Old Catholics, New Doctrines by William J. Tighe

Old Catholics, New Doctrines

The Demise of the Union of Utrecht

by William J. Tighe

The Union of Utrecht has fallen—or embraced a modern Anglican ecclesiology on the issue of women’s ordination, which amounts to much the same thing.

The “Union of Utrecht” is the term given, since 1889, to those Old Catholic churches that arose, for the most part, in the aftermath of Vatican I as a reaction to that council’s definition of the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870. In recent decades this Old Catholic Communion has consisted of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (with two bishops, one of whom, the archbishop of Utrecht, has much the same sort of role in the Utrecht Union as does the archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion), the Old Catholic Church of Germany (one bishop), the Christ-Catholic Church of Switzerland (one bishop), the Old Catholic Church of Austria (one bishop), the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) in the United States and Canada (six bishops), the Polish Catholic Church of Poland (three bishops), and some few congregations currently without bishops in the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Scandinavia.

Dutch Independence & Calvinism

The Dutch Church is the “mother church” of the Union of Utrecht Old Catholics, and its origins extend far back into the seventeenth century. The Netherlands won independence from Spanish rule in a struggle known to the Dutch as the Eighty Years War (1568–1648). What happened was that the northern portion of those territories over which the Spanish Habsburg kings ruled from 1519 to 1700 succeeded in breaking free, while the southern half (ancestral to modern Belgium and Luxembourg) did not.

At the beginning of this struggle religious issues were less important than issues of local self-government, taxation, and the privileges of the nobility, but Dutch Calvinists quickly came to be at the cutting edge of the revolt. They began to confiscate Catholic churches for their own use and ban the public practice of Catholicism in areas that they came to control. The Spanish, who might have been willing to compromise on political issues, were resolute in refusing to concede any degree of religious freedom to Protestants within their territories. Since the papacy and the local hierarchy backed the Spanish king in the struggle, the suppression of Catholicism and the establishment of Calvinism in the United Provinces (the name given to the new Dutch state) could be represented plausibly as at least as much a political as a religious necessity for achieving independence.

Still, it was not until late in the seventeenth century that Calvinism became numerically dominant over other groups in the Netherlands. Moreover, the Dutch acquisition in 1648 of territories up to that point under Spanish rule, in which the Catholic Church had consolidated its hold on the populace, ensured that a substantial proportion of the Dutch people would remain Catholic.

Old Catholic Origins

By the end of the seventeenth century the United Provinces had become a refuge not only for persecuted French Protestants, but also for French Catholic clergy adhering to that complex of theological and ecclesiological theory known as Jansenism. From the 1640s onward the papacy repeatedly condemned Jansenist ideas, finally and most comprehensively in the 1713 bull Unigenitus, but Jansenism continued to find adherents in France and elsewhere who attacked the authority of the papacy to condemn their ideas. Petrus Codde, archbishop of Utrecht from 1688 to 1710, was sympathetic to some Jansenist ideas and in 1702 was summoned to Rome to answer charges of Jansenism. Although no conclusion ever came to the case, the archbishop was suspended from the exercise of his office and remained under suspension until his death in 1710. From the time of Codde’s death onward Rome regarded the diocesan structure of the Netherlands as defunct and refused to confirm the candidates whom the Chapter of Utrecht—the term used to describe the body of Catholic clergy in the United Provinces—nominated to succeed Codde as archbishop.

The situation was transformed by the actions of Dominique Varlet, a missionary priest in Canada. In 1719, on his way to Persia to be consecrated coadjutor to the bishop of Babylon, he stopped briefly in the Netherlands. The Catholic clergy there persuaded him to confirm large numbers of people who, having been without a bishop for nearly twenty years, had been unable to receive that sacrament. Arriving in Persia he found himself bishop of Babylon, as his predecessor had died two years earlier, but a few months later he received a papal brief suspending him as bishop because he had confirmed “Jansenist schismatics.” He was summoned to Rome to answer charges of Jansenism but went to the Netherlands instead and soon afterwards declared his refusal to subscribe to Unigenitus.

