Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome

Are you interested in learning about a unified,
ecumenical, and diverse church community
that is truly Catholic, yet independent of
Roman Catholic papal authority?

If so, then the
Wild Reed’s interview with
Rev. Robert Caruso
of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church
is the thing for you!

(NOTE: This interview was originally shared in
two parts. It is now presented as a single article)

Regular visitors to The Wild Reed may have noticed during the past two months that I’ve made references to the “Old Catholic Church,” and in particular, to Rev. Robert Caruso and the Cornerstone Old Catholic Community in St. Paul. (See the previous Wild Reed posts: Honoring Brian McNeill, Out and About – July 2007, and Out and About – August 2007.)

I recently had the honor of interviewing Robert about Old Catholicism – its history, its points of similarity and difference to Roman Catholicism, and its affirming and accepting stance on women and gay people in all areas of church life.

As you’ll see, one of the main points of disagreement between Old Catholicism and Roman Catholicism is the doctrine of papal infallibility.

“Old Catholics do not agree that the pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and supreme head of the universal local churches,” says Caruso. “There is one head for the body and that is Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:15). The bishop is a representative of Christ for the local church, and no one bishop is superior to any other local church bishop. Furthermore Old Catholics do not affirm that the bishop of Rome (as an individual) is infallible in any way, shape, or form. The Church (the entire body of the baptized) teaches infallibly through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Caruso’s critique of papal infallibility is actually quite mild compared to others’ within the Roman Church itself. For instance, in 1324, when the idea of papal infallibility and the irreformability of papal decisions was first propagated by an eccentric Franciscan, Petrus Olivi, Pope John XXII condemned it as the work of the devil, “the father of all lies.” It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century, Catholic theologian Hans Küng reminds us, that the idea was “warmed up again . . . by conservative publicists and popes.”

Also, whereas Roman Catholicism, in its understanding of the catholic nature of Church life, emphasizes the well-known though extremely inexact formula of Vincent of Lérins (often referred to as the “Vincentian Canon,” i.e., Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est - “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”), Old Catholicism understands “catholic” to mean universal, broad in range.

During its first thousand years, Old Catholics remind us, the Church, though diverse in many ways, was nevertheless united and universal. Despite the divisions that have since taken place, Old Catholics recognize “five sister Churches” - Roman, Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian, Oriental (Coptic, Syrian, and Nestorian), and Old Catholic – that continue to share a core of faith that stems from this earlier time of unity. This core of faith consists of Scripture, the Seven Sacraments, the Communion of Saints, Apostolic tradition and succession, salvation by faith evidenced by works, and the ecumenical councils of the early unified Church.

Following is an extensive interview with Rev. Robert Caruso. In this interview, Robert not only shares a scholarly yet readily accessible understanding of the Old Catholic Church, but also some of his own journey within Old Catholicism as a out and partnered gay man.


Michael Bayly: Robert, can you explain what Old Catholicism actually is? What does it have in common with Roman Catholicism and how is it different?

Robert Caruso: The Old Catholic churches throughout the world are national independent churches that rebelled against the claims of papal infallibility. This rebellion or schism occurred in three separate historical movements. First, the Old Catholic church of Holland (1724); second, the churches of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Czech-Slovakia at the first Vatican Council (1869-70 C.E.); and lastly, church groups located in North America, Europe, Philippines, and the Slavic nations in the twentieth century leading into the modern day.

The historical complexity of Old Catholicism involves the three different movements that compose the current unified European Old Catholic churches known as the “Union of Utrecht,” united by the Declaration of Utrecht of 1889 as its dogmatic essentials. Each national church belonging to the Union of Utrecht is rooted in its own historical situation and epoch, which testifies to the diversity and independence Old Catholics generally value.

For the most part, Old Catholicism is unknown in North America, and is a mission church trying to establish its roots in the U.S. Much education about the complex history and unique theology of Old Catholicism needs to occur on the local level in its mission parishes, so to understand its veracity as a Catholic church welcoming everyone unconditionally to its sacramental life – especially those who have felt rejected by the Roman hierarchy for whatever reason.

