The Catholic Chuch is a sect of Christianity. It's more or less the same as the other branches of Christianity, except it's ruled by a guy with an absurdly large hat.
As mentioned, the Roman Catholic Church is a part of the Christian religion, so they have fundamentally the same beliefs. For all one of you reading this that doesn't know the basics of Christianity, Catholics believe that Jesus (Beard Dude) is the son of God (White Beard Dude) and died to redeem humanity. Of course, by "humanity", Catholics mean "Catholics." Although the belief that only Catholics/Christians can save their mortal souls has been somewhat modified in recent times, the idea had been maintained for thousands of years. So yes, Gahndi would have had a first class ticket on the Hell Express, helping countless millions be damned.
This news saddened Gandhi.
How to save one's mortal soul is another departure from other Christian religions. Many Christian religions believe that as long as one accepts Jesus as their savior, they will receive enterance into Heaven. This technically means you can be as big of a bastard as you want on Earth, as long as you do it in the name of Jesus. As one might imagine, this idea is thoroughly embraced by much of America. On the other hand, Catholics, as well as some other Christians, believe that one must do good works/avoid being a dick in addition to accepting Jesus as one's savior to gain enterance into Heaven. While this ideology is not technically supported by the Bible (there's no "Thou shalt not be a dick." commandment) Catholics use it to guide their way of life.
Maybe it was in the fine print.
The only other main differences between Catholics and other Christians are the belief in prayer to the Virgin Mary, and whether the Eucharist (bread and wine) is really Jesus, or merely a representation. These might seem like boring topics to a lay person, and they are. However, the Catholics and Christians see these subjects as topic for vicious and heated debate , going so far as sometimes claiming that each other will rot in hell for their beliefs on these petty arguements. After all, these debates prevent the unthinkable: realizing that they all worship the same god, and just shutting the fuck up.
The Catholic Church is arguably the oldest sect of Christianity, meaning that it traces its roots back to the Man with the beard Himself. At some point in Jesus' lifetime, he tells Peter, one of his disciples, that he will lead the Church after he (Jesus) dies. Peter sorta did, meaning that he was officially the first pope. Since Peter, the Catholic Church has officially had 266 popes, some good, some bad, and some badass (see the Links section.) Now before we proceed into detail with the dark and gritty history of the Catholic Church, a disclaimer is needed. The Catholic Church, either directly or indirectly, helps thousands, maybe millions a year who have no one else to turn to, as they have done for a great deal of their existence. In addition, this article focuses on the acts of the actual Catholic Church, not the individual members. Most are, and were, very nice people. But that's not what you came to hear.
In the beginning, there was only one Christian church, and that was more or less an offshoot of Judaism. Now, neither the Jews nor the Romans liked the Christians (part of the reason they hammered Jesus to piece of wood), and this dislike carried on into persecution of the Christians. However, the Christian message that literally anyone could be saved took well to the common man. Soon enough, the Roman Empire had a serious outbreak of the Christians, which greatly troubled the higher-ups of the government. So, logically, the Roman Empire utilized simple measures to convince the populace that the Roman religion was preferable to Christianity.
This form of lion-evangelism continued for several hundred years, until Emperor Constatine's Edict of Milan legalized Christianity. The story goes that Constatine had a vision of God telling him to put crosses on the shields of his troops in order to win an upcoming battle. Well, he did, and it worked, convincing Constatine to legalize Christianity. With the Edict of Milan, everyone could worship what they wanted and be happy, right? Unfortunately, no, this is where shit starts going bad. Eventually, Christianity became so popular that it became the official religion of Rome. This, in turn, meant that Christianity had simply replaced the Pagan religion of Rome as top lion, banning all other religions.
This was all fine and well for everyone (except Jews, gypsies, scientists, and anyone who looked at the Pope the wrong way) until what is known as the Great Schism of 1054. In this Scism, the Church split into two groups, the East and the West. When Constatine moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople instead of, you know, Rome, the bishop of Constantinople took on greater responsibility. Soon the bishop of Constantinople and the bishop of Rome came into conflict. This quickly degenerated into "You're so going to Hell!" and "No, you are!" The Roman Catholic Church, as we know it, evolved from the Western Church. Not one to be deterred, the Church bravely pushed forward in its efforts to persecute everyone around them.