In 1724 Varlet agreed to consecrate the archbishop-elect of Utrecht, Cornelius van Steenoven, despite Rome’s refusal to confirm the election. In response, Rome suspended them both from their episcopates. When Steenoven died the following year and the chapter chose C. J. B. Wuytiers as his successor, Varlet consecrated him—and Rome excommunicated them both. Similar scenarios unfolded in 1734, 1739, and 1758. The Old Catholic episcopate today derives its succession from these consecrations.

Formation & Growth of the Union of Utrecht

Down to 1854 the “Old Catholic” Dutch bishops regarded themselves as loyal Roman Catholics; they accepted fully, for instance, the doctrinal and disciplinary decrees of the Council of Trent. Each time, in the years between 1724 and 1854, they selected a new bishop, they sent notice of the election to Rome, together with a profession of loyalty to the papacy; each time Rome annulled the election; each time the Dutch bishops proceeded to consecrate the bishop-elect; and each time the pope thereupon excommunicated all the parties concerned in the consecration. Then, in 1854, came the definition of the Immaculate Conception, which these Old Catholic bishops formally repudiated both as false in itself and as presupposing a belief in papal infallibility that, in accordance with much earlier Jansenist ecclesiological thinking, they also rejected.

The First Vatican Council, meeting in 1869–1870, defined the doctrines of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction. In the aftermath of the council, protest movements arose among liberal Catholic laity and clergy (and notably among academics and seminary professors), especially in Germany and Switzerland, who for nearly two decades had criticized Pius IX’s increasingly intransigent opposition to most manifestations of nineteenth-century liberal thought. When it became clear over the next three years that all of the bishops who had not consented at the Vatican Council to the newly defined doctrines were prepared to assent to them rather than break with the Church, these dissident groups organized themselves into corporate bodies and ultimately sought episcopal consecration for their leaders from the Dutch Old Catholic bishops. The Dutch bishops agreed, and although the archbishop of Utrecht died on the day he was supposed to consecrate a bishop for the Germans, the bishop of Deventer did so in 1873, and in 1876 the new German bishop consecrated a bishop for the Swiss.

The actions of the German and Swiss Old Catholics in repudiating the authority of the Council of Trent, reforming and simplifying their liturgies and celebrating them in the vernacular, removing the filioque clause from the Nicene Creed, and especially in abrogating the requirement of clerical celibacy immediately upon their organizing themselves as churches were not welcome to the Dutch Old Catholics, who retained the liturgical use of Latin until 1909 and obligatory clerical celibacy into the 1920s. There ensued a decade of some estrangement until a conference at Utrecht in 1889 created the Union of Utrecht.

In addition to Germany and Switzerland, Austria and other German-speaking areas of the Austro-Hungarian empire saw some growth of Old Catholic sentiment from the 1870s onward. In the 1890s, the “Los von Rom” movement, a religio-political movement among ethnic Germans, brought additional numbers to the Austrian Old Catholics.

But it was among the Poles, in both America and Poland, that the Old Catholic movement was to reap its most numerous adherents. From the 1880s onward the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was frequently troubled by disputes over church property. The hierarchy required ownership to be vested in the diocesan bishop before any church building could be consecrated for worship, but parish trustees, who often represented those who had taken the initiative in constructing the church and seeking a priest of their own to minister to them, were reluctant to do this. Parishes whose trustees refused to surrender their title deeds to the local bishop were sometimes denied the services of a priest or placed under an interdict; if a priest said Mass for the parishioners in defiance of the bishop, he and his supporters would become liable to excommunication.

