WHAT IS THE AMERICAN CATHOLIC CHURCH?
The American Catholic Church, one of many autocephalous (self-governing) churches within the tradition of the Old Catholic Church, was established in order to minister in the sacred, sacramental tradition of our Catholic heritage while offering a more personal, pastoral, approach and progressive ideology than that of the larger, and more well known, forms of Catholicism. (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglo-Catholic.) We are a pilgrim Church, conscious of our time and place, journeying as a community in an ever-changing world. To this end, the Mission Statement of our church reflects our commitment to proclaiming compassion for all, the equal dignity of all, and the possibility for all persons to know and love God and their neighbor in a unique way. We are a community open to exploring new theological horizons while remaining grounded in the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” tradition, and yet aware that God is too big to be contained or limited by human thought or organization.
We presently have priests serving in California, Nevada, Washington, and Mexico. Some are serving in parishes, while others serve in hospital, prison or hospice chaplaincies, as therapists, teachers or in other professional positions.
HOW MANY “OLD CATHOLICS” ARE THERE?
Old Catholics are estimated at approximately 230,000 people in the United States compared with 77 million Roman Catholics. However, in Europe, the Old Catholic church is known well known.
Independent Catholic churches are difficult to characterize, because their beliefs range from liberal to conservative.
Old Catholic churches have been in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. Their roots stem from the first Vatican Council in 1869-70, if not earlier. After Vatican I, some Catholic leaders broke from Rome over the papal infallibility doctrine.
Old Catholic churches in the U.S. are most often found in California, Chicago, Texas, Florida and New Mexico. There are more than 150 separate jurisdictions of independent Catholic churches.
IN WHAT WAYS ARE WE CATHOLIC?
As members of the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” we preserve an Apostolic Succession of Bishops which is of unquestioned validity and which is derived from Rome through the Episcopacy of the Old Catholic Church, established after the First Vatican Council in 1870. Other lines of succession extend from the African Orthodox Church deriving its succession from The Ancient See of St. Peter in Antioch, as well as through the Roman Catholic Church derived from the Igreja Catholica Apostolica Brasileria, The Chaldean Patriarchate, the Order of Corporate Reunion and L’Eglise Johannite des Chretiens Primitif’s. In addition, lines also come from The See of St. Augustine at Canterbury and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. As Catholic Christians, we celebrate the seven sacraments of the Church, and adhere to the essentials of Catholic doctrine and practice as these have been expressed in the traditional creeds of the Catholic Church, in various declarations, and in the doctrinal formulations of the Ecumenical Councils through to, and especially including Vatican II. Yet we also listen for the Word of God responding to the movements of today’s world, and look to see the action and call of the Spirit in the lives of those around us.
The Old Catholic Church was founded by Bishops at the time of Vatican I in the 1800s who could not accept the dogma of Papal Infallibility. Even though we do not believe the Successor of Peter to be infallible, we acknowledge the primacy of the Petrine Office and render respect due to the Bishop of Rome as well as to his authority when he speaks in union with the Catholic Bishops. The primacy (not supremacy) of the Holy Father (Pope) is the focus of Old Catholics.
We have a deep love for our extensive Catholic traditions, and therefore permit use of the Sacramentaries for the Roman Church, the Orthodox Church and the Anglo-Catholic Churches, as well as nurture an openness to liturgical development as laid out by Vatican II, especially around the issues of cultural sensitivity, that worship is indeed always “the work of the people.”
SO HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER CATHOLICS?
Even as we are grounded in the essentials of Catholic Faith and practice, we believe we can offer to the world a new and hopeful Catholicism, a renewed and open Church, which is committed to furthering the noblest aspirations of the human mind and heart. In keeping with our respect for the full human dignity of all persons as well as our desire to offer a more progressive approach to sacerdotal ministry/ we welcome women and men, single, celibate, partnered and married persons into the clergy. We are committed to promoting a leadership of service rather than one characterized by domination and control. We see ourselves as a support and facilitator of the relationship between an individual and the Divine, rather than an intermediary. The American Catholic Church is not independent from or dependent on, but rather sees itself as interdependent with the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, and Protestant faith communities.
HOW IS THE CHURCH GOVERNED?
We maintain a collegial ecclesiastical structure which, while preserving the traditional orders of Church governance, allows for greater equality/ for a more democratic process, for diversity in unity and unity in diversity, and which allows the voice of the people to be heard. We are committed to an ecclesiastical policy which genuinely allows the laity to take their rightful place in the governments of the local and diocesan Church and which gives due respect to their gifts, to their intelligence, and to their human rights.
IS ANYONE WELCOME TO OUR SACRAMENTS?
We are committed to creating communities which are inclusive on the basis not only of gender but also of age, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or physical disability. We seek to embrace and to reconcile, rather than to condemn and to alienate those whose circumstances have caused them to experience rejection by churches as well as by society at-large. Thus, in accordance with our general policy of ecumenical openness and of compassion for all our sisters and brothers in Christ, we do not withhold reception of the Sacraments from any qualified person who desires to receive them. In particular, we place no artificial barriers in the way of reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Not wishing to impose additional hardships upon those who are divorced, we consider that remarriage after divorce does not in itself constitute a barrier to the reception of any of the sacraments. We are also committed to providing the Sacrament of Matrimony to all couples who seriously seek it, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification.
DOES THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CONSIDER THE SACRAMENTS OF OLD CATHOLICS VALID?
When members of the Roman Catholic Church encounter Old Catholic Churches for the first time, they are often surprised to learn that Catholic denominations exist apart from Rome. Understandably, questions are raised about the validity of Orders and Sacraments administered by Old Catholics.
We hope the following information will be helpful. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
At the Vatican on 16 June 2000, Pope John Paul II ratified and ordered the publication of Dominus Iesus. This Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was signed and published by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) in August of the same year. In this Declaration, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the validity of Orders and Sacraments of Old Catholic denominations:
“The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches… Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such… have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church, 17.
Catholic Almanac – 1974
“The Roman Church recognizes the validity of Old Catholic Orders and other Sacraments.” (Felician A. Roy, OFM, p. 368)
The Pastoral Companion – A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry – Third Edition by John M. Huels,J.C.D. page 335
“The principal condition is that these sacraments can be received only from validly ordained ministers. These are ministers who belong to “churches that have preserved the substance of the Eucharistic teaching, the sacraments of orders, and apostolic succession” This would include all Eastern non – Catholic churches, the Polish National Church, Old Catholic, and Old Roman Catholic.
“We have no reason to doubt that the Old Catholic Orders are valid. The Apostolic Succession does not depend on obedience to the See of Peter, but rather on the objective line of succession from Apostolic sources, the proper matter and form, and the proper intention … likewise Old Catholic bishops are bishops in Apostolic Succession … The Old Catholics, like the Orthodox, possess a valid priesthood.” (William J. Whalan, pp. 204,248)
Rights and Responsibilities: A Catholic’s Guide to the New Code of Canon Law
“When a Catholic sacred minister is unavailable and there is urgent spiritual necessity, Catholics may receive the Eucharist, penance, or anointing from sacred ministers of non-Catholic denominations whose Holy Orders are considered valid by the Catholic Church. This includes all Eastern Orthodox priests, as well as priests of the Old Catholic or Polish National Church.” (Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., p. 44)