Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian denomination, representing around half of all Christians with 1.1 billion followers. The Church traditionally believes that Jesus of Nazareth entrusted the authority of his young church to his apostle Simon Peter (ca. 1 BC – 67 CE), who would become the first Bishop of Rome, an office now known as the papacy. The spiritual primacy of the Bishop of Rome as pope over all other bishops is the central issue that distinguishes Catholicism from other Christian belief systems. The Catholic veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus, includes beliefs in her Perpetual Virginity, her Immaculate Conception (that she was born without the stain of original sin), and her bodily Assumption into heaven. The Catholic understanding of the afterlife holds that individuals are sentenced to heaven, purgatory, or hell after death. The Church stresses the importance of caring for the less fortunate through good works in attaining salvation.
Based in Rome for nearly two millennia, the Catholic Church has had an enormous impact on the culture of Europe, even in those countries where religious observance has dropped dramatically. The Church was deeply entwined in the politics of Western Europe for much of its history, but the twentieth century saw the Church gradually make peace with the modern religiopolitical doctrine of the separation of church and state. The Church also dominates the religious landscape of the entirety of Latin America. The Catholic emphasis on caring for the less fortunate has led the Church to become a leading provider of social services around the world as it reaches out to the poor and the sick, runs hospitals, schools, and homeless shelters, and encourages volunteerism among believers. In contemporary political debates, the Church is particularly vocal in its opposition to war, abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, and in its support for human rights and peace between nations.