In 1895 A. J. Kozlowski formed an independent Catholic parish in Chicago for his fellow immigrant Poles. In due course he was excommunicated. His response was to turn to the bishops of the Utrecht Union, who accepted him into their fellowship and in 1897 consecrated him a bishop. In 1897–1898 a similar situation arose in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where a recently ordained priest of the Scranton diocese, the Polish-born Francis Hodur (1866–1953), agreed to serve an independent Polish parish there and for so doing was ultimately excommunicated. He went on to organize the Polish National Catholic Church, and in 1907 the European bishops chose to consecrate him as Kozlowski’s successor. Not only has the PNCC, with six dioceses and perhaps 150,000 adherents in the United States and Canada, been the most successful church of its communion, but in recent years the most orthodox as well.

In the early 1920s the PNCC began missionary activity in newly independent Poland: the result of this was the Polish Catholic Church. Originally an extension of the PNCC, it became a separate member-church of the Union of Utrecht after the new Communist government of Poland forced it to sever its links with its American parent in 1951.

The PNCC was not the first Old Catholic presence in Poland, however. In 1906, when Rome attempted to suppress a vastly popular Polish devotional society (Mariae Vita, the Life of Mary) for the “unbalanced excesses” of its focus on Marian devotion and Eucharistic adoration, its leaders refused to submit. Upon their ensuing excommunication they joined the Old Catholics and for a time drew much support from the rural peasantry. By the early 1920s, however, the Mariavites (as they were termed) had adopted a number of practices that were well out of the Old Catholic mainstream. Among these were “mystical marriages” between priests and nuns (unions not necessarily permanent or exclusive), whose offspring were held to have been born without Original Sin, and beginning in 1929, the ordination of women as deacons, priests, and bishops. In 1924 the Mariavites were cast out of the Union of Utrecht. Having been trailblazers in the cause of the ordination of women, and having abandoned “mystical marriages,” perhaps it is high time they were readmitted to the Union.

Seeds of Trouble

In retrospect, the fate of at least the European churches of the Union of Utrecht can be traced to the “Bonn Agreement” of 1931 between the Union of Utrecht and the Church of England. Existing as it did in a form of negative symbiosis with Roman Catholicism, from which a significant proportion of its clergy had always been drawn, Old Catholicism’s appeal to the church fathers’ ecclesiology (with an anti-papal spin), combined with its recent bond with Anglicanism, at first caused it to resemble a small planetoid in fortuitous equipoise between the larger bodies of Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. But once Anglicanism and Orthodoxy themselves began to part ways in the 1970s, Old Catholicism’s fragmentation and eventual plunge into the Anglican abyss became a virtual certainty.

Through the Bonn Agreement, the Old Catholic and Anglican Communions each recognized the other as a “catholic church” and agreed to admit members of one to communion in the other. They also agreed to participate in one another’s episcopal consecrations, with the result that the “Dutch touch,” to quote the term invented by the Reverend John Hunwicke, has provided some reassurance about the validity of their ordinations for English Anglo-Catholics troubled by the condemnation of Anglican orders in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII’s bull, Apostolicae Curae. For all that, in the early 1970s, the still largely traditionalist Old Catholic episcopate became aware of the mischievous possibilities inherent in the Anglican “doctrine” of the provincial autonomy of its member churches when combined with the rising clamor for women’s ordination.

In September 1974, at the annual meeting of the International Old Catholic Bishops Conference (IBC) a provision was made for decision-making among their churches. All matters affecting the harmony and communion of the churches of the Union of Utrecht would require the endorsement of the IBC before individual member churches could act on their own. A majority vote would suffice in most instances, but on matters “touching the Faith” unanimity of the bishops would be required—and it would take the request of only one bishop among them to require that a particular matter be treated as one “touching the Faith.”

In 1976 the IBC emitted a forthright statement on the issue of women’s ordination. “The International Old-Catholic Bishops Conference of the Union of Utrecht,” it ran,

in accordance with the ancient undivided church does not agree with a sacramental ordination of women to the catholic-apostolic ministry of deacon, presbyter and bishop.

The Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit called twelve men to be his Apostles, in order to perpetuate his work of the salvation of mankind.

