The early church
In the early years the Church grew up around five historical Patriarchs. The government of the Church was “Conciliar” as evidenced by the first Seven Ecumenical Councils which defined the faith of the Church between 325 and 787AD.
East and west
For the first thousand years the Church was known as the One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church. This unity was divided in the 11th Century when the Patriarch of Rome claimed to exercise jurisdiction over the whole Church. This led to the Great Schism of 1054, separating the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs from Rome through excommunication since they did not agree to accept Papal Supremacy. Therefore, the Eastern Churches became known as the Eastern Orthodox Churches and became primarily ethnic and national churches. The Western Catholic Church set itself apart from the other Patriarchs and established the Roman Catholic Church as we know it today.
In 1870 Pope Pius IX presided over what became Vatican I. It was at this Council that the notion of Papal Infallibility was proclaimed a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.
Papal Infallibility means that when the Pope, by virtue of his office, speaks on behalf of the Church in regards to faith and morals, he speaks without error. In other words, it is impossible for the Pope to make a mistake when he speaks for the Church.
This idea was made a dogma which means that every Roman Catholic must believe it under pain of sin.
The “Old Catholic Movement”
A large number of clergy left that council in disagreement with that idea saying that Christ was the only one who was perfect and infallible and that no man was infallible. Thus the “Old Catholic Movement” was birthed. These dissenting Catholics throughout Europe believed that, although the Pope may be the leader of the Catholic Church, he is never infallible, for that had never been
Therefore these Catholics formed independent communities that became Old Catholic. They were called Old Catholic because they sought to turn back the clock and adhere to the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church prior to the various divisions, particularly prior to the great schism of 1054 AD which divided the Eastern and Western churches.
Most Old Catholic jurisdictions derive their apostolic succession through the independent Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht in Holland. In the early half of the eighteenth century, a dispute between
caused the development of a break with Rome. The Pope intervened on the side of the Jesuits contrary to Canon Law in that Utrecht was exercising its right to elect its own Bishop under Papal authority given by Pope Eugene III in 1145 that had been confirmed again by the Vatican in 1215, 1520 and 1717. The Bishop and his See and his successors were given sovereign rights as a national church. A second Papal Grant was given by Pope Leo X, "Debitum Pastoralis" which conceded that neither the Bishop of Utrecht nor any of his successors, nor any of their clergy or laity, should ever have his cause taken to an external tribunal (Rome or anywhere else) for any reason. Any such proceeding would be null and void.
This papal concession (the Leonine Privilege), in 1520, is the most important defense of the rights of the Catholic Church of Utrecht. It concedes that the House of Bishops is the final recourse in any Old Catholic diocese.
All the trouble really began in 1592 when the Jesuits began interfering in the affairs of the archbishop of Utrecht. The Jesuits were rebuked by the Pope; however, they did not stop. This continued until 1611 when again the Jesuits raised trouble with the newly elected Archbishop Peter Codde and Rome over the use of the "vernacular in the liturgy"; nevertheless the Utrecht church continued its use. Finally in 1691 the Jesuits charged Archbishop Codde with favoring the so-called Jansenism "heresy" (Rome now concedes they are only errors.) Pope Innocent XII appointed a Commission of Cardinal to investigate the charges; the result was a complete and unconditional exoneration of the Archbishop.
Fleeing the Jesuits and politically motivated French authorities, many Jansenists fled to Holland for sanctuary. Archbishop Peter Codde refused to comply with the Pope's demand that he condemn the people and was wrongly deposed by the Pope in 1702 according previsions documents mentioned above. The Pope appointed a new Archbishop for Holland and the church was divided as most remained faithful to their elected Archbishop Peter Codde.
As a result, many Dutch Catholics remained loyal to their archbishop and became an independent Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Utrecht traces his apostolic succession back to the Holy Apostles. Other Old Catholics hold valid lines of apostolic succession from the Assyrian Church of the East, and branches of the various Eastern Orthodox Churches in addition to various other Eastern Catholic Churches.
Old Catholics are closely related to other Catholic communities that became independent of Rome. These Catholic communities are growing throughout the world. For example there are over 5 million in the Independent Catholic Church of Brazil. Another 3 million in the Independent Catholic Church of the Philippines. There is a growing number of over 600,000 Old and Independent Catholics in numerous jurisdictions in the United States worshiping our Lord, of which we are a part. These figures do not include the members of jurisdictions throughout all of the European nations. Same liturgy, rites and sacraments Since we are a western Catholic Church we use the same liturgy as the Roman Catholic Church, which includes all the rites and seven sacraments. However, since our bishop traces his apostolic succession through
and he also holds additional lines from both
there is also the influence from those churches with the use of icons in the church. This we like to believe, gives us an example of the fulfillment of Christ's prayer that His church should be a visible sign of unity as one body on earth worshiping together.
The Founding Document
The Declaration of Utrecht is the founding document of the Old Catholic churches.