Roman Catholic Church: Edward Stourton

The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian denomination with more than a billion members. Headed by the Pope, it’s the oldest institution in the Western world. Edward Stourton is a presenter on Radio 4.

There are about 5 million Roman Catholics in the UK, of whom about 1 million go to church regularly. Catholics are encouraged to go to weekly mass. 


Like other Christians, Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he lived on earth, died and was resurrected. 

The Bible contains the core of all Christian teachings and is divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of writings and includes a series of accounts of the life of Jesus. 

Catholicism differs from other Christian churches in aspects of its structure and teachings. 


The Roman Catholic Church is a hierarchy with the Pope at the top. No rule or law can be changed without his approval.  

Only men are ordained to the priesthood. 

Roman Catholic teaching regards the Pope as infallible – or incapable of making a mistake – on issues of faith and morals.  

Catholics believe the Pope’s authority comes from the fact that he is a direct spiritual successor of the first Pope, chosen by Jesus Christ. 

The Pope is represented in a number of countries, including the UK, by an Apostolic Nuncio or Papal Nuncio – usually a senior Church figure with the status of an ambassador. 

Cardinals are the highest ranking bishops next to the Pope. They’re chosen by him and act as advisers. They also have the exclusive rights to elect a Pope, which they do in secret. 

The next highest rank is Archbishop. Below that there are bishops. They’re like chief executives and are usually in charge of an area known as a diocese. 

Priests oversee small areas within a diocese, known as a parish. The parish and the community within it are at the centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Priests are in charge of worship, aspects of Catholic education and some community activities. 

Doing a story 

If you’re doing a story about the Catholic Church, remember that there are big differences in the roles and responsibilities at each level. 

If journalists want to film or record in a church, they should contact the local priest and/or the Catholic Press Office. There are a few points of etiquette you should bear in mind: 

  • Don’t record without permission. Make sure that everyone present is OK with it
  • Don’t film at the altar or anywhere during the Mass without explicit permission to do so
  • Don’t walk about unnecessarily during services
  • Don’t place things on the altar.