Papalism without Infallibility

Orthodox Old [Roman] Catholicism

It would seem opportune, whilst the great debate about Anglicanorum Coetibus rages on, to propose the consideration of another option. “Pro-Roman” or “Pro-Papal” does not, I propose, have to mean an acceptance of Papal Infallibility, at least not as presently defined by Pastor Aeternus. It is possible, I would assert, to express a deep love, affection and respect for the Successor of Peter without becoming a Roman Catholic.

Orthodox Old [Roman] Catholicism i.e. the tradition derived from the Old Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands (that Church which was usurped by the institution of an alternative hierarchy by Pope Pius IX illegally i.e. Canonically) is, I would counter, an option for Anglicans of a “Pro-Papal” bent but who are unable in good conscience to submit to Papal Infallibility as it is currently defined and required as dogma.

Whilst there are many who call themselves “Old Catholic” churches and clergy, there are very few who really are. Regrettably, of course, that includes the Union of Utrecht Churches who have individually fallen into or condone apostasy for erroneous beliefs and praxis such as the ordination of women as Sacred Ministers. There are then a plethora of “episcopi vagante” clergy of various stripes, who, claiming descendence through Old Catholic Apostolic Succession (however obtained) fail to understand the contradiction in terms in describing themselves “independent Catholics”! There are then within that stripe “Liberal” and “Theosophic and even “Gnostic” supposed “Old Catholics” etc who fail to recognise or understand the requirement for adherence to the received Catholic Faith as necessary for validity – both ecclesiologically and Sacramentally; let alone the nutters, hypocrites, soothsayers and intellectually challenged who claim to be “valid” Old Catholics even though it is clear from their praxis they haven’t the faintest idea what being an “Old Catholic” means?!

Let us first understand what “Old [Roman] Catholicism” is. It is in fact not a tradition based on the idea of independence from Rome. In the first place it was the defence by the national Church of Holland to it’s right to jurisdiction and self-governance, granted it by ancient custom and Papal favour. This inalienable right was trounced upon by several Popes with an “ultramontane” agenda (from 1700) until eventually Pope Pius IX instituted another Roman Catholic hierarchy (1853) and refused to recognise the pre-existing Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands. Hence the term “Old Roman Catholic” used to differentiate in Holland between the continuing pre-existing Catholic Church and that imposed anew by Pius IX. (For a more complete history of the events that led up to this situation, please read this comprehensive account.)

Thus, Old Roman Catholicism initially referred simply to the ancient Catholic Church in Holland, until 1870 when other Roman Catholics, unpersuaded by the arguments for Papal Infallibility promulgated at the First Vatican Council, petitioned the Archbishop of Utrecht for episcopal and Sacramental care and oversight. The “Old Catholic” movement was thus born, bringing together Catholics on the Continent from Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere into communion with the ancient See of Utrecht and out of communion with the perceived erring See of Rome. However, these “Old Catholics”, so called as they perceived themselves to be practising Catholicism as it was pre-1870 without the addition of Papal Infallibility, nonetheless were themselves to begin to follow a path that would take them away from the purpose of their first ideal. Rather like the Reformation on the Continent and in England some three hundred years earlier, some of the “reformers” of Catholicism began to take things a bit too far in their strive to research, practice and redefine “primitive” Catholicism.

It wasn’t enough simply to continue to practice the Roman Catholic faith and tradition without the addition of Papal Infallibility (and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception) but the “Old Catholics” sought to “reform” other customs, traditions and beliefs also. So that, by the turn of the 20thC, Old Catholicism had not only reverted liturgical language to the vulgar tongue, but advocated the cessation of asking the intercession of the Saints and auricular Confession also. These “reforms”, the two latter particularly, were the reason why the progenitor of contemporary Old [Roman] Catholicism, Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, declared his independence from the See of Utrecht in 1910 (the Centennial of this event is 29 Dec 2010).

