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The pope exercises a direct patriarchal role over the Latin Church, which is considered to form the original and still major part of Western Christianity, a heritage of certain beliefs and customs originating in Europe and northwestern Africa, some of which are inherited by many Christian denominations that trace their origins to the Protestant Reformation.

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The Holy See also confers orders, decorations and medals, such as the orders of chivalry in the Middle Ages.

While the famous Saint Peter's Basilica is located in Vatican City, above the traditional site of Saint Peter's tomb, the papal cathedral for the Diocese of Rome is Saint John Lateran, located within the city of Rome, though enjoying extraterritorial privileges accredited to the Holy See.

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 sanctification through faith and evangelisation of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, which emphasises support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, the church's doctrines are summarised in the Nicene Creed.

Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, enclaved within Rome, Italy.

The "Catholic" notion was further stressed in the edict De fide Catolica issued 380 by Theodosius I, the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire, when establishing the state church of the Roman Empire.) and the Western Church in communion with the Holy See has similarly taken "Catholic", keeping that description also after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, when those who ceased to be in communion became known as "Protestants".

While the "Roman Church" has been used to describe the pope's Diocese of Rome since the Fall of the Western Roman Empire and into the Early Middle Ages (6th-10th century), the "Roman Catholic Church" has been applied to the whole church in English language since the Protestant Reformation in the late 16th century.

The largest and most well known is the Latin Church, with more than 1 billion members worldwide.

Relatively small in terms of adherents compared to the Latin Church, are the 23 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches with a combined membership of 17.3 million as of 2010 The Latin Church is governed by the pope and diocesan bishops directly appointed by him.

Canon law concerns the Catholic Church's life and organisation and is distinct from civil law.

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