Old Catholics share similarities with the Roman church liturgically and theologically; they believe in the seven sacraments of the church, the Eucharist as the local church’s central act of worship, and bishops, priests, and deacons functioning as ministers of Christ’s mystical body: the local church universal.

Old Catholics disagree with the universal supremacy of the papacy (i.e. the pope), and all so-called infallible dogmatic teachings decreed post council of Trent (1546). However, Old Catholics maintain the primacy of the pope in stating that he holds a primus inter pares (first among equals) position among the college of bishops in the church. The disagreement between the papacy and the Union of Utrecht (generally speaking) is focused on Old Catholic’s maintaining that the pope and the papacy is not a divinely inspired institution, nor should the pope possess supreme jurisdictional power over all local churches throughout the world.

Other differences between the Old and Roman Catholic churches are more visible; the Old Catholic church of Germany ordained it first two women to the ministerial priesthood in 1996, homosexuals (gay and lesbian) are welcome to full participation in the body of Christ, and nobody is ever denied Eucharist. The church is understood as healer, lover, sustainer, and forgiver. Meaning, Old Catholics elevate the dignity and conscience of the baptized in understanding what sin (the separation between God and oneself) is and how it affects her or him in their lives. There is no black and white social moral catechism for Old Catholics because social morality is viewed as being relative, and the Church (the body of the baptized) moves with and in the power of the Spirit to meet the needs and hurts of all the parts of the body throughout the ages. Hence, social morality is not demeaned but significantly valued in recognizing its complexity and relativistic nature.

Michael Bayly: What are the origins of the Old Catholic Church? Why “Old?”

Robert Caruso: I will briefly try to answer the first question by stating that each national Old Catholic church in the Union of Utrecht, i.e. Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Yugo-Slovia, and Poland, is rooted in its own, specific historical situation. Meaning, there are many distinctions between the national Old Catholic churches on the local level from ethnicity and liturgy, to church governance. Diversity and autonomy is embraced on the local level in the Old Catholic movement. The common origin for all the Old Catholic churches is the rebellion against papal supremacy and the idea of sole papal infallibility being divinely inspired and constituted by God.

The term unity in diversity is central to Old Catholic ecclesiology (the theology of the church), which derives its theological foundation from two well known ancient church fathers: Vincent of Lérins and Augustine of Hippo. These two early church fathers’ theological works are important because they convey a broad view of Western Catholic ecclesiology from a theological perspective of when the Church was still ideally united as one in faith. This leads us to the second question posed, to which I will now try answering.

I often tell inquirers of Old Catholicism that the “Old” in “Old Catholic” does not refer to the “Mel Gibson type of church.” Its meaning is more profound than the identity politic of liberal versus conservative (or vice versa). Those local churches now called “Old Catholic” were at one time Roman, but they could not accept papal supremacy in all its forms from the seventeenth-century on up to today. Theologian Victor Conzemius rightly states in his essay “Catholicism: Old and Roman” in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (Summer 1967), “The name ‘Old Catholic’ suggests that this church lays a special stress on its continuity with the life and teaching of the old undivided Christian Church…the name is (referent to the) similarity in church organization and worship.”

Old Catholics derive their major doctrines (or dogmas) of the church from the first seven ecumenical councils (325-787 C.E.) – when the catholic Church was ideally one and unified. Old Catholics have endeavored to actively resuscitate the theology of the early church, seeking ecumenical avenues of commonality in the essentials with other estranged churches that claim to be part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” i.e. the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Anglican Communion. Old Catholic theology is like a “bridge” in uniting Eastern and Western Catholicism as well as Protestantism together in adhering to Lérins’ doctrine on essentials stating, “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ad omnibus est,” (what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all).

Michael Bayly: How does Old Catholicism view the pope? How does it understand other key components of Catholicism such as “apostolic succession” and the Eucharist?

Robert Caruso: I alluded to how Old Catholics view the pope and his position in the church in the first question. I will now elaborate further this view. The pope, according to Old Catholic European theologians, holds a place of primacy as the bishop of Rome because this geographical location is traditionally known as the place where Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred. The pope is the symbol of unity for every local church universal throughout the world, and his historical place in the catholic (universal) Church is one of honor, not power.

