It is as head of the Holy See, not as head of Vatican City State, that the pope receives ambassadors of states and sends them his own diplomatic representatives.The Holy See also confers orders, decorations and medals, such as the orders of chivalry in the Middle Ages.The Catholic Church continues these traditions, through constituent autonomous particular churches, also known as "churches sui iuris" (Latin: ").
The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world.
In its own field it gives force to civil law only by specific enactment in matters such as the guardianship of minors.
In the 2,000-year history of the church, several complementary expressions of the Christian faith emerged throughout the world, most prominently, the Western and Eastern Christian traditions.
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.
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.
The Eastern Catholic Churches follow the traditions and spirituality of Eastern Christianity and are Churches that have always remained in full communion with the Catholic Church or who have chosen to reenter full communion in the centuries following the East–West Schism and earlier divisions.