Who We Are – Are We Really Independent?

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Bishops, bishops everywhere, but not a servant among them.

There was recently a discussion in a Facebook group surrounding lines of Apostolic succession for bishops within the independent catholic movement (ICM) – specifically whether the Catholic Church, the one headed by the Bishop of Rome, would take back priests from independent and schismatic groups.  It is not a new question and has been raised in other forums since the breakaway groups left the Church of Rome.  Interestingly, or not as the case may be, is that often those within the ICM turn to apologetics (defensive argument) to prove themselves.  In that I mean they either fight back against the arguments of others with more arguments or else they are purely defensive.  (The term “apologetic” means exactly as it sounds – that someone is defending themselves or justifying themselves against whatever appears to be wrong.)  The question I always come back to is, “Why does it matter so much what they think?”

A Jesuit friend of mine once asked me, “Is it more important that your Bishop has apostolic lineage, or is it more important that you serve the sacramental needs of people who mother church has disenfranchised?” I recognize he was not a “typical” Jesuit. We even celebrated together a couple of times till he took a mission in another country, but he’s right of course. We in the ICM spend great amounts of energy on our websites trying to prove we are just as valid as those in the Catholic Church. The truth, “like it or not” is that we exist.  We serve those “mother church” has thrown away.

Bishop James Wilkowski wrote, in his pastoral letter Define Us By Who We Are, Not By Who We Are Not, “Apostolic Succession is the doctrine in some of the more ancient Christian communions that the succession of bishops, in uninterrupted lines, is historically traceable back to the original twelve Apostles. Within Catholic Christianity it “is one of four marks which define the true Church of Jesus Christ”  and legitimizes the existing sacramental offices, as it is considered necessary for a bishop to perform legitimate or “valid” ordinations of priests, deacons, and other bishops.”

I hear the words and understand their meaning; I was after all taught such things in Catholic seminary, but I have yet to understand why that is important to the people who have been turned away at the door by priests who are more interested in rules and regulations than they are serving the spiritual and sacramental needs of the people of God.  Do they care if they are in the only “true” church?  Is there even such a thing as a “true” church?  Today we recognize there is no such thing as a single church being the true and correct one.  Heck, the Catholic Church itself didn’t even exist until well after the Great Redaction of the Bible in about the 6th century.  And let us not forget that this Catholic Church was actually founded by the Roman Empire, not the apostles.  Jesus didn’t create the church. The Apostles did spread the story of the Christ throughout the area, but they too did not create the church – they inspired it.

Today we refer to the apostle Peter as the founding Pope, but the truth is in those days there was no such thing as a pope or bishop, there was only the servant of God – priest.  James the Just was the head of the Church in Jerusalem, not Peter.  Today we are lead to believe that Rome was the origin city of the Church, but in those days Jesus was a Jew.  The center of +His world was Jerusalem.  There is NOTHING which suggests Jesus ever went to Rome, let alone claim it should be the founding empire; however, in about the year 90 – 120 CE the Roman Empire established Rome as the center of the Christian Church (and the world) and so Peter, who was the head of the Christian Church in Rome, became the default leader of the entire Christian Church.  The problem with that is that Peter had already died in about 67 CE – he wasn’t even alive at the time, yet he somehow became the first Pope.

“In his commentary on Acts, Evangelical scholar I. Howard Marshall presents Peter as a central but still lesser authority than James, a perspective held by numerous Evangelical commentators. While Peter appealed to experience, Marshall states, “The decisive voice in the meeting, however, lay neither with Peter nor with the delegates from Antioch, but with James. This may have been due partly to the position which he increasingly came to hold as the foremost leader in the church (12:17), and partly also to the fact that he was regarded as a champion of a conservative Jewish outlook” (Acts, 249, 251)” Carl Olsen of Catholic Answers Magazine, 2012

Despite evidence to the contrary we are supposed to believe the only way to serve the People of God is to have a direct line of succession to the first Pope – Peter.  The other apostles are not even a part of the picture.  Funny – I remember the story of the cenacle supper and the descent of the Holy Spirit on ALL who were present at that meal, not just one or two people.

And so I go back to the words spoken by my Jesuit friend – what matters more?  If I were vagantes would I still be preoccupied with validity of orders, or would I continue to minister to the poor, the disenfranchised, and the castaways?  Did the Christ really mean for us to have power struggles and artificial barriers instituted to keep people away from +His teachings?  Show me exactly where it says that the Christ commanded us to fracture +His most Holy Spirit into shards with which to slash the throats of +His followers!  When exactly did the Christ say +His church was to be focused on rules and regulations which determine the worthiness of believers!  As far as I remember, the Christ rebelled against the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Why would +He create another political institution filled with the same kind of people?

And so…  It is finally time to step away from apologetics and engage in a real healthy defining of who we are as Independent Catholics.

We Are a progressive, inclusive, and affirming community who are:
+ Inclusive of women in the priesthood.
+ Affirming of the Love shared between two people whether they are priests, LGTB, hetero, divorced, or not of the same faith.
+ A safe place of healing for all those who have been hurt or cast aside and who still turn to Catholic spirituality and liturgy.
+ A living, breathing Church. One which is a ‘process’ seeking to continue the ministry of the Christ, Jesus.
+ A Church in Apostolic Succession.
+ A continuation of the Sacramental Vision entrusted to the disciples through the Christ.

We, like those we serve, are Catholics-in-exile – not under the authority of the Vatican, but a reformed, progressive, inclusive, and affirming Catholicism rooted in the emergent Church.  Why does it matter what the Catholic Church thinks about the Independent Catholic Movement?  Why do we care if they approve of us or not?  Why are we so focused on Validity of orders or of one day returning home to “mother church”?  Why aren’t we instead focusing our attention and energies on serving those who, like us, have become disenfranchised?

Beyond all that, we have nothing for which to apologize.  We should hold our heads up high and recognize that though we have formed ourselves according to the traditions set forth by the Holy Roman Empire, we are not restricted by their rules and regulations, nor are we restricted by their approval or disapproval.

If we are truly to be independent from the Church of Rome, then we must cease being dependent on their approval and of being dependent on their artificial rules and regulations.

We exist.  We serve – in Love.

May the Blessings+ of Almighty God be with ALL, not just some.

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