Roman Catholics

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The Roman Catholic Church was established in the first century as one of the original Christian communities, and it claims to embody the truth of the faith of Jesus Christ. Its claims to primacy are exercised through the pope. His authority derives from an unbroken apostolic succession that goes back to St. Peter, who the Catholic Church believes was invested by Jesus with authority over fellow church leaders and Christian communities. It is the largest Christian tradition in the world.


The U.S. Catholic Bishops use the New American Bible translation. Many Catholics also use the Catholic Study Bible or the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. The Catholic Church includes books of the Apocrypha in the biblical canon. (The Apocrypha, from the Greek word that means “things hidden,” is made up of religious writings included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but not the Hebrew Bible. Roman Catholics and Orthodox accept them as divinely inspired, but Protestants do not.)



  • The church is grappling with a number of serious problems, led by a severe priest shortage and the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandals. A number of other topics had led to divisions in the church, including the role of women, the role of Catholics in public life, teachings on sexuality, and reforms in the liturgy.
  • At the same time, the Catholic Church remains the largest U.S. denomination which poses challenges. A fast-changing demographic led by Hispanics is also a challenge.


  • Catholicism is a hierarchical religion,with authority vested in the pope, cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons. Information is relatively easy to find because everything is interrelated.That said, there are also dozens of Catholic organizations that are not officially part of the church.They include a range of Catholic charities, advocacy groups and dissenting organizations.
  • Titles are particularly important in hierarchical religions and getting them right conveys a writer’s grasp of the church’s traditions. For example, don’t refer to a bishop or diocese when archbishop and archdiocese are the proper names.
  • Many issues in Catholicism are related to authority. Get a good understanding of what’s authoritative and what’s not. For example, a document issued by the Vatican may be considered binding on all Catholics, or it may not, depending on its purpose and who issued it. Authority is a sensitive issue that also affects whether people are labeled as dissenters who are violating church teaching or people who are working for change within the church.


  • Catholic News Service, a well-respected news service that is owned and funded by the U.S. bishops.
  • Catholic Almanac.
  • The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia online is the 1917 version. Journalists should be aware that it contains no updates, such as church reforms made during Vatican II and should not be relied upon for current information.
  • There are hundreds of Catholic publications, ranging from diocesan newspapers to national newspapers and magazines. Among the most prominent national publications are the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper viewed as liberal; America, a Jesuit magazine; U.S. Catholic, a church run magazine for lay Catholics; Our Sunday Visitor, a popular weekly viewed as conservative; Commonweal, an independent journal associated with a more progressive Catholicism; and Crisis, an independent journal from a more conservative viewpoint.