Monday, December 12, 2011

Utrecht and America: A Love/Hate Relationship (minus the love)...

Utrecht has never been fond of its bald-headed stepchild church in America.To recap the history: Father Renee Vilatte went to Switzerland to be ordained a deacon and priest by Bishop Herzog of the Swiss Christian Catholic Church. All accounts say that Bishop Herzog was not a particularly pleasant man and the relationship didn't last long. Renee then completely alienated his Episcopalian host Bishop Grafton and Bishop Herzog by being consecrated by Archbishop Alvarez of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.

Little is mentioned of our second Utrecht transplant--Bishop Anthony Kozlowski. He was consecrated in 1897 by Herzog, Gul, and Weber in Bern. He continued pretty successfully until his death in 1907. At this point his remaining parishes were mostly incorporated into the PNCC.

Then there is Bishop Hodur who was consecrated in 1907 by Gul, et al. in Utrecht. This relationship lasted until 2003 when the relationship between the two became unstable. Utrecht began ordaining women and non-celibate gay clergy which angered the PNCC. The PNCC had begun a gradual shift towards conservatism with its subsequent leadership and with an influx of married former Roman Catholic priests. This is in spite of the progressive tradition of Bishop Hodur who declared the Word of God a sacrament, preached universalism, and wrote his own liturgy. The PNCC had, for years, been participating in ECUSA consecrations until the ordination of women.

Arnold Harris Mathew was, of course, consecrated in 1908 by Gul, etc. in Utrecht and he sent Rudolph de Landes-Berghes over to America. Rudolph found success with ECUSA high society and even participated in the consecration of the Bishop of Cuba, Hiram Hulse, in 1915. This relationship was to be short lived, however. Anyone who had anything to do with Mathew has been almost anathema for years with the Old Catholics. A Swiss Old Catholic priest, Christoph Schuler, even wrote his dissertation for a Master of Theology degree on "The Mathew Affair" in 1994. In the publication he lists multiple reasons that, according to Old Catholics, made Mathew's lineage invalid.

Fast forward to the 1980's, when Father Donald Currie was sent by the Council of Independent Catholic Bishops to visit Utrecht. He was even successful in meeting with Archbishop Glazemaker and forming a friendship with him. However, Father Currie was killed in 1990 and the Council of Independent Catholic Bishops (made up of primarily Old Roman Catholic prelates) would not ascent to women and openly-gay priests. The purpose of these meetings was more fraternal than intentionally unifying.

In 2005, the Old Catholic Church of British Columbia became an "affiliate partner" with the Union of Utrecht per their translation of a Dutch publication. The Google translator uses the words "aspiring member of the Union." Regardless of the extent of their relationship, it was short lived. The Old Catholic Church of British Columbia now says: "Later he was invited to attend as a member the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Wislikofen, Switzerland, from 4-8 February 2007, accompanied by Fr. Claude Lacroix, as our representative of Qu├ębec. Due to difference of opinion at that conference, we are no longer part of the said Union."

In 2006, the Conference of North American Old Catholic Bishops got together with Bishop Mike Klusmeyer of ECUSA. Joining them were Old Catholic priests Dr. Esser and Fr. Marcussen (serving in ECUSA). Present were Bishops Peter Paul Brennan, Chuck Leigh, Robert Fuentes, and Peter Hickman. Since that time, Fuentes has formed The Old Catholic Church, Province of the United States with several other bishops. Hickman continues to lead the Ecumenical Catholic Communion and Leigh continues to lead the Apostolic Catholic Church. Brennan continues to minister for Married Priests and the Order of Corporate Reunion. No new news has been reported.

There have been, at various times, European Old Catholic ordained or currently affiliated priests that have visited American Old Catholic communities. But their presence is always an unofficial one of testing out the waters. This leaves the age old question "How do you solve a problem like American Old Catholics...?" (For those not familiar with the play on words, see:


  1. Prayers for the Old Catholic Founders
    This year I would like to begin the tradition of praying for the Founders of the Old Catholic movement. The Founders are a unique collection of men and women, who by following their consciences on matters of theology and pastoral care, found themselves outside the protection of the institutionalized hierarchy of the Church. I believe it is safe to assume that none of these Catholic reformers intended to be in conflict with the Church which they loved, however, they loved the Church enough to embrace the conflict in order to build a Church of conscience. Although some of the Founders were saintly in certain aspects, the historical reality has shown that these men and women were also fallen individuals with their own struggles of faith and charity. As we begin this year, let us remember our Founders in prayer, both that their visions for the Church may bear fruit in the modern world according to the will of God and also that their souls be joined in perfect union with the God whom they sought to understand. With great humility we walk in the footsteps of these men and women, with our own fallibility, praying that the next generation of Old Catholics will learn from our mistakes and be edified by our bold declaration of the Gospel of Grace despite all opposition.

    To see the calendar, see

  2. The constant dissension among old Catholic bishops makes it a weak and incoherent organization. I think they should try to unite even with their differences with the ordination of women and gay men (which have always been members of the clergy whether roman, episcopal or old). They could have dioceses that do not ordain women, etc. and other dioceses that do. The constant splintering of the church makes it irrelevant. It needs some kind of authority to keep it together. If every bishop thinks he is the pope, it won't last much longer.