The Old Catholic Church
Old Catholicism affirms the ancient, Apostolic faith and tradition of the first millennium of the undivided Catholic and Orthodox Church where the various local churches and bishops existed together with other bishops, forming an autonomous Synod of Bishops. As in the Early Church and, according to patristic teaching, the universality of the Church is contained within the ministry of the bishop and the local Church. Thus, as with the Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church recognizes the first seven Ecumenical Councils and the doctrine accepted by the Church Universal before the Great Schism of 1054.
An Ancient and Apostolic Church
The Old Catholic Church has maintained its Apostolic Succession,
and its Bishops and sacraments are recognized as valid by the Roman Catholic
Church, the Orthodox Church, the Churches of the Anglican Communion and by the
entire Christian community. In fact, the Old Catholic Church is in a state of
intercommunion with the See of Rome and all Churches in union with Rome by
virtue of its apostolic succession and the Eucharist, which is acknowledged in canon law and various other documents. With respect to our relationship with the Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church enjoys a special place since we affirm the orthodox Christian faith.
The ancient See of Utrecht in the Netherlands and its bishops were essentially independent of Rome until 1702: The bishops and archbishops of the See of Utrecht were freely elected by the local chapter of canons, which was taken from the local clergy. Because of the confusion and chaos of the Reformation in the Low Countries, the See of Utrecht was directly placed under the control of Rome and its existing independence dissolved. In spite of the inhibition of Utrecht's Archbishop Peter Codde in 1702 and the papal threat to "demote" the Utrecht province to a missionary territory – thus nullifying the See of Utrecht and its chapter's rights – the chapter of canons of the See of Utrecht decided to assert its ancient rights in the Church Catholic; and in 1723, the chapter of canons elected the Rev. Cornelius Steenhoven as Archbishop of Utrecht, who was ordained as a bishop by the French missionary, Bishop Dominique Varlet. Thus, apostolic succession is preserved in the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. In the Old Catholic Churches of the Old Catholic Confederation, our Synod of Bishops derives its Episcopal Lineage and Apostolic Succession directly from the line of Blessed Pope Paul VI.
An Independent Catholic Church
The Old Catholic Confederation continues the ancient, Apostolic tradition concerning the independence of national Churches and the right of an autonomous Synod of Bishops and an independent Catholic bishopric holding fast to the patristic beliefs and practices of the early undivided Church, in whose midst and whose head is Jesus Christ. The name “Old” Catholic thus came from the belief that Old Catholics were remaining with the ancient teachings of the undivided catholic and apostolic Church – as a way of denying the “new dogmas” of papal supremacy and infallibility, which were understood as a break with the continuity of Christian and orthodox tradition and could not be regarded as truly catholic in any sense.
When in 1870 Rome assembled the First Vatican Council and there promulgated as dogma the doctrine of papal supremacy (universal jurisdiction) and the doctrine of papal infallibility in questions of faith and morality, many Catholics rejected these teachings as being neither supported by Scripture nor founded in tradition. Catholics –lay and clergy alike – who could not in good conscience accept these new dogmas were excommunicated (that is, barred from the sacraments of the Church) and were thus compelled to form an independent Catholic Church under the leadership of their bishops. Thus, as Old Catholics, we continue to hold on to the ancient Catholic and Apostolic faith and tradition.
An Episcopal-Synodical Church
In the Old Catholic Confederation, bishops are elected by the Synod of Bishops in consultation with the diocesan chapter of canons (clergy) and lay representatives from the parishes and dioceses. The Synod is the supreme governing body of the Church, but the local bishop has Episcopal authority in his respective diocese. At the parish level, the vestry is a consultative body that participates in the decision-making of the parish, responsible for contracting the priest appointed by the bishop for ministerial service at the parish, elects parish representatives to the Synod and cares for the physical aspects of the parish buildings, with the rector or vicar, and in consultation with the local bishop. However, the rector or vicar has authority over the parish with regard to the liturgy, the sacraments and the spiritual life of the parish, under the canonical authority of the local bishop.
Thus, as an Episcopal-Synodical Church, the Old Catholic Church is more democratic in nature, with the election of bishops and governance by a Synod of Bishops since we believe that the Church cannot be outside the apostolic succession of the historic episcopate. Further, we hold and practice that all members of the Church are involved in the decision-making process, e.g. bishops are elected, married men can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, and some positions of authority in the Church may be carried out by laypeople. Further, as Old Catholics, we stand firmly rooted in the ancient tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, whose faith and beliefs are non-negotiable. The universal councils of the Early Church are as ever the foundation of our faith and understanding of the Church. Therefore, the Synod is not the place where articles of faith or morals are debated: This authority belongs solely to a universal Council of the Church.
An Ecumenical Church
As an Ecumenical Church, we welcome all baptized Christians who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to receive Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Further, since 1931, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht have been in Full Communion with the See of Canterbury (the Church of England) and the worldwide Anglican Communion under the terms of the Bonn Agreement. Old Catholic Bishops of the Union take part in Anglican bodies such as the Lambeth Conferences and the Anglican Consultative Council, and maintain relations with Anglican Churches around the world. The Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation is also in ecclesial partnership with the Church of the Province of West Africa of the Anglican Communion.
