretary of State.

Cardinals are appointed by the Pope, generally choosing bishops who head departments of the Roman Curia or important Episcopal Sees, Latin or Eastern, throughout the world. The cardinals make up the College of Cardinals which advises the pope, and those cardinals under the age of 80 elect a new pope during a papal vacancy.

The cardinalate is not an integral part of the theological structure of the Catholic Church, but largely an honorific distinction that has its origins in the 1059 assignation of the right of electing the Pope exclusively to the principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of the seven "suburbicarian" Sees. Because of their resulting importance, the term "cardinal" (from Latin "cardo", meaning "hinge") was applied to them. In the twelfth century the practice of appointing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as cardinals began. Each cardinal is still assigned a church in Rome as his "titular church" or is linked with one of the suburbicarian dioceses.


Presbyterate (Priesthood)

St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of diocesan priests renowned for his  acts of penance and his ministry as a confessor.
St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of diocesan priests renowned for his acts of penance and his ministry as a confessor.

Bishops are assisted by priests and deacons. Parishes, whether territorial or person-based, within a diocese are normally in the charge of a priest, known as the parish priest or the pastor.

Priests may perform many functions not directly connected with ordinary pastoral activity, such as study, research, teaching or office work. They may also be rectors or chaplains. Other titles or functions held by priests include those of Archimandrite, Canon Secular or Regular, Chancellor, Chorbishop, Confessor, Dean of a Cathedral Chapter, Hieromonk, Prebendary, Precentor, etc.

In the Latin Rite, only celibate men, as a rule, are ordained as priests, while the Eastern Rites, again as a rule, also ordain married men. Among the Eastern particular Churches, the Ethiopic Catholic Church ordains only celibate clergy, while also having married priests who were ordained in the Orthodox Church. Other Eastern Catholic Churches, which do ordain married men, do not have married priests in certain countries, such as the United States of America. The Western or Latin Rite does sometimes, but very rarely, ordain married men, usually Protestant clergy who have become Catholics. All Rites of the Catholic Church maintain the ancient tradition that, after ordination, marriage is not allowed. Even a married priest whose wife dies may not then marry again.



Since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Church again admits married men of mature age to ordination as Permanent deacons. "Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came 'to serve and not to be served.' The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church. As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshalling the Church's resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs."[73]

Candidates for the Diaconate go through a Diaconate Formation program that is designed based on the contemporaneous needs of their Diocese but must meet minimum standards set by the Bishops Conference in their home country. Upon completion of their formation program and acceptance by their local Bishop, Candidates receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders through Ordination. Generally, following Ordination, a Deacon is assigned by his Bishop to a local Parish in which he will perform his ministry and serve the local church and community.



Saint Monica with son, St. Augustine. She converted both her husband and son through her virtuous life.
Saint Monica with son, St. Augustine. She converted both her husband and son through her virtuous life.

All baptized members of the Catholic Church are called faithful, truly equal in dignity and in the work to build the Church. All are called to share in Christ's priestly, prophetic, and royal office.[74] While a certain percentage of the faithful perform roles related to serving the ministerial priesthood (hierarchy) and giving eschatological witness (consecrated life), the great majority of the faithful perform a specific role of exercising the three offices of Christ by "engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's illuminate and order all temporal things."[75] These are the laity, whom John Paul II urged in Christifideles laici "to take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church," for they not only belong to the Church, but "are the Church." (Italics in the original)

Equipped with the common priesthood in baptism, these ordinary Catholics — e.g., mothers, farmers, businessmen, writers, politicians — are to take initiative in "discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life."[76] They exercise the common, baptism-based priestly office by offering their prayer and works as spiritual sacrifices,[77] the prophetic office by their word and testimony of life in the ordinary circumstances of the world,[78] and the kingly office by self-mastery and conforming worldly institutions to the norms of justice.[79]

This theology of the laity, called a "characteristic mark" of Vatican II by Paul VI and John Paul II, was complemented, and in some cases influenced, by the rise of many lay ecclesial movements and structures in the 20th century: examples are Focolare, Neocatechumenal Way, Communion and Liberation, and the personal prelature of Opus Dei. The Directory of International Associations of the Faithful, published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, lists the names and characteristics of lay movements that have received official recognition.