Old Catholics do not agree that the pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and supreme head of the universal local churches. There is one head for the body and that is Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:15). The bishop is a representative of Christ for the local church, and no one bishop is superior to any other local church bishop. Furthermore Old Catholics do not affirm that the bishop of Rome (as an individual) is infallible in any way, shape, or form. The Church (the entire body of the baptized) teaches infallibly through the power of the Holy Spirit. No one human being stands alone and speaks for the universal Church because it is antithetical to its salvific communal and universal nature. Meaning, as individuals our human pride fools us into believing the illusion that we are free agents – it is only when we (the baptized) function in communion with the entire body, that we truly begin to understand Christ’s paschal mystery and the salvific nature of the local church universal in relationship with the Triune God.

The local church universal is sacramental by its nature. Old Catholicism adheres to the seven sacraments of the church. Baptism and Eucharist are considered the primary sacraments that give expression to the Christian lifestyle. Baptism is the only sacrament that radically transforms a person’s ontology (being). The baptized no longer live for themselves, but for Christ. St. Paul reminds us that both in life and in death we are the Lord’s. In baptism the Christian dies and rises to new life in Christ simultaneously, and the life he or she now lives is a life in Christ established in the Holy Spirit. The baptized are given this common ecclesial identity, which is the only identity that will ever matter in their lives. Baptism unites Christians together as members of Christ’s mystical body on Earth, and it is Christ himself who sustains this unity by giving us (in the power of the Spirit) his body and blood as real food and real drink through the ages in the celebration of Eucharist. Thus, the church becomes a diverse eucharistic (thank-filled) fellowship in all its actions. Christ becomes the great Amen for all people in the liturgy of everyday life.

Old Catholic theologians hold that the Eucharist is not just about the transforming elements of the bread and wine at mass, but is the core being of the Church because it is Christ who unites and sustains the local body of believers in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why apostolic succession in Old Catholicism is more elaborately defined beyond that of the historical unbroken line of bishops leading back to Peter, Paul, or some other individual apostle. The apostolicity of the church is intrinsically related to the local church episcopacy and the Eucharist. The bishop and the laity are part of the eucharistic nature of every local church universal. Let’s take a closer look at how Old Catholics view apostolic succession in light of their claim to possess valid sacraments.

The “validity” of apostolic authority given to a local bishop is more elaborate in Old Catholic ecclesiology than the mere unbroken line of episcopal succession. The term valid in Old Catholic theology has little to do with the efficacious (unmerited) bestowal, ex opere operato (from the work done), of the sacrament of holy orders (although Old Catholics do accept Augustine of Hippo’s doctrine on the sacraments explicated as “effectually” real and grace-filled); instead, apostolic validity is understood more canonically in that the sensus fidelium on the local universal level, elects and recognizes the bishop as a bishop. The local church forms a eucharistic fellowship around the office of the bishop. Hence, the validity of apostolic authority is the legal recognition of a competent church body of the baptized in addition to the traditional historical line of episcopal succession. Old Catholic ecclesiology claims it is ludicrous to even suggest that episcopal authority can be derived directly from God (outside the body of a local church) as is claimed by the papacy, because it goes against the eucharistic ecclesiological nature of the church (i.e. the ontological “thanksgiving” nature of the church’s being as communion, which mirrors the divine communion of the holy Trinity).

Michael Bayly: What has been the relationship between Old Catholicism and Roman Catholicism?

Robert Caruso: The relationship between Old Catholics and the Roman Catholic papacy has been a tumultuous and complex one. There is no denying that the Union of Utrecht, because of its union with the ancient church of Utrecht, possesses valid apostolic succession and thus valid sacraments. The Roman Catholic Church has yet to deny that the church of Utrecht, and all other national churches related to Utrecht, has remained Catholic (theologically speaking) in maintaining valid episcopal succession. Apostolic succession was established in Utrecht by Archbishop Willibrord in 695 C.E. by Pope Sergious I (d. 701). Shortly after Willibrord’s death he was canonized a saint for the local church of Utrecht by Pope Gregory III (d. 741.), and remains a patron saint for Old Catholics worldwide to date. All Old Catholic churches derive their historical apostolic lineage from the Archbishop of Utrecht, and the papacy’s official statement regarding the Union of Utrecht’s sacramental validity is “valid but illicit;” illicit because they are not in communion with the Roman papacy.

