Independent Catholic churches
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The concept of Independent Catholic churches groups those churches which have broken away from the Roman Catholic Church while retaining much of its liturgy, traditions and theology. By contrast, the Protestant churches also broke away, but they rejected a great deal of Catholicism's traditions in the process; where the Holy See can regard Protestants as heretical, many independent Catholic churches are merely schismatic.
Independent Catholic churches are distinguished from:
- The Eastern Catholic churches, which do not use the Latin liturgy but (unlike the Eastern Orthodox Church) are in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church;
- Anglo-Catholics and other high-church Anglicans, who are part of the Church of England and other Anglican groups but see Anglicanism as closer to Catholicism than Protestantism.
- Other high-church tendencies such as "Evangelical Catholicity" in Lutheranism.
- The "Catholic church" in the original sense of that word, such as used in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, which refer to the universal church rather than any particular church.
Different Independent [Western] Catholics
There is no single independent Catholic church — there are many such churches, with a wide variety of beliefs. Several of these groups hold the belief that they are the true Roman Catholic Church, and that the mainstream Roman Catholic Church has fallen into heresy or apostasy. We can group them into a few groups:
- The Old Catholic Church was founded in 1870 by those who rejected the declaration of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council; but, other than that, they accepted the bulk of traditional Catholic teaching. They became attached to the See of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which had split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1700s (partially over the issue of Jansenism). In more recent decades, the Old Catholic Church has developed in an increasingly liberal direction, accepting married priests, women priests, and increasingly accepting homosexuality.
- The Liberal Catholic Churches started when some members of the Old Catholic Church, especially in the English-speaking world, developed an interest in theosophy and the occult. They retain many of the outer practices of the Old Catholic Church, but have replaced the originally Catholic theology of the Old Catholic Church with theosophy. They have splintered into a number of differing competing groups. Most of them share the social liberalism which has developed in the Old Catholic Church.
- Traditionalist Catholic groups, which arose in response to the Second Vatican Council. These groups exist along a spectrum. At one end, some exist definitely within the framework of the generally-recognized Roman Catholic Church; at other end, others have in effect established entirely separate churches; there are several positions in between, with ambiguous relations to the mainstream Roman Catholic Church. In more detail:
- Sedevacantists assert that the current Pope is really an antipope, and the office of Pope is vacant.
- Sedeprivationists believe that the Popes since Vatican II have not been full Popes, only a sort of 'potential Pope' or 'half-Pope'. They believe that Benedict XVI is a heretic, and as such could not really be Pope; but that if he had recanted his heresy, he would automatically have become Pope the moment he did so.
- The Society of St. Pius V, formed when nine priests broke off from the Society of St. Pius X, does not believe that the question of whether the Holy See is vacant or not has been definitely settled, but they believe that genuine doubts exist as to whether the recent Popes have actually been popes
- Conclavists believe, like the sedevacantists, that the Papacy is vacant; but they go one step further and elect their own Pope. There are many different conclavist groups, each with their own Pope. The Roman Catholic Church considers all these to be antipopes.
- Mystical Catholic churches refers to churches which center around alleged revelations from the Saints, Jesus, or most commonly the Virgin Mary. These revelations lead them to reject the mainstream Roman Catholic Church as heretical and found their own churches. This is often combined with a belief in sedevacantism or conclavism, but other sedevacantists and conclavists claim to be faithfully following church tradition rather than new revelations. The most well-known groups in this category are the Palmarian Catholic Church in Spain and the Mariavite churches in Poland.
- Ethnic Catholic churches — another group is the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States. They did not break away over any particular doctrinal issue, but as a result of ethnic conflict — Polish immigrants to the United States felt neglected by the predominantly German and Irish hierarchy in the United States, and several of them thus broke away to form their own church.