Why orthodox Old Catholics should support the Pope

Originally posted on “The Parish Blog“, February 21st 2009 – and still true now…

A question that has been posed to me, especially of late, and that I feel I ought to respond to publicly is… “Why do you, as an Old Catholic priest, support the Pope [of Rome]?”.

An initial response: simply because, despite being an “Old Catholic” I must surely recognise the Bishop of Rome as the historical and legitimate “Patriarch of the West”. Now I know that particular title has been “dropped” from the official titles of the Pope (since the 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio) but nonetheless, it is an historic title (and completely defensible by resources/references from anitiquity) of the Bishop of Rome – far more so than “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church”! Also, historically, it is important to remember where “Old” Catholics come from…

“Old” Catholics are so-called because after the promulgation of “Pastor Aeternus” (the doctrine of Papal Infallibility) promulgated the by the First Vatican Council (VCI) in 1870, Catholic scholars and theologians opposed to the doctrine met together in Germany at Munich at what was to become the “First Old Catholic Congress” in 1871, rejecting the “innovation” of the “new” doctrine as defined by the decree. They called themselves “Old Catholics” because they saw themselves as adhering to the Catholic Faith as it had been received and transmitted basically according to the principles of the Vincentian Canon “that which has been believed everywhere and by all” and to the OEcumenical Councils predating 1054 (the divide between the Eastern and Western Catholicates) inspite of VCI and the declarations thereof. What they did affirm about the Papacy was;

“We acknowledge the primacy of the Roman bishop, as it was received by the Fathers on the ground of Scripture. We declare that the dogmas of can only be defined in accordance with Holy Scripture, and that the dogmatic decisions of a Council must be shown to be in harmony with the originally delivered faith of the Church, in the direct consciousness of belief of the Catholic people and theological science.”

I hold then, that it is utterly defensible as an “Old” Catholic to recognise and acknowledge the Bishop of Rome (Pope) as the “Chief Pastor” of the historical Western Catholicate, the Church which Old Catholicism claims to be a continuation of. It is for this self-same reason that Old Catholics using the Tridentine Rite, whether in the vernacular or in Latin, have always mentioned the Bishop of Rome as the “Chief Pastor” in the Canon of the Mass. At no time did the Old Catholic Congresses (of Munich 1871, Cologne 1872, Constance 1873 or Bonn 1874) at any time in any of their declarations refute the the primacy of the See of Peter, rather they refuted the exageration of the claims made by the Papal See under Pius IX and sought to “reform” the Church from abuses regarding indulgences, imposed celibacy etc.

It is wholly appropriate therefore, for Old Catholics to share culturally with other Western Catholics, a deep love and concern for the Holy Father. It is wholly natural for them to pray for the Pope and where they can in conscience work collaboratively with him and defend or support him in his role as Prime Bishop of the Western Catholicate in defense of the Catholic Faith. It behoves Old Catholic Clergy to guide their faithful in the proper support that may be shown and demonstrated for the Holy Father, particularly where this does not impede, contradict or otherwise endanger a proper knowledge or understanding of true Catholic doctrine – without falling into the trap of extraneous material that is not consistant with the “received” Catholic Faith or contrary to the spirit or purpose of those declarations of the Old Catholic Congresses.

In short, “Old” Catholics are essentially “Roman” Catholics without adhering to the doctrine of “Papal Infallibility” and that only as it is defined in Pastor Aeternus. Old Catholics do recognise the Primacy of the See of Rome and the Petrine Ministry, it is, if you like, only the “workings out” of it that they disagree upon as it has been defined. Cardinal Newman himself expressed doubts about the decree Pastor Aeternus and many Bishops and theologians at the time were not wholly convinced of it’s argument. An Old Catholic can be a Papal supporter without being disingenuous to our position on Papal Infallibility! We should all hope and pray for that day when East and West can come together again in Council to agree and decide on these issues.

For the reasons given above, I find myself, particularly during the present climate of hostility towards the whole Catholic Church targeted particularly at the present moment in the person of the present Pope, needing to demonstrate my solidarity with other Catholics in support of the Holy Father. Benedict XVI to my mind represents the best hope for reconciliation between the members of the Catholic Church than any other Pontiff, certainly in my lifetime, has before. Mindful of the fact that his presence and guidance has been evident throughout the pontificate of the last Pope, John Paul II, the Holy Father has shown demonstrable understanding together with distinct theological credibility regarding an appreciation of the whole Catholic Church and Faith consonant with Scripture and Tradition that seeks to reconcile and make whole the “one flock”. Admittedly, it is the area of the “one shepherd” on earth that presents the greatest difficulty and I would suggest the Holy Father should seek dialogue and address sooner rather than later with the other historical and recognised Catholic Patriarchs.

Frequent and assiduous viewers of our online broadcast of the Mass may have noticed of late my inclusion from the Tabula Orationum, the additional Propers Con Perscutores Ecclesiae and Pro Papa, namely the additional Collects, Secrets and Postcommunion Prayers For the Church and For the Pope. Those who have listened to my homilies may also have picked up my warnings and themes regarding a persecution of the Church now and in our time. To my mind, we as Catholics, are facing a persecution as great as that which our forbears withstood in the 3rd Century under Diocletian (amongst others). Similarly we are also battling with apostasy – or as John Paul II called a “silent apostasy” within our ranks.

Prayers are urgently needed and required for the whole Church, the whole corporate Body of Christ as we need to bear witness to not just an increasingly secularised world but one which is growing in the arrogance that Man is the summit and pinnacle of all creation, is the ruler of life and death and in independent control over his own destiny and that of the whole world. Humanism – not that utopian principle such as St Thomas Moore extolled, but the new kind which preaches the centralist perspective of “ego” is threatening the moral cohesiveness of human society by extolling the virtue of “self” above all others. A greater witness than ever needs to be made for “Charity” – not conscience relieving alms giving – but that Divine Love expressed through the Body of Christ – spiritually, sacramentally, corporately, intelligently, compassionately and unselfishly amongst all who believe.