Despite the misfortunate and often unfortunate events of the life and career of ++Mathew, it was nonetheless his desire to return to the practice of the Old Roman Catholic religion without “additions” and later “reforms”, that he sought to establish a continuance of his original mission to Great Britain, formerly authorised by the See of Utrecht and the justification of his consecration by that See. Whilst it is clear in his eagerness to succeed in his mission he in turn consecrated some dubious individuals, nonetheless, there still exist to this day, fruits of that ministry which he began, now in the USA and more recently again in the UK who follow in the same intention of their “founder”. There are of course others, who followed those of lesser Catholic credit, who had variously persuaded or mislead ++Mathew as to the sincerity of their intentions when seeking his Orders and whose rotting fruit still exists and infects more souls to their eternal detriment [those in the “succession” of the Theosophists and Freemasons and who describe themselves as “Liberal” and “Gnostic” etc].

Of those then, the contemporaries of ++Mathew’s intent to practice the Old Roman Catholic religion, there are but few and though in small number are easily recognisable by their adherence to the ancient Catholic religion. Most notably the Old [Roman] Catholic Church of America, the Catholic Apostolic National Church USA (formerly the Old Catholic Church of the USA) and the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America, each of whom derive from the original mission founded in the USA by Bishop Landes-de-Berghes consecrated by ++Mathew. Of the earlier “Old Catholic” movement (of the Utrecht Union that preceded ++Mathew), the last orthodox jurisdiction is the Polish National Catholic Church whose founder and first Bishop, +Francis Hodur had also received consecration from the See of Utrecht. [There are others in the first category who continue the tradition of ++Mathew, but who are not as well known or established.]

Of course, in recent years, these Churches have themselves, rather than remained “preservationists for preservation’s sake” have developed liturgy and customs as other denominations have. However, in the main these few Churches use only historical Roman Catholic liturgies (the codified Latin Mass of Trent and a few the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, only the PNCC has developed it’s own modern liturgy, but this itself may be understood as a variation of the Novus Ordo and certainly in sympathy with traditional concepts of matter, form and intention) and the majority the Tridentine Ordinal for the continuation of the Sacred Ministry and Apostolic Succession. In terms of faith and praxis, these Old [Roman] Catholic Churches maintain that “which was believed everywhere and by all” [Vincentian Canon] prior to 1870, with varying degrees of relaxation re some disciplines [e.g. clerical celibacy] and required personal custom [e.g. eucharistic fast, private Confession etc]. However, despite variances in faith and praxis, these Churches maintain an authentic expression of the “primitive” Catholic Faith (i.e. of the Church of the first millennium) instantly recognisable to Anglican Catholics and even the Eastern Orthodox.

The culture of these Churches, in Faith, liturgy and in personal custom and praxis, closely resembles that of most “Anglo-Paplists” or “Pro-Roman” Anglican Catholics and would seem, under the present circumstances, to lend itself to such as these unable to maintain membership of some Anglican Churches due to apostasy or submit to Roman Catholicism fully (i.e. with Papal Infallibility). Doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary are held by these Old [Roman] Catholics as matters of “personal pious belief” rather than as dogma, which means belief in them is not a bar to membership of these Churches and often these Marian Feasts are celebrated or at least commemorated. But more importantly, Old [Roman] Catholics pray the Mass una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro and demonstrate in so doing their desire for reconciliation with the Holy See.

Despite the fact that the possibility of reconciliation between the Holy See and the See of Urecht would appear to be impossible now, due to the latter having apostasized from the Catholic Faith; still it is the hope of those in the Old [Roman] Catholic tradition that a reconciliation of orthodox Old Catholics and the See of Rome might yet be possible. Obviously such a reconciliation would no longer be based upon the restitution of the ancient rights of the See of Utrecht, but yet it might upon the basis of recognised Catholics wanting to be reunited with the Successor of Peter.

To be continued…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Fr. John says:

    Please see the “Affirmation of St. Louis” at: and consider adding your name at the bottom of the document to show your support.

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