The Old Catholic Church
An Ancient and Apostolic Church
Through Apostolic Succession, the Old Catholic Church is an ancient, apostolic and particular Catholic Church consisting of various national Churches, including the Old-Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht in Europe, the Polish National Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church of British Columbia and the Old Catholic Church in the United States of the Old Catholic Confederation, continuing the orthodox Christian faith and the ancient Catholic tradition.
As a result of the ultramontanism of the Nineteenth century, a movement that exaggerates the powers of the pope, and the theological crisis of the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), which declared the new dogma of papal infallibility, the Old Catholic movement developed from those Roman Catholic bishops, priests and lay people who in conscience objected to these new teachings and desired to preserve the ancient Catholic Church. Thus, directly following the First Vatican Council in 1870, a communion of Old-Catholics convened in Nuremberg, Germany under the leadership of the theologian and priest, Johann Joseph Ignaz Dollinger. Further, because of necessity, the Old Catholic movement became a separate and independent Catholic Church with German Bishop Joseph Hubert Reinkens, who became the first bishop for the Old-Catholics.
The Old Catholic Church recognizes the first Seven Ecumenical Councils and doctrine accepted by the Church Universal before the Great Schism of 1054 and affirms the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed in its original formula.
The Ancient See of Utrecht
The ancient See of Utrecht in the Netherlands holds historical significance in itself, but it also holds a special place of importance for Old-Catholics who regard it as the mother Church for our movement.
It is particularly noteworthy to mention that the ancient See of Utrecht and its bishops were essentially independent of Rome until 1702. In fact, due to the historical significance of Utrecht and St. Willibrord, its founding archbishop, the bishops and archbishops of the See of Utrecht were elected by its own local chapter of canons of the Cathedral, as the result of rights and privileges of the former Frankish kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire that was recognized by the ancient See of Rome for a thousand years. However, because of the confusion and chaos of the Reformation in the Low Countries, the See of Utrecht was later placed under the control of Rome and its existing independence dissolved. Nevertheless, in spite of the inhibition of Utrecht's Archbishop Peter Codde in 1702 and the papal threat to "demote" the venerable Province of Utrecht 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 was preserved in the Old-Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.
An Independent Catholic Church
The Old Catholic Confederation affirms the ancient, Apostolic tradition concerning 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 derives from the notion 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 promulgated as dogma the doctrine of papal supremacy (universal Episcopal 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 respective 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 Church in the United States, bishops are elected by the national Synod of Bishops in consultation with the local presbyterate (clergy) and lay representatives from the around the nation. The Synod is the highest apostolic authority 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, which is under the canonical authority of the local bishop.
Thus, as an Episcopal-Synodical Church, the Old Catholic Church is hierarchical, but also 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 are debated: This authority belongs solely to an ecumenical Council of the Church.
An Ecumenical Church
Since we believe that Baptism is the primary sacrament whereby one becomes a Christian and thus a member of the Church, all baptized Christians are welcome to receive the Sacraments in the Old Catholic Church, including reception of the Holy Eucharist at the Celebration of the Divine Liturgy. 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. Likewise, the Old Catholic Church in the United States is in ecclesial partnership with the Church of the Province of West Africa of the Anglican Communion.
The Old Catholic Church in the United States
Since 1900, the Old Catholic Church in the United States has promoted our ancient Catholic faith and religious traditions in North America despite religious discrimination and persecution. Over the last decade, OCC Prelate Dr. Craig J. N. de Paulo has been the most prominent voice in North America, defending the natural and constitutional “right” of Old-Catholics in the United States to their own national Old Catholic Church under its own Synod of Bishops. Bishop de Paulo has also vehemently objected to the current policy of the Union of Utrecht and its former Primate, Archbishop Dr. Joris Vercammen, to simply refer American Old-Catholics to its Communion partner, the Episcopal Church in the United States. Bishop de Paulo has further argued that this laissez-faire policy is not only theologically confused, but profoundly disrespectful to American Old-Catholics who have their own ancient faith, traditions, spirituality and liturgy. Dr. de Paulo 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.” While Old-Catholics maintain full Communion with Anglicans and share the fundamentals of the faith, we have our own distinct religious identity, sacred tradition and theological methodology.
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 Bishop 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 Confederation to be under the 1931 Bonn Agreement since the Union of Utrecht has no juridical authority over Old-Catholics in North America. On that Christmas Day in 2013, Archbishop Johnson also appointed Bishop de Paulo as Episcopal Commissary of the Church of the Province of West Africa for Old-Catholics, elevating him to the dignity of Archbishop and 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. Nevertheless, the Church of the Province of West Africa continues to support the Old Catholic Confederation and the religious freedom of the American Old-Catholics, and Bishop de Paulo continued to serve in this Diplomatic post for the Church of the Province of West Africa also under Archbishop Dr. Daniel Yinkah Sarfo.
We gratefully acknowledge that some of the information above was taken from the official website of the Catholic Diocese for Old Catholics in Germany, which can be found at: http://www.alt-katholisch.de/