A loosely associated group of autonomous communities brought together in the Union of Utrecht (1889) under the presidency of the archbishop of Utrecht. The term Old Catholic implies that vatican council i introduced into the Roman Catholic Church innovations that left Old Catholicism as the repository of traditional Catholic beliefs. The Old Catholic Church has been colored by many Protestant influences, but it is not a Protestant body. All Old Catholic Churches are strongly influenced by 19th-century nationalism; but none of them is an established state church.
History. The Schism of utrecht, which began early in the 18th century, anteceded the Old Catholic movement, which it later joined. Its following was very small by 1870 when a considerable number of Catholic priests and laymen in Germany refused to accept the definitions of Vatican Council I on papal infallibility and primacy. febronianism and josephinism, particularly as it was expounded by Ignaz von wessenburg, greatly influenced the thinking of these men. Ignaz von dÖllinger, Johann friedrich, Franz reusch, Johann von Schulte, and other scholars who opposed the Vatican Council's decrees on the papacy exerted still greater influence. Many laymen in these groups belonged to the upper middle class and were also strongly influenced by secularism and nationalism.
In September 1871 at Munich, 300 representatives met to organize the Old Catholic movement; a similar congress gathered in Cologne in 1872. Episcopal leadership was lacking because the entire Catholic hierarchy subscribed to the Vatican Council's decrees. To obtain a validly consecrated bishop, the Old Catholics chose Joseph Reinkens as bishop (June 1873). He was then consecrated by Bp. Heykamp of Deventer in the Netherlands, who belonged to the Little Church of Utrecht (OBC). Döllinger, whose relations with the Old Catholics were always ambiguous, refused to become involved in organized schism and eventually broke completely with the movement because of its innovations. The leaders of the kulturkampf supported the Old Catholics. In Prussia and Baden the government granted them a subsidy and a share of Catholic Church property. In Switzerland the schismatics called themselves Christ katholiken ; they were more influenced by secularism and theological liberalism than their associates in Germany, but they failed to gain a wide following. Austria likewise produced an inconsiderable number of Old Catholics.
Polish nationalism gave rise to the polish national catholic church, which admits intercommunion with Old Catholics and Anglicans and subscribes to the Declaration of Utrecht. Inability to accomodate to a non-Polish priesthood and quarrels over education and the administration of church property led in 1897 to the establishment of a breakaway church in Scranton, Pa., that absorbed earlier Polish dissident groups and created a diocese under the jurisdiction of Francis Hodur. Hodur was consecrated bishop in 1907 by bishops of the OBC.
In Poland the mystical sect of mariavites began in 1906 and spread rapidly. At the Old Catholic Congress in Vienna (1909), General Kiréev, a Russian religious enthusiast, presented three Mariavite priests. One of them, John Kowalski, was consecrated bishop in Utrecht by Old Catholic bishops.
Doctrine and Discipline. The autonomous episcopates constituting the Old Catholic community have as a common doctrinal basis the Declaration of Utrecht (1889). However, the Polish National Church and the Swiss Christkatholisch Church maintain beliefs out of harmony with this declaration. In accordance with this document Old Catholics accept the decrees of the first eight ecumenical councils. (Until 1889 some Old Catholics considered themselves bound by the Tridentine decrees.) They admit Sacred Scripture and tradition as sources of revelation; but their notion of tradition differs from the Roman Catholic one. The bishop of Rome is recognized as having merely a primacy of honor, but not a primacy of jurisdiction or infallibility as defined in Vatican Council I. On the one hand, Old Catholics reject both the dogmas of papal infallibility and the Immaculate Conception. On the other hand, they admit seven sacraments, acknowledge the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and recognize the apostolic succession. Auricular confession is optional; sins may be confessed before the congregation or a priest. Clerical celibacy has been abolished. The liturgy resembles the Roman one and is celebrated in the vernacular. Liturgical vestments are the same as the Roman ones.
Each bishopric is autonomous and is governed by a bishop, who in turn must abide by the canons enacted by clerical and lay members of synods, the highest authority. Synods also elect bishops. Since 1889 the Old Catholic archbishop of Utrecht has been president of the International Old Catholic Congress. As a result of an agreement reached in Bonn (1931), intercommunion with the Anglicans has since existed. Each group recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and admits members of the other communion to participate in its sacraments.
Bibliography: c. b. moss, The Old Catholic Movement: Its Origins and History (2d ed. London 1964), by an Anglican. j. f. von schulte, Der Altkatholizismus (Giessen 1887), by an Old Catholic. j. troxler, Die neuere Entwicklung des Altkatholizismus (Cologne 1908). v. conzemius, "Aspects ecclésiologiques de l'évolution de Döllinger et du vieux Catholicisme," Revue des sciences religieuses 34 (1960) 247–279. p. gschwind, Geschichte der Entstehung der christkatholischen Kirche der Schweiz, 2 v. (Bern 1904–10). w. h. de voil and h. d. wynne-bennett, Old Catholic Eucharistic Worship (New York 1936). p. anson, Bishops at Large (London 1964). k. pruter, A History of the Old Catholic Church (Scottsdale, Ariz. 1973). k. pruter and j. g. melton, The Old Catholic Sourcebook (New York 1983)
[s. j. tonsor/eds.]
Old Catholics, Christian denomination established by German Catholics who separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church when they rejected (1870) the decrees of the First Vatican Council, especially the dogma of the infallibility of the pope. The Old Catholic movement began publicly with a meeting of professors at Nuremberg (1870) under the leadership of Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger. By 1874, a new church had been established with a bishop consecrated by a Jansenist bishop (see under Jansen, Cornelis) of the Church of Utrecht, which had itself separated from Rome in an earlier (1724) schism considered to be a precursor of the Old Catholic movement. Church doctrines were codified by the Declaration of Utrecht (1889), which rejected communion with the pope and many Roman Catholic doctrines and practices; priests were allowed to marry and confession was made optional. Roman ritual was retained but was usually performed in the vernacular.
Old Catholicism spread to Switzerland and Austria and then to other nations, arriving in the United States as early as 1885. The Polish National Catholic Church of America, one of the most important early groups, was formed in 1897. Christ Catholic Church, established in 1968, is one of the newest. In 1990, U.S. membership in various Old Catholic churches numbered some 500,000. Other important Old Catholic groups include the Philippine Independent Church, with approximately 3 million adherents, and the German Old Catholics, with some 24,000 members. The German church began ordaining women in 1996.
See K. Pruter and J. G. Melton, ed., The Old Catholic Sourcebook (1983).
German Catholics, religious groups founded in 1844 by dissidents from the Roman Catholic Church. They were led by two excommunicated priests, Johann Czerski of Schneidemühl, Posen, and Johann Ronge of Breslau. The church, organized by a council in Leipzig in 1845 under the name of Deutsche-katholische Kirche, was attractive to Roman Catholics because it retained the traditional practices of baptism and communion. In keeping with the rationalism and nationalism of the period, it rejected papal primacy, celibacy, indulgences, devotion to saints, veneration of relics, and all but the above-mentioned sacraments. Following an early period of growth, with several hundred congregations consisting of some 80,000 members, a slow decline set in. Roman Catholics who had sought reform became disillusioned following the merger with the Protestant Free Congregations in 1850, and the later merger of many of these churches with the Friends of Light, an anti-Christian sect. Greatly reduced in membership, several German Catholic churches survived into the 20th cent.