Consecrated life

Within the Catholic Church, the Consecrated Life refers to the following: the Religious Life, eremitical life, consecrated virginity, societies of consecrated life and secular institutes. All of these are ways of Christian living by those who have made a public commitment and (if religious) took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The vows are regulated Church Law, both proper to the institute and universal (canon law).[80] Those who have made their profession and vow are not, however, part of the Church hierarchy, unless they are also ordained priests. They commit themselves, for the love of God, to observe as binding certain counsels from the Christian Gospel. Most who feel called to following Christ in a more exacting way join what are called Religious Institutes,[81] often referred to in everyday life as religious orders or religious congregations, in which they follow a common rule under the leadership of a superior. They usually live in community, although some may for a shorter or longer time live the Religious Life as Hermits without ceasing to be a member of the Religious Institute.

Canons 603 and 604 give official recognition also to consecrated hermits and consecrated virgins who are not members of religious institutes (see below).


Catholic Church in society


Membership of the Catholic Church

According to canon law, one becomes a member of the Catholic Church by being baptized in the Church or by being received into the Church (by making a profession of faith, if already baptized).[82] Someone who renounces membership may later be received back into the Catholic Church, after making a profession of faith or, when the person has not defected by a formal act, going to confession.[83]


Worldwide distribution

For the Roman Catholic Church regionally and by country , see Roman Catholicism by country, Category:Roman Catholic Church by country, and Category:Roman Catholic Church by region.
Catholic membership as a percentage of each country's population.
Catholic membership as a percentage of each country's population.

The number of Catholics in the world is around 1.1 billion and continues to increase, particularly in Africa and Asia. The increase between 1978 and 2000 was 288 million. In most industrialized countries, church attendance has decreased since the 19th century, though it remains higher than that of other "mainline" Churches. In Europe, Romance-speaking countries are historically Catholic, northern Germanic-speaking countries Protestant, and Slavic countries split between Orthodox and Catholic, although there are exceptions. Catholicism's presence in the rest of the world is due to the work of missionaries mainly from Spain, Portugal, and France, as well as immigrants from these countries and other Catholic parts of Europe such as the Irish, who planted Catholicism throughout the English-speaking world. In Latin America, where it once had a virtual monopoly, Catholicism has suffered increasing competition from Protestantism, particularly in parts of Central America and the Caribbean. In Africa, it is most dominant in the central part of the continent, while in Asia, there are only two majority-Catholic countries: the Philippines and East Timor (due to Spanish and Portuguese missionaries).

See Membership on the conditions required for being considered in canon law a member of the Catholic Church.

In countries where a question on religion is included in the census, the number given in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church (see, above, Introduction) is that of the census returns.


Perspectives on the Catholic Church

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has encountered criticisms for numerous reasons. (Some particular controversies are discussed in separate articles. See, for instance, on the charge of anti-Semitism, Relations between Catholicism and Judaism.) Pope John Paul II acknowledged publicly that certain members (including leadership) of the Catholic Church have sometimes been involved in questionable activities, and asked God to forgive the sins of its members, both in action and omission. See also: Criticism of the Catholic Church.

And at the same time, it has been seen by many people of different religions as a great force for good, as an "expert in humanity" and even as a model of management being seen by them as the oldest and biggest existing institution in the world. John Paul II was hailed upon his death as an outstanding world leader esteemed as having helped the world progress towards moral regeneration.

The number of criticisms and persecutions it has received through the centuries and his reading of sacred scripture inspired John Paul II to suggest that the term sign of contradiction is a "distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church."


Role of the Church in civilization


Church doctrine and science

Historians of science, including non-Catholics such as J.L. Heilbron,[84] Alistair Cameron Crombie, David C Lindberg,[85] Edward Grant, Thomas Goldstein,[86] and Ted Davis, have argued that the Church had a significant, positive influence on the development of civilization. They hold that, not only did monks save and cultivate the remnants of ancient civilization during the barbarian invasions, but that the Church promoted learning and science through its sponsorship of many universities which, under its leadership, grew rapidly in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Church's "model theologian," not only argued that reason is in harmony with faith, he even recognized that reason can contribute to understanding revelation, and so encouraged intellectual development. [87] The Church's priest-scientists, many of whom were Jesuits, were the leading lights in astronomy, genetics, geomagnetism, meteorology, seismology, and solar physics, becoming the "fathers" of these sciences. It is important to remark names of important churchmen such as the Augustinian abbot Gregor Mendel (pioneer in the study of genetics) and Belgian priest Georges Lemaître (the first to propose the Big Bang theory).