There have been ongoing ecumenical discussions between the Old Catholics and the Roman church, but communion between these two ecclesial bodies will not occur anytime soon for reasons already stated above.

How did the Old Catholics arrive at a theological justification for a Catholic Church not in communion with Rome? Old Catholics cannot be fully understood (from a historical and theological perspective) apart from Vatican I and the doctrine (teaching) of papal infallibility. The disagreement with Rome and Utrecht had everything to do with the “crisis of conscience” between a local church (Utrecht) and papal authority. When the papacy forced certain local national churches to accept the doctrine of infallibility of the pope or face excommunication, a theological crisis of conscience emerged yet again and conflict ensued between the papacy and certain national churches in Europe. This “anti-infallibility” movement was led by Ignaz von Dölinger (a Roman Catholic theologian present at the Vatican I council), who later became a major “classical” theologian for the Old Catholic Church. Dölinger was against the doctrine of papal infallibility because he claimed it was a novel teaching foreign to what the ancient church fathers taught regarding the bishop of Rome. He further stated that if the Roman church accepted the infallibility doctrine of the pope, the church would quintessentially redefine itself apart from the tradition of the ancient church. Dölinger asserted that Vatican I, by accepting the papal infallibility doctrine, created a new Catholic Church, and he further asserted that he would remain part of the old Catholic Church – the church that did not distance itself from the tradition of the ancient church. Hence, the term “Old Catholic” was coined and reserved for those national churches that did not accept the papal infallibility doctrine promulgated at the Vatican I council. It is important to note that the Old Catholic churches did not schism with the Roman Catholic Church; they were rather expelled (excommunicated) by the papacy for refusing to submit to the Vatican counsel. Hence, these local churches had no choice but to unite with each other, so to preserve their Catholicity apart from Rome.

All in all there were other disciplinary doctrines Old Catholics disagreed with, i.e. obligatory confession (although Old Catholics still regularly seek the sacrament of confession at least once per year before the great Easter Vigil), the teaching on indulgences, and veneration of relics. These practices were not considered by the Old Catholics as essential practices for one’s salvation. More can be stated about this topic, but it is outside the parameters of our purpose here. Suffice it to state that ecumenism is intrinsically part of Old Catholic theology, and Old Catholic theologians are willing to enter into dialog with the Roman church; noting that the emphasis here is on dialog, and not merely conforming to the Roman church’s doctrinal authority (or way of being church).

Michael Bayly: What are some common misunderstandings or misconceptions about Old Catholicism?

Robert Caruso: I can only speak to the common misconceptions of Old Catholicism held by North Americans. First and foremost, there is much ignorance in the U.S. about Old Catholicism, and the word “Old Catholic” has been inaccurately transformed into a novel understanding of the so-called independent Catholics claiming to hold Old Catholic historical apostolic succession. Some jurisdictions in the U.S. do hold apostolic succession from the church of Utrecht, but no jurisdiction in America is currently in union with Utrecht.

I often encounter people asking questions like, “Do you embrace Vatican II? Do you say your masses in Latin?” European Old Catholic theologians have studied and make use of Vatican II theological doctrine(s). Vatican II was (from an Old Catholic perspective) a step in the right direction on all accounts. It is unfortunate that the Roman papacy has not fully embraced Vatican II and is now seemingly trying to redefine this council’s theological promulgations altogether. Old Catholics do not celebrate mass in Latin. They celebrate Eucharist in the vernacular, and their liturgies are similar to that of the Novus Ordo Roman rite liturgy. The Old Catholic mass is warm, possessing a non-hierarchal approach to its liturgy, emphasizing community over the sacerdotal power of the individual priest. The priest is the one who consecrates the bread and wine, however, the people are intrinsically part of the eucharistic sacrifice, not just the priest. The priest does not inherently possess the sacerdotal powers of the priesthood, but is an extension of the sacramental eucharistic and priestly charism of the local bishop. The local bishop, in turn, is the sacramental charismatic representation of Christ as priest, prophet and head of the eucharistic community forming Christ’s body on the local level. No one individual or person possesses any power or authority in the Church apart from the entire body functioning together as Church holistically (1 Cor. 12-31). This is a different understanding of the episcopacy and ministerial powers of the priesthood when compared with the Roman Catholic theology of holy orders.

