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Old Catholic Church

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The Old Catholic Church is a Christian denomination largely comprising congregations that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s because they disagreed with the dogma of papal infallibility promulgated at the First Vatican Council.[1]


Most Old Catholic church groups trace their line of episcopal succession to the see of Utrecht, in the Netherlands; the largest Old Catholic group, the Utrecht Union, is based around this see.[2]

During the Middle Ages, the Pope had granted clerics in Utrecht the right to elect their own bishops, instead of having them appointed. During the Protestant Reformation, Calvinism became the state religion in the Netherlands, the use of bishops was discontinued and the see (by now an archdiocese) fell vacant. Eventually the Pope began appointing archbishops to Utrecht again, but they fulfilled a different role.

It was not until 1703 that the clerics actually attempted to exercise the ancient right by electing an archbishop without consulting the pope about it. The Pope, ignoring the fact that this right had been granted, promptly excommunicated the elected archbishop, Cornelius van Steenoven, sparking off a schism.

Subsequently the Pope appointed a new archbishop to the See of Utrecht. However, the Dutch statesmen liked the idea of a locally elected archbishop, thinking that the Roman Catholic population in the Netherlands could be removed from the influence of the Pope by putting themselves under his jurisdiction, so they gave the elected archbishops all encouragement. The elected archbishops then became known as the "Old Catholic" bishops to distinguish them from the new line appointed by the Pope.

At the time of the First Vatican Council, the Old Catholic See of Utrecht was still going strong, and the many congregations that broke with Rome used it as an escape hatch by putting themselves under its jurisdiction.

Modern incarnations[edit]

The Old Catholic Church has grown in the last few years largely in response in the Roman Catholic Church's positions on sexuality. Pope Benedict XVI's hardline stance on gay seminarians led to an influx of gays into the Old Catholic Church, which had grown into a more liberal sect with an international presence. [3] There are now many Old Catholic congregations in North America, and they openly support homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and women in the priesthood.[4]