A map of medieval universities shows the universities established by the Catholic Church in Europe.
A map of medieval universities shows the universities established by the Catholic Church in Europe.

This position is a reverse of the view, held by some enlightenment philosophers, that the Church's doctrines were superstitious and hindered the progress of civilization.

In the most famous example cited by these critics, Galileo Galilei, in 1633, was denounced for his insistence on teaching a heliocentric universe, previously proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus, a Catholic priest. After numerous years of investigations, consultations with the Popes, promises kept and then broken by Galileo, and finally a trial by the Tribunal of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, Galileo was found "suspect of heresy" - not heresy, as is frequently misreported. Even though modern science confirms that two of the four scientific theses steadfastedly advanced by Galileo were in fact wrong, viz. the position that the Sun is the center of the Universe, and that the Earth circles the Sun in a perfectly round orbit, Pope John Paul II publicly expressed regret for the actions of those Catholics who badly treated Galileo in that trial on 31 October 1992.[88] An abstract of the acts of the process against Galileo is available at the Vatican Secret Archives, which reproduces part of it on its website. Cardinal John Henry Newman, in the nineteenth century, stated that those who attack the Church can only point to the Galileo case, which to many historians does not prove the Church's opposition to science since many of the churchmen at that time were encouraged by the Church to continue their research.[89]

Recently, the Church has been criticized for its teaching that embryonic stem cell research is a form of experimentation on human beings, and results in the killing of a human person, on the grounds that this doctrine hinders scientific research. The Church argues that advances in medicine can come without the destruction of humans (in an embryonic state of life); for example, in the use of adult or umbilical stem cells in place of embryonic stem cells.


Church, art, and literature

Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, according to some authors, is an illustration of Christian joy.
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, according to some authors, is an illustration of Christian joy.

Several historians credit the Catholic Church for the brilliance and magnificence of Western art. They refer to the Church's fight against iconoclasm, a movement against visual representations of the divine, its insistence on building structures befitting worship, Augustine's repeated reference to Wisdom 11:20 (God "ordered all things by measure and number and weight") which led to the geometric constructions of Gothic architecture, the scholastics' coherent intellectual systems called the Summa Theologiae which influenced the intellectually consistent writings of Dante, its creation and sacramental theology which has developed a Catholic imagination influencing writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien[90], C.S. Lewis, and William Shakespeare,[91] and lastly, the patronage of the Renaissance popes for the great works of Catholic artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Borromini and Leonardo da Vinci.


Church and economic development

Francisco de Vitoria, a disciple of Thomas Aquinas and a Catholic thinker who studied the issue regarding the human rights of colonized natives, is recognized by the United Nations as a father of international law, and now also by historians of economics and democracy as a leading light for the West's democracy and rapid economic development.[92]

Joseph Schumpeter, an economist of the twentieth century, referring to the scholastics, wrote, "it is they who come nearer than does any other group to having been the ‘founders’ of scientific economics."[93] Other economists and historians, such as Raymond de Roover, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Alejandro Chafuen, have also made similar statements. Historian Paul Legutko of Stanford University said the Catholic Church is "at the center of the development of the values, ideas, science, laws, and institutions which constitute what we call Western civilization."[94]


Social justice, care-giving, and the hospital system

Historian of hospitals, Guenter Risse, says that the Church spearheaded the development of a hospital system geared towards the marginalized.
Historian of hospitals, Guenter Risse, says that the Church spearheaded the development of a hospital system geared towards the marginalized.

