The Roman Catholic Church is a major Christian denomination. It's head-quarters are in Rome but it has congregations throughout the world. It claims to have an unbroken leadership first from Jesus Christ, through the apostle Peter to the pope by Apostolic Succession. The Protestant churches split away from the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century based on differences in opinion of doctrine, especially the issue of Justification by faith versus Justification by faith plus works.
Early Roman or Western Christainity
Roman Catholicism in the Dark Ages
World-wide expansion of Roman Catholicism
In the late eighteen hundreds, with its temporal powers waning, pope Pius IX called a council, that is recognized as ecumenical by the Roman Catholic Church, but not by other denominations. The council convened in 1869 and 1870 in the Vatican, and stopped abruptly when Rome was taken by Italian forces, thus ending the era of the Papal states. The council essentially reaffirmed all that the Council of Trent had affirmed, as well as affirming papal infallibility.
Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the Papacy
The earthly leader of the Roman Catholic Church is the pope. The pope governs from the Vatican City in Rome, a sovereign state of which he is also the civil head of state. Each pope is elected for life by the College of Cardinals, a body composed of bishops elevated to the status of cardinal by the Pope. The pope is assisted in the Church's administration by the Roman Curia, or civil service. The Church community is governed according to formal regulations set out in the Code of Canon Law. The Church is divided worldwide into 2,782 regions called dioceses. These diocese are grouped into 1 of 23 particular rites - the Latin Rite being the most common, but with there being a further 22 Eastern rites. Each diocese is headed by a bishop and is divided into individual communities called parishes. Each parish is staffed by one or more priests. The parish itself is made up of the priests and the laity (general members / church-goers).