Another misconception about the Old Catholic Church is that it is “Jansenist.” The term Jasenism was imposed upon a particular pious movement that was part of the Counter Reformation in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth-century. Jansenism was condemned as heretical because the sect agreed with Augustine of Hippo’s doctrine on double predestination (from all eternity God decided who was and was not saved). Suffice it to state here that the Old Catholic churches do not officially claim to be Jansenist, nor do they adhere to the doctrine of double predestination. Jansenism became a pejorative (slander) term in its day, and any individual and/or group that protested against the papacy was labeled a Jansenist sect. Much more can and should be stated about this complex topic, but it cannot be satisfactorily done here.

Further elaboration on this entire topic is in order to fully comprehend the eucharistic ecclesiology of the Old Catholic churches, which (again) would be outside the scope of this interview. Much education needs to happen on the local level in order to fully appreciate what it means to be Old Catholic. This takes time, energy, commitment, support, and public interest and awareness of the movement. The latter has (unfortunately) yet to occur in the U.S. for whatever reason.

Michael Bayly: What is the Liberal Catholic Church? How is it related, if at all, to the Old Catholic Church?

Robert Caruso: I do not know much about the Liberal Catholic Church and its theology. I do know that the Liberal Catholic movement derives from Europe (England, I believe), and somehow received Old Catholic apostolic succession, but they were never part of the Old Catholic (Union of Utrecht) churches. Thus, Liberal Catholics are a completely different polity altogether from that of Old Catholicism. Recall what I stated in question three above, that apostolic succession is understood much broader than just the historical continuity of episcopal lines of succession. This stated, just because a church claims to have Old Catholic apostolic succession does not indicate ipso facto that they are Old Catholic in polity.

The Liberal Catholic Church exists as two branches and their theology is significantly different from Old Catholicism (the two liberal branches even differ theologically between each another). One of the branches teaches a theological doctrine very much antithetical to essential Christian doctrine (e.g. reincarnation) in addition to other teachings not associated with Christianity in general.

Michael Bayly: What are some of the contemporary problems and issues facing the Old Catholic Church – both in the U.S. and in other parts of the world?

Robert Caruso: The contemporary issue all Old Catholics struggle with is its low number of communicants. Germany is the largest Old Catholic national church with around 65,000 communicants. It is difficult to decipher an exact number for any Old Catholic national church (especially in North America) because this information is not readily available to the public. Old Catholics have not been known for their size; rather it’s their spirit and theology of the local church that makes them unique, and an important asset toward understanding Catholicism outside the communion of Rome. Today, more than ever, the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht are slowly being recognized by larger church bodies (i.e. the Anglican Communion and Eastern Orthodox), and its theology is becoming more of an interest to theologians outside of the Union of Utrecht. Vital to the Old Catholic Church’s existence is being able to perpetuate its ecclesiastical polity and theology, striving to ever interpret its significance today and in every age.

The issue within North America, specifically the United States, is a bit more complicated of an issue. Because there is a lack of space to go into great detail, I will point to some of the issues currently affecting Old Catholics in the U.S. and then offer some suggestions:

– Most Old Catholics in the U.S. are fragmented, disorderly, and possess a distorted understanding of Old Catholicism in general.

– The historical origins and theology of the Old Catholic movement (i.e., the Union of Utrecht) is an unknown, misunderstood, and misrepresented church polity in North America. Many American self-published authors have successfully adapted the meaning of the term “Old Catholic” to fit their exhaustive ideologies of this unique polity in the U.S.

– Essentially, these authors have composed a distinctively new understanding of the term “Old Catholic,” apart from and foreign to European Old Catholic understandings of polity and theology.

– Old Catholicism has been (for the most part) unknown in the United States by many, and it deserves greater visibility as well as broader academic attention.

– Few lay persons are currently involved in the Old Catholic movement in North America thus far.

