Roman Catholic Church


May 17, 2022

The Roman Catholic Church (“Catholic” from Greek καθολικός katholikós “concerning the whole, general, universal”) is the largest church within Christianity. In a broader sense, it comprises 24 particular churches of their own right with their own rite: on the one hand the Latin Church (or Western Church) as by far the largest in terms of membership, and on the other hand the 23 other rite churches collectively referred to as Catholic Eastern Churches. Like the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, and the Old Catholic Church, the Catholic Church administers seven sacraments. The distinguishing feature is the recognition of the primacy of the Roman bishop over the Church as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church has approximately 1.329 billion baptized members worldwide (as of 2018). The number of Catholics increased by almost 6 percent between 2013 and 2018. It is headed by the Pope. Since March 13, 2013, this is Pope Francis. On that day, the 2013 conclave elected the previous Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, to succeed the resigned German Pope Benedict XVI.


The term "Roman Catholic Church" only arose in the wake of the Reformation to make it easier to distinguish between the split Christian denominations and means the church that recognizes the primacy of the Pope as the head and representative of Jesus Christ. As a rule, the Roman Catholic Church refers to itself only as "the Church" or "the Catholic Church" or in theological detail as "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church". Nevertheless, documents in ecumenical dialogue sometimes use the term "Roman Catholic". In general and official usage, especially in Western countries, the terms "Catholic Church" and "Roman Catholic Church" are used as synonyms. In addition, "Roman Catholic Church" is sometimes used both in literature and in publications by ecclesiastical authorities as a name for the Latin Church in comparison to the Eastern Catholic Churches, which are then correspondingly called "Greek Catholic Churches", "Syrian Catholic Church" and so on, used; in this usage, "Roman" refers to the rite of the Latin (Western) particular church. In Austria, for example, "Catholic" is both the state and the proper designation of the Catholic Church in Austria, while "Roman Catholic" is used exclusively for the Latin rite of this church.


The Roman Catholic Church traditionally refers to the foundation by Jesus Christ himself, in particular to the so-called "Word on the Rock" to the Apostle Peter (Mt 16:18-19). Whether historically it can actually be assumed that Jesus Christ actually founded the church is a matter of dispute, even among Roman Catholic theologians. Today's ecclesiology usually sees a combination of pre-Easter roots (Jesus' eschatological gathering of God's people), an Easter impulse (church as a community of those who follow the risen Jesus Christ) and the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit (church as a community in which the Holy Spirit is present). seen as the origin of the church. Around the years 30 to 33 it is therefore assumed that the first communities, i.e. the early church, came into being. The Roman Catholic Church regards itself as standing in uninterrupted continuity with this early church and also claims that it was directly founded by Jesus Christ. She sees this connection institutionally, insofar as the Christian community of Rome is traditionally seen as the foundation of the apostle Peter and the pope as bishop of Rome is Peter's direct successor. The self-understanding as with the early church in u