The Old Catholic Confederation
The Old Catholic Confederation (OCC) is a union of Old Catholic Churches primarily in North and South America under the canonical authority of its own autonomous Synod of Bishops founded upon the supreme authority of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through Apostolic Succession. As a result of a series of national gatherings of Old Catholic bishops and lay people from around the United States, the Old Catholic Confederation was founded in order to bring visible unity among those Old Catholic jurisdictions in the United States and Canada with a clear and authentic Old Catholic identity by restoring theological orthodoxy, the episcopal-synodical polity and canonicity.
Thus, the Old Catholic Confederation faithfully embraces the authority of the sacred Scriptures and sacred Tradition, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, the First Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Early Church, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in its ancient formula, the seven Sacraments and Episcopal-Synodal governance of the Church. Indeed, as St. Vincent de Lerins put it, as Old Catholics, we believe "that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all."
Affirming the patristic idea of the bishop, the Old Catholic Confederation acknowledges the theological significance and authority of the local bishop but the OCC also insists that the local bishop must function together with the other canonical bishops forming a Synod. The Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation have great respect for the ancient and venerable office of the pope, holding the Bishop of Rome as "primus inter pares" among the ancient patriarchal Sees and all Christian bishops in Apostolic Succession around the world. The Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation also have great respect for the Archbishop of Utrecht, the President of the Union of Utrecht, whom we regard as the Primate and titular head of the Old Catholic Church.
The Old Catholic Confederation embraces an ecclesial policy of "unity in diversity," having bishops and dioceses, some of which are more conservative and others more progressive concerning social or economic issues. However, with respect to the realm of moral theology, as Old Catholics, we all accept the ancient, apostolic exhortation of the primacy of conscience, resulting in a liberal theological anthropology.
Concerning the Sacraments, the Old Catholic Confederation encourages a restoration of the practices of the ancient Church, and especially with regard to the Rites of Christian Initiation of Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation) and Holy Communion to be administered to infants and adults following ancient practice. Likewise, many bishops of the Confederation continue to tonsure new clerics and confer the minor orders of cantor, lector and subdeacon (in the ancient practice) upon our candidates as they progress toward Holy Orders. Following the example of Christ and the Apostolic tradition of the Early Church, the Churches of the Confederation ordain married, single and celibate candidates to the ministry. Further, the Old Catholic Confederation encourages a restoration of the solemnity and mysticism proper to the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist that is also joyful and appropriate for the modern Church.
The Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation has also mandated a high standard of spiritual formation, pastoral experience and the necessity of philosophical and theological higher education for our seminarians and continuing formation for our clergy.
The Old Catholic Church in the United States
The Old Catholic Church in the United States is the national Church of the Old Catholic Confederation for the United States. Under the canonical authority of the Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation, the Old Catholic Church in the United States has a (Metropolitan) Archdiocese of the United States and three Suffragan Dioceses, including the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of California in addition to a Vicariate for the U.S. Military Services.
While the Old Catholic Confederation acknowledges His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. Joris Vercammen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, as Primate of the Old Catholic Church and Successor of St. Willibrord, the Old Catholic Churches of the Old Catholic Confederation are neither Member Churches of the Union of Utrecht nor subject to the authority of the Archbishop of Utrecht, since every people and nation have a right to their own national Church, cultural identity and juridical independence.
In fact, as Primate of the Old Catholic Confederation, Archbishop de Paulo has been the most prominent voice in North and South America, defending the natural and lawful “right” of Old Catholics in the United States, Canada and Latin America to have their own national Old Catholic Churches under the canonical authority of our own Synod of Bishops. Archbishop de Paulo has also vehemently objected to the current policy of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht to refer American Old Catholics to the Episcopal Church in the United States, arguing that this laissez-faire policy is profoundly disrespectful to Old Catholics who have their own ancient faith, traditions, spirituality and liturgy. The Archbishop has stated on many occasions that “American Old Catholics should not be advised by the Archbishop of Utrecht to become Episcopalian in order to become Old Catholic, which is not only absurd but deeply offensive.”
In recognition of the rights of the Old Catholics in the United States to live and worship authentically as Old Catholic Christians and in support of Archbishop de Paulo, on December 25, 2013, the Solemnity of the Nativity of Christ, His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. S. Tilewa Johnson, then Primate and Archbishop of the Church of the Province of West Africa of the Anglican Communion, published an official and historic proclamation recognizing the Old Catholic Confederation as a “distinct Old Catholic Christian Community.” With this proclamation, Archbishop Johnson declared the Old Catholic Churches of the Old Catholic Confederation to be under the 1931 Bonn Agreement since the Union of Utrecht has no juridical authority over Old Catholics in North and South America. On that Christmas Day in 2013, Archbishop Johnson also appointed Archbishop de Paulo as Episcopal Commissary of the Church of the Province of West Africa for North America, making him the only Old Catholic bishop outside of the Union of Utrecht to hold a Diplomatic Appointment within the worldwide Anglican Communion. Sadly, at the age of fifty-nine, Archbishop Johnson died suddenly of heart failure on January 21, 2014. Archbishop de Paulo continues to serve in this Diplomatic post for the Church of the Province of West Africa under the current Primate of West Africa, Archbishop Dr. Daniel Yinkah Sarfo, who also a strong advocate of the juridical authority of the Synod of Bishops of the Old Catholic Confederation and the rights of Old Catholics in North and South America.