My suggestion here encompasses all the above problems currently facing Old Catholicism in the U.S. I assert that the Old Catholic bishops in the U.S. need to communicate, focus, and build their local churches in their (geographical) areas; set policies (i.e. credible academic and pastoral training for those entering the ministry) in calling forth a synod, and commune with other local churches and their bishops. Humility, charity, and compassion, are key affections of the heart that must govern bishops in this country if we ever want to see a viable, unified, and canonically recognized Old Catholic Church in North America.

Michael Bayly: You’re a gay man in a loving and committed relationship. You’re also an ordained minister, a priest, within the Old Catholic Church. Can you talk about Old Catholicism’s stance on gay people? Can you also share some of your own journey, as a gay man, within Old Catholicism? For instance, what drew you to the Old Catholic Church in the first place? What is it about this tradition that sustains you spiritually?

Robert Caruso: I recently wrote an essay on this topic entitled Gay and Lesbian Households: A Practical and Theological Analysis. I am currently trying to get it published in a theological journal, and would not mind making it available for those interested in reading it. I will briefly summarize some of its content here in addition to my vocational and personal journey to Old Catholicism.

The Heartland Old Catholic Union (USA) welcomes all to the full participation in the life, mission, and worship of the local church. This means that gays and lesbians are not just welcome to the table at Eucharist, but are welcome to fully participate in the gospel ministry of Christ’s church sharing his or her diverse gifts with the local eucharistic fellowship.

The Church (in general) must be reminded of its eschatological nature that it has forgotten about in its preoccupation of idolizing heterosexual marriage (specifically marital procreation) as the foundational model of God, Christ, and the pilgrim Church on earth. Same-sex couples show all Christians just how truly queer Christianity is. “In Christ there is no male or female (Galations 3:23)…In heaven there is no marriage (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35).” Gay and lesbian couples “may help the Church recover its vision of heaven,” through our mutual covenant bond in baptism and the celebration of Eucharist together. This quintessentially speaks to the eucharistic ecclesiological Old Catholic nature of unity in diversity.

I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. I felt a calling to the ministerial priesthood, and responded to this call after graduating from a Catholic Christian Brothers high school in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. I went to minor seminary, and decided after a year it was not for me. Eventually, I responded to the call again with the Crosiers in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was with the order for three years and left the order as a postulant in 2003.

I learned of Old Catholicism through some friends of mine. Like many Roman Catholics, I was leery of the Old Catholics because I was indoctrinated in believing that the Roman church was the one true church of Christ. I began seeking more information about the Old Catholics, started worshipping at Cornerstone Catholic Church in St. Paul, and eventually pursued my priestly vocation in the local Old Catholic church of Minnesota. My partner continues to support my ministry, and he is an integral part of it.

I joined the Old Catholic movement because as a church it embraces the entire body of Christ on the local level. No one person stands at the head of the group because it is the authority of the body that speaks on behalf of the whole. My spirituality has always been centered in the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist. My spirituality is truly Catholic, and the Old Catholic Church has enabled me to embrace my Catholicism with an authentic dignity as a baptized member of Christ’s body on earth. The Old Catholic Church has sustained my eucharistic spirituality, and I have found a spiritual home where I can celebrate my Catholicity as a whole and healthy person.

Many remnant Catholics search for a church that is similar to the Catholic faith they so cherish. The Old Catholic movement’s ministry in the U.S. is to gather these remnant persons and form eucharistic communities in spreading the good news of Jesus the Christ to all people.

Michael Bayly: Australian theologian Paul Collins has termed Roman Catholic clericalism a “diseased system,” noting that “everyone who works in the system, no matter how generous, saintly, and virtuous they are, has to struggle to avoid being inexorably caught up in a clericalism that misuses power and that is essentially deceitful and corrupt.” Irish theologian Diarmuid Ó Murchú offers a similar analysis when he observes that: “innate to clericalism is a patriarchal, subconscious driving force which is much more about power in the name of religion, rather than about service in the name of spirituality.”

How does the Old Catholic Church avoid the pitfalls of clericalism?

Robert Caruso:First and foremost, I want to stress that all church denominations possess (to some degree) a certain amount of clericalism with their ordained clergy. This stated I in no manner condone clericalism. I define the term clericalism as that school of thought where ordained clergy (priests and/or bishops) possess an intrinsic sacramental power of the priesthood (a sacramental change in character or being) apart from the corporate nature of the entire body of Christ: the local church universal.