The Catholic Church has contributed to society through its social doctrine which has guided leaders to promote social justice and by setting up the hospital system in Medieval Europe, a system which was different from the merely reciprocal hospitality of the Greeks and family-based obligations of the Romans. These hospitals were established to cater to "particular social groups marginalized by poverty, sickness, and age," according to historian of hospitals, Guenter Risse.[95]

James Joseph Walsh wrote the following about the Catholic Church's contribution to the hospital system:

During the thirteenth century an immense number of [these] hospitals were built. The Italian cities were the leaders of the movement. Milan had no less than a dozen hospitals and Florence before the end of the Fourteenth century had some thirty hospitals. Some of these were very beautiful buildings. At Milan a portion of the general hospital was designed by Bramante and another part of it by Michelangelo. The Hospital of the innocents in Florence for foundlings was an architectural gem. The Hospital of Sienna, built in honor of St. Catherine, has been famous ever since. Everywhere throughout Europe this hospital movement spread. Virchow, the great German pathologist, in an article on hospitals, showed that every city of Germany of five thousand inhabitants had its hospital. He traced all of this hospital movement to Pope Innocent III, and though he was least papistically inclined, Virchow did not hesitate to give extremely high praise to this pontiff for all that he had accomplished for the benefit of children and suffering mankind.[96]

The beauty and efficiency of the Italian hospitals inspired even some who were otherwise critical of the Church. The German historian Ludwig von Pastor recounts the words of Martin Luther who, while journeying to Rome in the winter of 1510-1511, had occasion to visit some of these hospitals:

In Italy, he remarks, the hospitals are handsomely built, and admirably provided with excellent food and drink, careful attendants and learned physicians. The beds and bedding are clean, and the walls are covered with paintings. When a patient is brought in, his clothes are removed in the presence of a notary who makes a faithful inventory of them, and they are kept safely. A white smock is put on him and he is laid on a comfortable bed, with clean linen. Presently two doctors come to him, and the servants bring him food and drink in clean glasses, showing him all possible attention.[97]

The Catholic Church as opus proprium, says Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, has conducted throughout the centuries from its very beginning and continues to conduct many charitable services — hospitals, schools, poverty alleviation programs, among others.


Combatting Modernism

Throughout the centuries, the Church has responded to people or groups attempting to change core beliefs. Some of these opponents were declared heretical. In recent decades, modernism has sharply confronted the Church. The popular book and movie The Da Vinci Code is an example of such a challenge. It re-presents the ancient Gnostic point of view. While its message confronts all Christian churches, it specifically mentions the Roman Catholic Church.

Many of the challengers focus on a few issues, such as sex and gender themes. Joseph Ratzinger, a cardinal and theologian, responded to these in several statements prior to his election as pope: the Church is ecclesia sua, "his [God's] Church", and not the laboratory of theologians.[98]

Assumption of Mary. Criticized for reserving the priesthood to men, the Church states, "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."
Assumption of Mary. Criticized for reserving the priesthood to men, the Church states, "the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."[99]

Ordination reserved to men

The Catholic Church and the other ancient Christian Churches see priestly ordination as a sacrament effecting an ontological change, not as the deputizing of someone to perform a function or as the admission of someone to a profession such as that of medicine or law. They see as not unconnected with this their belief that priestly ordination can be conferred only on males. In the face of continued questioning, Pope John Paul II felt obliged to confirm the existing teaching that the Church is not empowered to change this practice: "In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) 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."[100] The Catholic Church thus holds this teaching as irrevocable and as having the character of infallibility, not in virtue of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis itself, from which this quotation is taken and which states this only implicitly, but because the teaching "has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium."


Clerical celibacy

In the Latin Church only celibate men, as a rule, are ordained as priests, while the Eastern Catholic Churches also ordain married men. Both East and West maintain the tradition of holding it impossible for a priest to marry after ordination. Even a married priest whose wife dies may not then marry another wife.

It is sometimes claimed that celibacy became mandatory for Latin-Rite priests only in the eleventh century; but others say, for instance: "(I)t may fairly be said that by the time of St. Leo the Great (440-461) the law of celibacy was generally recognized in the West,"[101] and that the eleventh-century regulations on this matter, as on simony, should obviously not be interpreted as meaning that either non-celibacy or simony were previously permitted.[102]

The Latin-Rite discipline continues to be debated for a variety of reasons. First, many believe celibacy was not required of the apostles. Peter himself had a wife at the time of Jesus' ministry, whose mother Jesus healed of a high fever.[103] However, others think the apostles did leave their wives.[104] Second, this requirement excludes a great number of otherwise qualified men from the priesthood, qualifications which according to the defenders of celibacy should be determined not by merely human hermeneutics but by the hermeneutics of the divine. Third, some say that resisting the natural sexual impulse in this way is unrealistic and harmful for a healthy life, a criticism which is countered by the faith in the power of grace and of man, made in the image of God who is Love. Sexual scandals among priests, the defenders say, are a breach of the Church's discipline, not a result of it, especially since only a small percentage of priests have been involved. Fourth, it is said that mandatory celibacy distances priests from this experience of life, compromising their moral authority in the pastoral sphere, although its defenders argue that the Church's moral authority is rather enhanced by a life of total self-giving in imitation of Christ, a practical application of Vatican II teaching that "man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself."[105]