The catholic churches of the East and West have called men only to the sacramental apostolic ministry.

The question of ordination of women touches the basic order and mystery of the Church.

The churches which have preserved continuity with the ancient undivided Church and its sacramental ministerial order should jointly discuss this question of sacramental ordination of women, being fully aware of eventual consequences resulting from unilateral decisions.

Admitting that Old Catholics were not agreed on the merits of arguments for and against ordaining women, the IBC bishops declared that they were certain that no individual Catholic church (such as the Church of England, the Old Catholic Church of Germany, or the Orthodox Church of Greece) nor even an individual Catholic Communion of Churches (the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht, the Orthodox Church, or the Roman Catholic Church) possessed the competence to authorize the ordination of women to any order of the threefold ministry: only an ecumenical council recognized as such by these Catholic bodies could do so.

However, at the same time, Archbishop Kok of Utrecht declared that the Old Catholic churches should not break communion with those Anglican churches that had begun to ordain women, although the IBC bishops would not take part in the episcopal consecrations of those churches. Nevertheless, when the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) officially endorsed the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1976, the PNCC’s prime bishop, Thaddeus Zielinski, immediately announced the termination of the 1946 intercommunion accord between the PNCC and ECUSA—an act endorsed by the PNCC general synod two years later.

At the time of the 1976 IBC meeting, only one Old Catholic bishop, G. A. van Kleef of Haarlem, favored the ordination of women, or at least saw no theological reasons against it, but evidently he recognized that despite his support of the idea, it was not compatible with the ecclesiology of the Old Catholic churches. So when the vote came on the bishops’ declaration, he neither voted against it nor abstained; he simply left the room when the vote was taken so as not to be present. Thus it was established—at least in the thinking of the PNCC—that any attempt to reverse or qualify the declaration would naturally fall under matters “touching the Faith” and, as such, require the unanimous consent of the bishops. In July 1997 they were to discover otherwise, as we shall see.

The Wedge Issue: the Diaconate

The diaconate proved to be the “wedge issue” for the proponents of women’s ordination among the Old Catholics, and here, as elsewhere, they displayed a lack of scruple and honesty comparable to that which has prevailed among their Anglican compeers over the last two decades. As early as 1980 the then German Old Catholic bishop, Josef Brinkhues, had begun to advocate the ordination of women to the diaconate; he also was responsible for concluding an intercommunion agreement between the German Old Catholic Church and several German Protestant Churches, all of them lacking the apostolic succession of bishops, and some of them lacking even the title of “bishop” for their leading clergy. At the 1983 meeting of the IBC, in response to claims that there was a critical shortage of clergy among the European Old Catholics, a measure was adopted that permitted member churches of the Utrecht Union to license suitably qualified laywomen to carry out certain diaconal functions, even liturgical ones.

This statement was originally formulated in English, where the word employed was “license,” not “commission,” and certainly not “ordain.” Also, by referring explicitly to “laywomen” being licensed to carry out diaconal functions, the thought of ordination must have been excluded: had the provision been for the ordination of woman deacons, those involved obviously would not have been termed “laywomen.” (In 1994 the Old Catholic archbishop of Utrecht told me that the word employed in the German translation of the 1983 measure had a “wider meaning” than “license” or “appoint.” Not being a German scholar, I am unqualified to pass judgment on this; nevertheless, the sense does not appear to have encompassed that of “ordain,” and there is still the matter of the “laywomen.”) The practice of wresting words to bear a sense alien from that intended by their writer is not a new one, and in basing the ordination of women to the diaconate on this interpretation of the 1983 statement, the European Old Catholic churches that proceeded to do so were following an ancient, if dishonorable, custom.

Perhaps some of the advocates of the 1983 measure reckoned that conceding diaconal roles to women would relieve their churches of any pressure to ordain women to the priesthood. Certainly, many English Anglo-Catholics supported the ordination of women to the diaconate in 1986 on that basis, or to demonstrate that they were not misogynists. They reaped the reward of such ostrich-like behavior when, in 1992, it was the votes of the woman deacons elected to the House of Clergy of the General Synod of the Church of England that brought the total past the two-thirds majority required to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood.

