The Catholic Church, sometimes referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2018. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilization. The church consists of almost 3,500 dioceses (also called "local churches") around the world on every continent, each shepherded by its bishop. The pope, who is the Bishop of Rome (and whose titles also include Vicar of Jesus Christ and Successor of St. Peter), is the chief pastor of the whole church, entrusted with the universal Petrine ministry of unity and correction. The church's international administration is the Holy See, located in the tiny, independent nation of Vatican City in Rome, Italy, of which the pope is also head of state.
The Christian beliefs of Catholicism are found in the Nicene Creed. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles, and that the pope is the successor to Saint Peter, upon whom primacy was conferred by Jesus Christ. It maintains that it practises the original Christian faith, reserving infallibility, passed down by sacred tradition. The Latin Church, the twenty-three Eastern Catholic Churches, and institutes such as mendicant orders, enclosed monastic orders and third orders reflect a variety of theological and spiritual emphases in the church.
Of its seven sacraments, the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in the Mass. The church teaches that through consecration by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic Church as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, honoured in dogmas and devotions. Its teaching includes Divine Mercy, sanctification through faith and evangelization of the Gospel as well as Catholic social teaching, which emphasises voluntary support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world.
The Catholic Church has influenced Western philosophy, culture, art, and science. Catholics live all over the world through missions, diaspora, and conversions. Since the 20th century the majority reside in the southern hemisphere, due to secularization in Europe, and increased persecution in the Middle East. The Catholic Church shared communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church until the East–West Schism in 1054, disputing particularly the authority of the pope. Before the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, the Church of the East also shared in this communion, as did the Oriental Orthodox churches before the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451; all separated primarily over differences in Christology. In the 16th century, the Reformation led to Protestantism also breaking away. From the late 20th century, the Catholic Church has been criticized for its teachings on sexuality, its inability to ordain women, and its handling of sexual abuse cases involving clergy.
The church operates thousands of schools, hospitals, and orphanages around the world, and is the largest non-governmental provider of education and health care in the world. Among its other social services are numerous charitable and humanitarian organizations. Having founded most of the world's first universities, the church today is also the largest provider of higher education.
The historical belief in the threat of the Antichrist, and the associated threat of the papacy, continues to be sustained within certain Protestant churches and popular culture, although for many it has become a symbol of the evil in the human heart. This idea was developed during the time of Luther and contributed significantly to his opposition to the Pope, becoming an article of faith. The institution of the papacy, not individual popes, were identified with the Antichrist. Following the Reformation this idea gradually receded into the background, although maintained by Protestant scholars.