Reforms of the Second Vatican Council

The Catholic Church undertook one of the most comprehensive reforms in its history during the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) and the decade which followed. For changes in the liturgy, see Mass of Paul VI. The Church stressed more than before what it saw as positive rather than what it saw as negative in other Christian communities, other religions, and the aspirations of human beings in general. It encouraged the up-to-date renewal of religious life. And it empowered episcopal conferences to enact adaptations in disciplines such as abstinence from meat on Fridays.

Some Catholics, who have become known as traditionalist Catholics, rejected many of these changes, which they viewed as inconsistent with what the Church had always taught. Among the most controversial of changes was the adoption of a new rite of Mass, which traditionalist Catholics view as watered down, "protestantized", or even invalid.

For more on these , see Traditionalist Catholic.

Catholic teachings on human sexuality

The Catholic Church teaches that human life and human sexuality are both inseparable and sacred. Some criticize the Church's teaching on sexual and reproductive matters.[106] The Church requires members to eschew masturbation, fornication, adultery, pornography, prostitution, rape, homosexual practices,[107] and artificial contraception.[108] The procurement or assistance in abortion can carry the penalty of excommunication,[109] as a specific offence.

Some criticize the Church's teaching on fidelity, sexual abstinence and its opposition to promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and STDs as counterproductive. However, the Church maintains that the promotion of abstinence is the only effective way to deal with the AIDS crisis.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, has stated that Pope Benedict XVI asked his department to study the issue as part of a broad look at several questions of bioethics.[110] However, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, in an interview reported by Catholic News Agency on May 4, 2006, said that the Church "maintains unmodified the teaching on condoms", and added that the Pope had "not ordered any studies about modifying the prohibition on condom use."[111]



