I am glad to see that the wikipedia article on Roman Catholicism has changed considerably since I last read it. Here is a quote that they had before, and my rebuttal to it. It is rather interesting that some of the exact things I mentioned are now in the new article.
Structure and organization of the Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is one of 24 sui juris churches part of a communion known as the Catholic Church. Traditionally, the Catholic Church claimed to be exclusively the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church or the Church of Christ; however, since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church recognized that the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Church, the Protestant Churches, and all other Christian denominations are all legitimate parts of the Church of Christ.
As a more minor point, I would avoid using the term “churches”. Traditionally, the term “church” has been used in three different ways.
- a Liturgical Assembly (example: St. Agnes Catholic Church, New York, NY)
- the “local church” also called the “particular church” otherwise known as a diocese (example: The Church Fathers would sometimes refer to “the church of Antioch” or the “church at Smyrna”)
- The Universal Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
The term used by the Catholic Church to refer to Melkites, Ruthenians, etc is “rite” Thus there are the Byzantine Rites and the Latin Rites.
The term “Roman Catholic Church” is usually used only in referrence to a liturgical assembly (as in St. James Roman Catholic Church, Chicago). The term is also used by some to indicate the Universal Church (the Church centered in Rome under the Pope). If it is used by some to indicate the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, it seems that it is done so incorrectly, though I do not doubt that it is done among Catholics as well.
It seems that a person can legitimately refer to themselves as a Roman Catholic though, because the term Catholic is used in the sense of the universal Church of which there is only one. Likewise, a person can refer to themselves as African-American or Irish-American, and yet they are still referring to only one America, not different ones. A Roman Catholic is one who is of that part of the Catholic Church of the Roman persuasion.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent article on the origin of the term Roman Catholic, but I will just quote this section.
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 Edition), “Roman Catholic”:
A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church. Out of condescension for these dissidents, the members of that Church are wont in official documents to be styled “Roman Catholics” as if the term Catholic represented a genus of which those who owned allegiance to the pope formed a particular species. It is in fact a prevalent conception among Anglicans to regard the whole Catholic Church as made up of three principal branches, the Roman Catholic, the Anglo-Catholic and the Greek Catholic. As the erroneousness of this point of view has been sufficiently explained in the articles CHURCH and CATHOLIC, it is only needful here to consider the history of the composite term with which we are now concerned.
The Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ. She is the One True Church. She has nevered recognized anyother Christian sect as being a “legitimate” part of the Church.
Here is a quote from the Second Vatican Council which directly contradicts the assertion that these other Christian sects are legitimately all part of the same Church.
Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 8:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, (12*) which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,(74) and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority,(75) which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”.(76) This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him,(13*) although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.