If some Old Catholics acted on similar motives, they were to receive a like reward. Far from satisfying or even pleasing those Old Catholic women having clerical aspirations, the measure angered them by perpetuating their “exclusion” from ordination. Thus arose the first groundswell of sentiment in favor of the “unilateral” ordination of women in their churches. In any event, in 1987 the Swiss Old Catholics “ordained” the first “female deacons” in the Union of Utrecht, using their traditional diaconal ordination rite. Germany followed suit in 1988, Austria in 1991, and the Dutch “mother church” itself in 1997, despite its archbishop’s express statement a decade earlier ruling out even the possibility of such ordinations. Nor were the proponents of women priests slow to point out that if the 1976 IBC statement could so easily be set aside as regards the diaconate, there were no compelling reasons why it should not be set aside regarding the priesthood as well.

Divisions Within the Union

In 1990, under Bishop Sigisbert Kraft, the German Old Catholic church’s synod formally declared that the ordination of women was a matter of discipline rather than of doctrine and that, consequently, their church was at liberty to proceed to such ordinations on its own authority. Nevertheless, they agreed to await the outcome of continued urgent discussions of the subject among the Union of Utrecht bishops.

More significant changes took place in the Old Catholic episcopate in the mid-1990s. In Germany, Joachim Vobbe was chosen in 1994 to succeed Bishop Kraft. In December of the same year Bernhard Heitz, like Vobbe a former Roman Catholic priest turned Old Catholic and, indeed, an old friend of his, became the Austrian bishop. Both were well-known advocates of female priests. In 1995 Jan-Lambert Wirix, a former theology professor at Louvain (and Roman Catholic priest) became bishop of Haarlem; he has since become a strong proponent of “the Anglican solution” to the ordination issue—leaving the question to the individual churches to decide—and, more recently, of the ordination of women itself.

The archbishop of Utrecht since 1981, Antonius Glazemaker, is, by contrast, a “native” Old Catholic. While his views on the women’s ordination question have been described as “obscure” by my several sources of information on these events, as recently as 1987 he opined that “no woman can be ordained to the Apostolic ministry as deacon, priest, or bishop.”

I am informed that the Swiss bishop, Hans Gerny, although practicing what one Swiss Old Catholic has termed a “diplomatic unclarity” and a refusal to address the issue in public, has always been in favor of the ordination of women, and has allowed the church’s newspaper to become the exclusive preserve of the proponents. Among the Swiss clergy, as one of their priests has written to me, opposition has declined over the past decade, to the point that only four or five of the 39 active clerics can be counted as opponents. Moreover, the various Swiss Old Catholic lay organizations and organs have been agitating in favor of it for years, and they dominate that church.

The PNCC, by contrast, has if anything grown more unyielding in its opposition to women’s ordination. It has refused to recognize the validity of other Old Catholic churches’ ordination of women deacons and has declared itself out of communion, one by one, with those Anglican (and more recently Old Catholic) churches that have begun to ordain women priests. One PNCC bishop was reported to favor women’s ordination in the late 1970s, but although this prelate remains in office, he has not become noted as a proponent of it.

In the late 1980s it appeared well within the realm of the possible that the PNCC might become a Western-rite jurisdiction under the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch. And in the last thirty years its relations with the Roman Catholic Church have steadily progressed to the point where the PNCC is the only “Western” church whose members the Roman Catholic Church permits de iure, in certain circumstances, to avail themselves of its sacraments.

The Polish Catholic Church has desired to have the best of both worlds: to reject women clergy on the one hand, but to remain in communion with the other European Old Catholic churches so as to assure the continued flow from West to East of financial and material assistance. This consideration will perhaps explain the actions of its three bishops in July 1997.