  1. Major Branches of Religions. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.
  2. Central Statistics Office (2006). Statistical Yearbook of the Church 2004. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. ISBN 88-209-7817-2.
  3. Central Statistics Office (February 2006). Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. ISBN 88-209-7806-7.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church 748-810
  5. Instances of the Catholic Church: Joint International Commission between representatives of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (October 1999). Official Common Statement. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Pope John Paul II, Mar Khanania Dinkha IV (November 1994). Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.
  6. Instances of the Roman Catholic Church: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (May 2003). Final Communiqué of the Joint Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (May 2005). Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (March 1982). Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Pope Pius XI (December 1929). Divini Illius Magistri. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.; Pope Pius XII (August 1950). Humani Generis. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.
  7. Not the Holy See, which has never used the term Roman Catholic Church to mean the Western particular Church. Official documents such as the papal encyclicals Divini illius Magistri and Humani generis use the term Roman Catholic Church to refer to the whole Church in communion with the See of Rome, never to the Western part alone. The term appears repeatedly in this sense in official documents concerning dialogue between the Church as a whole and groups outside her fold. Examples of such documents can be found at the links on the Vatican website under the heading Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In the First Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution de fide catholica, the phrase the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church (in Latin, Sancta catholica apostolica Romana ecclesia) also refers to something other than the Latin-Rite or Western Church.
  8. The term "Latin Rite" or "Latin Church" refers not to a liturgical rite (such as the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite or the Mozarabic Rite, or, for that matter, the Byzantine Rite) but to the Western particular Church, which is analogous to, for instance, the Maronite Church.
  9. These particular Churches too are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
  10. Roman Catholic. Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.
  11. See, for instance, article 2 of the Constitution of Argentina. A Google search for "católico apostólico romano" finds tens of thousands of other instances.
  12. For example, proponents of the "Branch theory" say that "Each National Church ... still remains a 'branch' of the Catholic Church as it was before. At the present day the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Greek Churches are each of them a branch of the Universal Church" (The Church in Catholic Encyclopedia]
  13. Partners who do not accept the term "Catholic Church" include the World Council of Churches (e.g. Final Communiqué of the Joint Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches) and the Anglican Communion (e.g. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC): The Seattle Statement. On the other hand, the term "Catholic Church" has been accepted by the Assyrian Church of the East (Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East) and the Lutheran World Federation (e.g. Official Common Statement by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church)
  14. St. Augustine (397). Chapter 4: Proofs of the Catholic Faith. Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pope Paul VI (November 1964). Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 8. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-14.
  16. {{Catechism of the Catholic Church. Retrieved on 2007-01-01. “881. The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. 'The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.'This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.”
  17. Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Smyrnaeans. para. 8.
  18. The Authority of the Pope: Part I. Catholic Answers.
    Primacy of the Apostolic See, Corunum Catholic Apologetic Web Page, retreived Nov. 30, 2006
  19. Ware, Kallistos. The Great Schism. The Orthodox Church. Retrieved on 2006-12-02. “The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals.”
  20. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Peter 2:1-17; 2 John 7-11; Jude 4-13
  21. Acts 15:1-2
  22. "It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue to the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. ... We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches." Halsall, Paul (June 1997). Theodosian Code XVI.i.2. Medieval Sourcebook: Banning of Other Religions. Fordham University. Retrieved on 2006-09-19.
  23. MacCulloch, Diarmaid (2003). The Reformation: A History. Penguin Group, 412. ISBN 978-0-7139-9370-7.; MacCulloch adds "admittedly, that might not have been much consolation to those burned at the stake."; see also Kamen, Henry (1999). The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. Yale University Press, 59-60, 189-90, 203, 301. ISBN 0-300-07880-3.
  24. Elevation is the common term for raising the host at the time of the consecration of the Eucharist dating back to the twelvth century: "Eudes de Sully, Bishop of Paris from 1196 to 1208, seems to have been the first to direct in his episcopal statutes that after the consecratory words the Host should be "elevated so that it can be seen by all".[1]
  25. The rubric of the Tridentine-period Roman Missal described the priest's action as: "he shows it to the people" (in Latin, "ostendit populo"). See text at Missale Romanum, p. 338.
  26. "In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statement of dogmas that would be endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the supreme ordinary Magisterium. This ordinary Magisterium, which is so obviously official, has to be accepted with docility, and sincerity by all the faithful, in accordance with the mind of the Council on the nature and aims of the individual documents" (Pope Paul VI, at[ General Audience of 12 January 1966
  27. "The use of the Latin language, with due respect of particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may fequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in ... It is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority ... to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36).
  28. Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (February 2004). Sexual Abuse in Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Professionals. Retrieved on 2006-09-16.
  29. Bono, Agostino. John Jay Study Reveals Extent of Abuse Problem. Catholic News Service.
  30. Canon 1395. Code of Canon Law. Vatican.
  31. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Laetamur Magnopere
  32. Pope Pius XII. Divino Afflante Spiritu. Vatican. para. 16.
  33. Council of Trent Session IV; here an "edition" should not be confused with a "translation"
  34. Romans 1:20
  35. Matthew 11:27
  36. Romans 5:12