Soon enough, the Church set its sights on the Middle East, specifically Jerusalem. You see, Jerusalem is considered sacred to Christians, as it is the location of Jesus' death. The Pope wisely decided to simply take the land by force, fuck the natives.
Treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated. Unless they have something you want, in which case feel free to murder them.
Convincing countries like France, England, and Germany (then the Holy Roman Empire) to travel to the Middle East and siege the Holy City through a series of Crusades. Even though they did manage to capture Jerusalem, the Muslims, led by Saladin reclaimed the land. Eventually, the Church and the countries that followed it gave up on trying to take the Holy Land, realizing that it was a pointless battle. Many men died in the Holy War, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire. On the other hand, it did bring around the Renaissance, which brought us arguably the greatest artists in history.
Which, in turn, brought this.
After the Holy Wars, the Church set its sights on taking care of buisness back home. After all, the people wouldn't be able to worship without the constant fear of death over their heads, right? This is the part of Catholic history where the Church started attacking everyone who looked at them funny, as if in a drunken bar fight. The most famous of these bar fights was the attack on the scientist Galileo over proof of the Copernican model of a heliocentric universe (the idea that the Earth is not the center of the universe.) Threatened with possible execution, Galileo pussied out, and retracted his statements. The Church, impressed with its debating skills, declared victory, as all science is just a matter of firepower, anyway.
The greatest scientist of the 20th century.
Obviously, this is not a complete history of the Catholic Church, because, quite frankly, most of it is boring. However, you might notice that the Holocaust was left out. Of course, killing Jews seems to be a specialty of the Catholic Church, so they had to have some part in the Holocaust, right? Well, no. Despite what Fundamentalists will tell you, the Catholic Church did not support the Holocaust. In fact, they did attempt to save Jews from the genocide. Apparently, after nearly 2000 years, the Catholic Church finally got the message right.
Seriously guys, don't kill Jews.
During recent years, the Catholic Church has come under fire for many things, especially the aforementioned history and recent sex scandals. Wherever you look, the Church is represented as pedophiles, an evil organization bent on taking over the world, or exorcists (which is admittedly pretty cool.) None of these images are correct. As mentioned, the Church is, for the most part, just pretty boring. However, rumors of brainsucking aliens persist. Since nobody actually goes to Church, no one can legitimately refute these claims. Therefore, the Church tends to get a bad rap.
First of all, people, such as myself, love to dwell on the history mentioned in the last section, but some justification is needed. The Catholic Church is not an evil murder machine trying to eliminate all ideas opposed to it, despite what the (mostly) true history above describes it to be. The Church has been around for almost 2000 years. In that time, shit happens. Bad popes get elected. Xenophobia spreads. Hell, look at the United States. We've only been around for a little over 200 years, and in that time we've done terrible things, such as slavery and forcing Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. Any organization around long enough does shit like that. It still doesn't justify it, but it doesn't exactly make the present-day Church a religion of evil, either.
Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does not worship Cthulhu.
Finally, we get to the five hundred pound pedobear in the cage. Seriously, pedophilia was probably the first or second thought that crossed your mind when you saw this article. Can't blame you. With all the talk in the news of child molesting priests going around, one would think that at least half of all priests were pedophiles. However, It turns out only about 1.5-5% of priests were involved in sex abuse cases. But that's still a shitload of priests, right? Honestly, yes, it's an apalling number of priests. However, it's also around the same as other religions, making the emphasis on Catholic priests strange, to say the least.
Still, there must be some reason for the focus on the Catholic sex scandals, right? Is it because the priests remain celibate? Possibly, since there exists a social stigma that all virgins are either pedophiles or fantasy role-players. Is it because of their attire? The Matrix robe things they wear are kinda creepy. No, the actual reason is actually quite simple. For generations, people looked up to the Church and, by extension, the priests. They were meant to be symbols of all that was good. Unfortunately, just like politicians with corruption, and the police with racism, a few pedophile priests tarnished the image of the clergy forever. We expected more from our priests. It's like being saved from a fire by Superman, only to have him grope you on the way back.
Let's go ahead and not make that joke.