Old Catholic: A Fallacy?

“The problem with them is that they have no sense of identity.  Are they still Catholic or are they something else?  They spend far too much time defining what they are not that they don’t know who they are.  They need a sense of identity” Fr. JM, sj., A Conversation on Independence, KjN. 2013.

Old Catholic
Old Catholic

His words were so honest and simple that it took me a few minutes to recover.  I stared at him from across the room with, from what he said, was a confused look on my face.  I suppose, in a way, he is right.  Within the autocephalous movement terms and names are thrown around with the expectation that they will make everything alright – they don’t.  Independent this, autocephalous that – “Old Catholic“.  All terms used to apologize for who and what we are – schismatics who have broken away from the rules and regulations, but not the spirit or sacramental presence of the Catholic Church.  Our identity has become our apology for what we have done.  Then, to add insult to injury, we look back to the Mother Church for approval of what we are doing and use her own words against her to prove our validity – to prove an unbroken line of apostolic lineage back to the days of James the Just (First bishop of Jerusalem) and Peter (the Bishop of Rome under the Roman Empire and rule).

My friend, a priest in the Jesuit order, placed his hand on my shoulder and beckoned me to the altar; “You are a priest regardless of from where you come.  Be a priest.”  He was right!  I am a Catholic priest.  Period.  It just so happens that I am not under the authority of Bishop of Rome, but that does not make me any less of who I am – a servant to those who have been, like me, thrown away in favor of unhealthy leaders and inequality.  I have nothing for which to apologize.  I serve the disenfranchised and those who have left the corporate church due to severe irregularities within the hierarchy and within the doctrines of the church; specifically those which go against the true teachings of the Christ.

So where is the fallacy?  The fallacy is that we are not at all old.  While schismatic entities are in a sense old, we are a very new and dynamic autocephalous movement celebrating in diverse ways throughout the United States of America and beyond.  Some “Old” catholics celebrate elaborate rites with their backs still turned to the People of God and others celebrate the new “Roman” rite.  Others have created their own rubrics and celebrations in favor of control and dominance while others have created more open and inclusive dialogs.

stillbooThe term “Old Catholic” was first used in 1853 to describe the members of the See of Utrecht who did not recognize any claimed “infallible” papal authority.  Later Catholics who disagreed with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility as made official by the First Vatican Council (1870) had no bishop and so joined with Utrecht to form the Union of Utrecht.  Today the term is used to identify with something “other” than the Church founded by the Roman Empire.  Few groups today, in the United States of America, are actually a part of the real Union of Utrecht, though they claim to follow the principles and doctrines of that rite.  In fact, according to the Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches (via personal contact through email communications), there is no real presence of that organization in the United States.  There was, however, a faction of the rite who came to the United States through the Anglican Church – another seriously fractured organization.  There may be some out there who are part of the Anglican tradition and the Old Catholic church brought over by that faction, but they are not officially part of the original Union of Utrecht.

What we really are is an emergent church.  We are free from Roman rule and thereby independent churches celebrating in union with the Christ who becomes the primacy and sole focus of our lives and service.  We view the Bishop of Rome to be like any other bishop – a man who is human and therefore prone to weakness and error.  He is NOT the sole voice of the Divine and he is most certainly NOT the voice of the entirety of Christianity.

The Church as a whole, that is to say the People of God, must step into the role of true community and once again become the ‘process’ of growth that is church by allowing ministry to breathe and grow through the already provided examples given to us by the Christ. The autocephalous or independent church must breath anew.  At the emergence of a then new apostolic era, Vatican II, Pope Paul VI proclaimed with fullness of spirit that, “Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.”  It is that goal and spirit with which the autocephalous and independent church must greet the world with arms opened wide.  We are catholic – we are truly a universal entity in the Christ, Jesus.  Our focus should be on +His teachings.  We have NOTHING for which to apologize and must march forward with our heads held high and Spirit-filled hearts ready for the new day.

It is time to define us by who we are and what we do.  It is time to focus on the here and now, not the past.  It is time for us to look to the future, not the past.  And it is time to redefine who we hope to be, were we fit into the Christian model of service; and time to separate ourselves from that from which we have officially separated.

I am not an old catholic – I am a new and reborn catholic.  I am emergent.  I am a part of the  Living Catholic Church and am free to celebrate the needs of a diverse humanity.  Since I am not under the authority of Rome, I do not apologize for my actions, nor do I look to them for approval.  Come with me if you want, or stay where you are.  I will be here regardless.



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