  37. Ephesians 1:22-23; cf. Romans 12:4-5
  38. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 77-78
  39. Matthew 28:20
  40. John 14:16-17; John 14:26
  41. Matthew 18:18; Luke 10:16
  42. Matthew 18:17
  43. 1 Timothy 3:15
  44. 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2
  45. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 85
  46. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 773, 775
  47. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2007
  48. Romans 3:22
  49. Romans 6:3-4
  50. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Response of the Catholic Church to the Joint Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation on the Doctrine of Justification, 2–3. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  51. James 2:26
  52. James 2:24
  53. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1987–2016
  54. Pope Paul VI (November 1964). Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 14. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  55. Pope Paul VI (November 1964). Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 11. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  56. Matthew 5:44
  57. Koch, Carl (January 1994). The Catholic Church. Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 0-88489-298-0.
  58. Aquinas, Thomas. Of War (Four Articles), Q. 40.. The Summa Theologica (Second Part of Second Part). Benzinger Brothers. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  59. Pope John Paul II (March 1995). Evangelium Vitae. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  60. 60.0 60.1 Pope John Paul II (20 February 1980). General Audience. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  61. Genesis 1:31
  62. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1015
  63. Pope John Paul II (29 October 1980). General Audience, 6. L'Osservatore Romano. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  64. Pope Paul VI (December 1963). Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1068-69
  65. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1423-1424
  66. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2558
  67. Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Alberto Bovone (May 1992). Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion, 9. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  68. Lumen Gentium §8
  69. Lumen Gentium §26
  70. Canon 42. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
  71. Canon 375. 1983 Code of Canon Law. Vatican.
  72. Catechism of the Catholic Church 882
  73. Committee on the Diaconate. Frequently Asked Questions About Deacons. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  74. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 871-2
  75. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 898
  76. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 899
  77. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 901
  78. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 905
  79. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 908-9
  80. Canons 573-746. Code of Canon Law. Vatican.
  81. Canons 573–602, 605–709. Code of Canon Law. Vatican.
  82. cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 11
  83. To break on one's own initiative the juridical bond with the Church, a formal act is required in writing before one's local Ordinary or parish priest, who is to judge the genuineness of the act of apostasy, heresy or schism; without this formal act of defection, "heresy (whether formal or material), schism and apostasy do not in themselves constitute a formal act of defection, if they are not externally concretized and manifested to the ecclesistical authority in the required manner." (Circular Letter 10279/2006 of 13 March 2006 from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts to Presidents of Episcopal Conferences (Canon Law Society of America). Those who do not take this step are presumed to be still linked with the Catholic Church and thus bound by ecclesiastical laws.
  84. J.L. Heilbron. London Review of Books. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  85. Lindberg, David, Numbers, Ronald L (October 2003). When Science and Christianity Meet. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-48214-6.
  86. Goldstein, Thomas (April 1995). Dawn of Modern Science: From the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80637-1.
  87. Pope John Paul II (September 1998). Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), IV. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  88. Choupin, Valeur des Decisions Doctrinales du Saint Siege
  89. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Catholic Education Resource Center (May 2005).
  90. Boffetti, Jason (November 2001). Tolkien's Catholic Imagination. Crisis Magazine. Morley Publishing Group.
  91. Voss, Paul J. (July 2002). Assurances of faith: How Catholic Was Shakespeare? How Catholic Are His Plays?. Crisis Magazine. Morley Publishing Group.
  92. de Torre, Fr. Joseph M. (1997). A Philosophical and Historical Analysis of Modern Democracy, Equality, and Freedom Under the Influence of Christianity. Catholic Education Resource Center.
  93. Schumpeter, Joseph (1954). History of Economic Analysis. London: Allen & Unwin.
  94. Review of How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods, Jr.. National Review Book Service. Retrieved on 2006-09-16.
  95. Risse, Guenter B (April 1999). Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals. Oxford University Press, 59. ISBN 0-19-505523-3.
  96. Walsh, James Joseph (1924). The world's debt to the Catholic Church. The Stratford Company, 244.
  97. von Pastor, Ludwig (1891). The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (Volume V). B. Herder, 65. cf. Luther, Martin. (1967). Luther's Works, American Edition, 55 vols. Helmut T. Lehmann, Theodore G. Tappert, editors, Concordia Publishing House and Fortress Press, Table Talk, vol. 54, p.296, No. 3930, ( recorded by Anthony Lauterbach, August 1, 1538 ). ISBN 0-8006-0354-0
  98. Allen, John L. (June 2005). The Rise of Benedict XVI. Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 0-385-51320-8.; Pope Benedict XVI, von Balthasar, Hans Urs (1971). Two Say Why: Why I am still a Christian. Franciscan Herald Press. ISBN 0-85532-289-6.
  99. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (October 1976). Inter Insigniores Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood.
  100. John Paul II,Ordinatio Sacerdotalis
  101. Celibacy of the Clergy. Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2006-09-16.
  102. Gregory VII: Simony and Celibacy 1074. Medieval Sourcebook.
  103. Matthew 8:14
  104. cf. Luke 18:28-30
  105. Pope Paul VI (December 1965). Gaudium et Spes. Vatican. Retrieved on 2006-09-16.
  106. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2331-2400
  107. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2351-2357
  108. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370
  109. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2272
  110. Dickey, Christopher (May 2006). Catholics and Condoms. Newsweek. MSNBC. Retrieved on 2006-09-16.
  111. Church 'will not budge one inch' on issue of condom use, says Cardinal Lopez Trujillo. Catholic News Agency (May 2006). Retrieved on 2006-09-16.

See also


References and readings


External links

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