The Fall

When Bishop Vobbe announced in 1995 that he would proceed in a year’s time to ordain two women to the priesthood, the IBC suspended him from full voting membership. Undeterred, on May 27, 1996, he proceeded to “priest” two women (both former Roman Catholics of course) in Konstanz.

Urgent consultations and exchanges among the IBC bishops soon revealed that there was no agreement among them on how to resolve the situation. Those of the PNCC wished to reaffirm the 1976 IBC statement and expel the German Old Catholic Church from the Union of Utrecht if it stood by its action. The Austrian bishop announced that he would begin ordaining women in 1997 no matter what decision the IBC reached, but expressed the hope that it would permit the individual churches to decide for themselves.

Indeed, the Anglican or “local option” solution appears to have carried the day as a result of two meetings of the IBC in 1997. The first, in March, a meeting of the IBC “bureau” or executive committee only, took place in Scranton. The absence of a common celebration of the Eucharist by the assembled bishops vividly symbolized the breach of their common faith. The five PNCC bishops (their numerically small Canadian diocese has been vacant for a number of years) form the largest cohort in the IBC, and with their three Polish brethren they would constitute a majority of the thirteen bishops. But between the March meeting in Scranton and a July meeting in Switzerland, the PNCC bishops, perhaps anticipating what was to come, appear to have abandoned their attempts to keep the Utrecht Union true to its principles, so that, in the event, they sent to Switzerland only one of their bishops, the prime bishop, John Swantek.

It might appear obvious that a “local option” solution would contradict the 1976 IBC declaration and would therefore—as a matter “touching the Faith”—require the unanimous consent of the bishops to be adopted. But when the PNCC representative, Bishop Swantek, tried to assert this, the archbishop of Utrecht informed the assembled bishops that since back in 1976 one bishop (van Kleef, now deceased) had not assented to the declaration, it could not be regarded as a statement of faith (the Old Catholic equivalent of a dogmatic utterance) but only as the expression of the opinions of the individual bishops of the IBC at that time. Therefore, the current bishops could alter it by a simple majority vote of those present. It is not clear why, if the account presented here is accurate, Bishop Swantek could not have insisted that, whatever creative interpretation the archbishop wished to project retrospectively upon the events of 1976, in 1997 the question was to be treated as one “touching the Faith” and that, consequently, any motion to allow the individual churches to decide it for themselves required the unanimous consent of the bishops.

When the critical vote came, the “local option” solution won by a vote of six to two, with one abstention (I cannot but think that the abstention of a bishop in such a vote is proof of his incapacity for the discharge of his office). The German bishop, his membership in the IBC having been suspended, was not supposed to vote, but the majority of the bishops voted to restore him to full membership immediately before turning to the ordination question.

The majority thus consisted of the two Dutch bishops, the Austrian bishop, the German bishop, the Swiss bishop, and one of the Polish bishops; the minority, of the PNCC prime bishop and one of the Polish bishops; the third Polish bishop abstained. Had the full complement of PNCC bishops turned out, the result would have been a six-to-six stalemate (unless the abstainer could have been brought to express an opinion).

Endorsing Heresy over Schism

What will become of the Union of Utrecht is far from clear. At the time of this writing, the PNCC bishops were preparing to decide whether to remain in the Utrecht Union. Alternatively, there appear to be numerous grounds on which the bishops of the PNCC might attempt to challenge or reverse the recent decision of the IBC—a decision that, according to one Swiss source, Bishop Gerny of Switzerland, who voted for it, nevertheless has since described as “invalid” because not unanimous. But they will have to decide if it is worth the effort to do so, since it is clear that most of the churches comprising the Utrecht Union have now jettisoned both the antiquity and the Catholicism of which their “Old Catholic” name, correctly or incorrectly, boasted. Instead, they have fallen into the pragmatic ecclesiological incoherence of Anglicanism, which the Roman Catholic Benedictine monk-scientist Stanley L. Jaki has characterized as “mimic Catholicism.”

