The following are given to explain the differences between these various misunderstandings or misinterpretations of Old Roman Catholicism…
Despite sharing a history with those who later became to be called “Old Catholics” at first glance to the ignorant or ill-informed, Old Roman Catholicism may be confused with “Old Catholicism” of which there are generally four categories;
- Union of Utrecht Old Catholic Churches (UU): formed in 1870 by disaffected Roman Catholics in response to the First Vatican Council who sought episcopal oversight from the Old Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands (the See of Utrecht) which then, after succumbing to Protestanising influences within the Utrecht Union dropped the designation “Old Roman Catholic” for “Old Catholic”.
- Independent Old Catholic churches: formed by various vagante bishops, who often trace their Apostolic Succession from historical Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions through schismatic bishops.
- Liberal Old Catholic churches: those who continue in the apostasy of bishops who were deposed or schismed from the Old Roman Catholic Church for adopting heretical theologies e.g. theosophy and universalism.
- Independent Catholic: sometimes called the “Independent Sacramental Movement” (ISM) various vagante bishops’ who’s Apostolic lineage may historically descend from various schismatic bishops of the Old Roman Catholic or Roman Catholic Churches.
Contrary to popular belief, Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions have been extremely protective of their Apostolic Succession i.e. not usually taking part in consecrations external to their jurisdiction and the plethora of “Old Catholic” churches have little or nothing to do with canonical Old Roman Catholicism. Rather, the foundation of these churches is most commonly attributable to schismatic bishops who either excused themselves from a canonical jurisdiction or deliberately caused a schism to fashion a church in mirror of their own theological or other, often personal agenda. While Old Roman Catholicism certainly does not deny its early history with Utrecht and the description “Old Catholic”, nonetheless it is keen to distance itself from the preponderance of groups falsely claiming to share that inheritance or have repudiated that inheritance by apostasy.
“Traditional Roman Catholic”
Old Roman Catholicism’s retention of the Traditional Latin Rite liturgy, culture and customs is sometimes confused with Traditional Roman Catholicism i.e. disaffection with the liturgical and theological innovations following the Second Vatican Council. While Old Roman Catholicism certainly shares some of the opinions and reasoning for disputing the Second Vatican Council and its cultural and doctrinal aftermath with groups like the FSSPX, sedevacantists etc, this event is far removed from the historical position and polity of Old Roman Catholicism which predates the First Vatican Council.
This confusion hasn’t been helped by Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams’s historical adoption of a “pro-uniate-rite” polity after Archbishop Mathew’s death, repudiating the latter’s Western Orthodox position and eventually recommending the cessation of all missionary activity (for the continuance of the primitive Catholic faith and praxis), and complete capitulation to the Holy See. Though Archbishop Williams died without consecrating anybody, various bishops over the years have argued his pro-Roman polity in defense of their schisms from canonical Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions. Fortunately, Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora in the States did not concur with the position and polity taken by Archbishop Williams.
Old Roman Catholicism, as Archbishop Mathew rightly understood it, was different from Old Catholicism in the retention of ancient doctrines, formularies and praxis, yet different from Roman Catholicism by that same retention of the Catholic Faith as it had “always been believed, everywhere and by all” (St Vincent Lerins) without the additional dogmas decreed by Rome. Archbishop Mathew’s vision of Old Roman Catholicism was as a continuation of the true Catholic Faith that had always existed in the West akin to that Faith which the Orthodox Catholics had also maintained since the divide between East and West in 1054.
So what “is” Old Roman Catholicism?
Old Roman Catholicism began as the continuation of the Roman Catholic Church without the extraneous dogmas of the 19&20C’s, holding fast to the faith she had received for 1’854 years from the Apostles. After 1870 A.D. other Roman Catholics disaffected by the dogmatic innovations of Rome sought the primitive (i.e. “old”) expression of the Catholic faith in the Western (Latin) tradition then solely preserved by the See of Utrecht. Creating a communion of national churches and forming a union, these Old (Roman) Catholic churches in synod addressed other errors in doctrine and discipline that accrued in the West since the Great Schism of the 11C separating the Byzantine East from the Latin West. However, at the turn of the 20C, Protestant influences infiltrated the union and it fell to one bishop to take action to preserve the historic Catholic and Latin Rite tradition. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew recognising the need and the opportunity to unify Catholic Christendom and heal the former schism, petitioned and was received into communion with the ancient apostolic and Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria; from that moment the Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church continued the Ultrajectine legacy and preserved doctrinally pure Latin Rite Catholicism for succeeding generations. Regrettably upon his death, Archbishop Mathew’s church in Great Britain was betrayed and demised under Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams his successor. Providentially however, before his death, Archbishop Mathew had consecrated the Prince-Bishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes who, when the Great War broke out established the Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church in America.
It is from this foundation in America that the Orthodox Old Roman Catholic Communion claims and defends its canonicity from the historical continuity and polity of its founding member jurisdictions, established by Archbishop de Berghes’ successor, Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora in adherence to the preservation of the original expression of the Orthodox Catholic faith in the Western tradition. Archbishop Carfora presided over the Church during its greatest missionary expansion and activity, guiding the Church’s apostolic labors and growth in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, South America and even into parts of Africa and Asia. The Orthodox Old Roman Catholic Communion considers itself by virtue of that legacy and inheritance to be a canonical Western Orthodox jurisdiction through the extant historical intercommunion with the Eastern Orthodox patriarchates of Antioch (1911) and Alexandria (1912) when the doctrine and praxis of the Old Roman Catholic Church under Archbishop Mathew was recognised as an wholly Orthodox expression of the Catholic and Apostolic faith in the Western tradition. Membership of the Communion thus ensures Orthodoxy and canonicity and historical legacy and continuity for those similarly committed to the continuance of this tradition.