Perhaps the most significant single event in the evisceration of the Union of Utrecht was Archbishop Kok’s 1976 decision to remain in communion with Anglican churches that had begun to ordain women to the priesthood. Although his reported motivation, that the Church today cannot afford to add new schisms to those of the past, was not a contemptible one, it nevertheless constituted an abandonment of the most critical function of a bishop in the Body of Christ: to banish erroneous doctrine and strange teaching and so to safeguard the flock that its master purchased at the cost of his blood. It also constituted an implicit endorsement of the modern, and quintessentially Anglican, notion that schism is worse than heresy.

And the path of compromise proved to be an alluring one for the Old Catholic bishops: in 1987—the same year in which Archbishop Glazemaker thought that “no woman can be ordained to the Apostolic ministry as deacon, priest or bishop”—a majority of the IBC declared that the consecration of a woman bishop would be no bar to the continuance of intercommunion with the Anglicans. It was also reported in the English Catholic weekly journal The Tablet that at its September 1997 synod the Austrian Old Catholic Church had voted its endorsement of both women’s “ordination” and homosexual “marriages.”

As the see of Utrecht itself has manifested its defection from Old Catholicism by its ordination of woman deacons in 1997, it might perhaps be respectfully suggested to the bishops of the other “Old Catholic” churches that their recent trajectory would find its most appropriate fulfillment in the Anglican Communion. After all, given the 1991 Meissen Accord between the Church of England and the various German Protestant church federations, the 1994 Porvoo Agreement between the four Anglican churches of the British Isles and the Lutheran churches of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden, and the impending accord between the Church of England and the Moravian Church, the Anglican Communion now offers the prospect of a genuine liberal if not libertine “Alternative Catholicism.”

Karl Marx once claimed that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy, the second time farce. He was alluding to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’etat of 1851 and comparing it with that of his uncle, the “great” Napoleon, fifty-two years earlier. It is applicable as well to the contrast between the blind and reckless Anglican descent into the abyss some quarter-century ago and the more measured, but equally heedless, Old Catholic decision to follow the Anglicans down the path of liberation through destruction.


• Stanislaus J. Brzana and Anthony M. Rysz (eds.), Journeying Together in Christ: The Report of the Polish National Catholic–Roman Catholic Dialogue (1984–1989) (Huntington, Indiana, 1990). Report of the first round of PNCC/RC dialogue; shows virtually complete agreement on topics discussed and contains two excellent short historical essays.

• Alan M. Cole, The Old Catholic Phenomenon (London, 1997). Intended to supplement and update the classic account by C. B. Moss, the author, an Australian Anglo-Catholic clergyman who spent six years in Britain as a school chaplain and nine subsequently as a British embassy chaplain in Bonn, Helsinki, Moscow, and Ulan Bator, appears to conclude that while the Bonn Agreement was a great success, the parties to it, Anglicanism and Old Catholicism, are now fallen or falling away from the Catholic faith. Tamquam mortalis est ista victoria (civitatis terraenae): the operation was successful but the patients died.

• Paul Fox, The Polish National Catholic Church (Scranton, 1956). Dated; the author, a Presbyterian minister, sees and celebrates the PNCC moving in a liberal Protestant direction.

• Gordon Huelin (ed.), Old Catholics and Anglicans 1931–1981 (Oxford, 1983). Prepared to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bonn Agreement, and full of high hope for future ecumenical progress, some of the essays witness the impending deliquescence of Old Catholicism.

• C. van Kasteel, P. J. Maan & M. F. G. Parmentier (eds.), Kracht in Zwakheid van een kleine Wereldkerk: De Oud-Katholieke Unie van Utrecht (Amersfoort, 1982). A festschrift prepared for Archbishop Kok of Utrecht on the occasion of his retirement; contains important historical documents as well as essays.

• Hieronim Kubiak, The Polish National Catholic Church in the United States of America from 1897 to 1980: Its Social Conditioning and Social Functions (Warsaw and Kracow, 1982). An English translation and revision of a work originally published in 1970 by a Polish sociologist, it gives a good deal of intelligent attention to both historical and “ideological” origins, as well as to innovations in doctrine and practice under the leadership of Bishop Hodur.

• C. B. Moss, The Old Catholic Movement (London, 1948, 1964). The best account in English, and written from a strongly anti-papal perspective, its author was an English clergyman intimately involved in the development of Anglican/Old Catholic links.

• J. M. Neale, A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland . . . (Oxford, 1858; New York, 1970). Written by one of the fathers of Victorian Anglo-Catholic ritualism.

• Jerzy Peterkiewicz, The Third Adam (London, 1975). The author, poet and professor at the University of London, although a Roman Catholic of sorts, shows himself to be profoundly sympathetic to the theological and sexual “experimentation” of the Mariavites.

• “Reuniting Anglicans and Rome: Documents—Issues—Progress,” The Messenger of the Catholic League (London, October 1994, No. 254). Source of the wonderful phrase, “Dutch Touch.”

The Road to Unity: A collection of agreed statements of the joint Old Catholic–Orthodox Theological Commissions (Scranton, 1990). Reproduces agreed statements formulated between 1975 and 1987 which demonstrate virtual identity of belief in the Doctrine of God, Christology, Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Sacramental Doctrine, Eschatology, and the Presuppositions and Consequences of Ecclesial Communion; contains also the forthright address during the Centenary Celebration of the Union of Utrecht in 1989 of Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland, which points to continued Old Catholic/Anglican inter-communion as blocking closer relations between Orthodoxy and the Union of Utrecht.

• S. Wlodarski, The Origin and Growth of the Polish National Catholic Church (Scranton, 1974). While organization and coherence are not its strong points, this book reproduces many interesting documents and enables readers to come to grips with Bishop Hodur’s theological thinking and pastoral spirit.

• I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of two clerical correspondents who have been invaluable sources of both knowledge and understanding of the events of the last two decades in the life of the Union of Utrecht. They must remain anonymous.

Tracking Utrecht

The first draft of this article was completed at the end of October 1997. Subsequently, it was updated as better or additional information was made available to me. In the past year, the following developments have occurred in the Union of Utrecht Old Catholic Churches.

First, in February 1998 the Austrian Old Catholic bishop, Bernhard Heitz, ordained Dr. Elfriede Kreuzeder as the first woman priest in his church. The Polish National Catholic Church immediately repudiated sacramental communion with the Austrian Old Catholic Church, as it had earlier done with its German sister church when the latter’s bishop ordained its first women priests in May 1996. In July Bishop Heitz ordained another woman to the priesthood. (The ceremony must have been quite an affair, as in one photograph in the Austrian Old Catholic monthly newsletter the ordinand is shown enthusiastically beating a drum at her ordination.)

Subsequently, at its annual meeting on June 6, 1998, the synod of the Swiss Old Catholic Church decided by a vote of 85 in favor to 5 against (with 4 abstentions) to change the church constitution to authorize the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. According to the same church constitution, such changes require synodical approval in two successive years, so the matter will come to a vote again in June 1999. I am told that there is already one woman candidate for priestly ordination in Switzerland.

Finally, on October 31, 1998, the Dutch Old Catholic Church’s synod requested the Dutch Old Catholic Church’s bishops to introduce the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate (the Dutch synod has no legislative authority) by a vote of 106 in favor to 5 against. The bishop of Haarlem, a former Roman Catholic priest, is in favor, and the current archbishop of Utrecht is soon to retire. As my German informant commented, the Dutch Old Catholics “have completely ceased to be the Old Roman Catholic Church of Utrecht (this is still the legal name!)” and, I would add, have belied simultaneously their antiquity and their Catholicism.

William J. Tighe

William J. Tighe is Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a senior editor for Touchstone.

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