There must be a balance in the local churches to ensure that clericalism remains bridled. The significance of a balance infers, quite clearly, that there must be some sort of numerical balance between the clergy and laity. One of the major issues facing the Old Catholic movement in the U.S. is the lack of lay involvement. Old Catholic parishes in the U.S., for the most part, possess 25 or less lay members. Why is this? Indeed a very valid question that needs to be asked more often and answered more responsibly by those already involved in the movement. Fact is some American Old Catholic bishops and clergy find it difficult to concede that education about Old Catholicism is desperately needed to better train seminarians for its ordained ministry. A person who was a priest in the Roman church or possesses a Master of Divinity degree (or its equivalent) does not automatically qualify him to be a priest in the Old Catholic Church. A person must first learn and practice the faith before he or she can viably minister in it. This basic practice by the local churches would help combat against the tyranny of clericalism.

Further, Old Catholicism has yet to clearly identify itself as a viable church in the U.S., so as to provide a lucid understanding of its polity. All in all, Old Catholicism in the U.S. needs more active lay participation if it is ever going to realistically be a lively church polity.

Michael Bayly: The retreat you recently facilitated was entitled “Unity in Diversity.” What does this expression mean within Old Catholicism?

Robert Caruso: Unity in diversity is a viable ecclesial teaching in the Old Catholic (Union of Utrecht) churches. I alluded to this doctrine in question three above, and will now provide further expression to the eucharistic theology of the Old Catholic church herein.

The Old Catholic Church theologically views the Eucharist as the core of being Church. It is the Eucharist that unites all Christians together in their Lord Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, the nature of the local church is reflected in the celebration of the Eucharist. It is important to note that it is not just the priest who offers and celebrates the Eucharist, but the whole assembly. Each Christian shares in the paschal mystery of Christ in the Eucharist, serving God in different roles and ministries given to them by the Spirit. The priest, acting in the place of the local bishop (the representative of Christ) at liturgy, consecrates the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ with and not for God’s holy people. The priest is not over and above the people; on the contrary, the priest is servant of both God and the people whom he or she serves (this is the eucharistic charism of the ministerial priesthood). All people share in the dignity of celebrating Eucharist. In this way all are equal (but possess diverse charisms), so that fundamental subordination is out of the question (e.g. clericalism)!

The ministerial priest must foster and uphold that the essence of communion in the Eucharist is not about uniformity but unity in diversity. Plurality (the many) always precedes unity because the Spirit is broad, always inclusive and never exclusive! Dutch Old Catholic theologian Jan Visser maintains that “unity is not based on a ministry which everybody has to obey. It is rather the opposite: the highest ministry in the Church should be the expression of the plurality: the many.” Further, he elaborates that central to Old Catholic ecclesial (church) understanding of the ordained ministry is that it is “subservient to the communion, not vice versa.” The Old Catholic ministerial priest must foster and teach unity in diversity centered in the Eucharist on the local level.

The holy Eucharist is like “glue” binding us together in our diverse personalities and thoughts. We come together to listen to God’s Word in scripture and celebrate the Eucharist where we will unite as one in our Lord Jesus the Christ. In Eucharist we come together and all our differences dissipate, and the only thing that matters and remains is Jesus’ body and blood in the bread and wine consecrated, broken, and poured out for us. We come to the holy table and altar to unite all our hurts, joys, and concerns together with Christ’s paschal mystery, sharing in the cross of Jesus our brother. We come to the altar table with hope and joy, experiencing a taste of what is yet to come always in the age of the moment. We give all thanksgiving, glory and praise to God, the gracious parent, who gave us Jesus as the selfless Son and Word of God made flesh: bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh. Thus, the Eucharist is the center of our communal life as Christians and especially as Old Catholics. The Eucharist provides sustenance and meaning to our lives as baptized Christians because it is Jesus the real manna from heaven.

Michael Bayly: At one point during your facilitation of the “Unity in Diversity” retreat you noted that in Old Catholicism authority “ascends” rather than “descends.” Can you say more about this?

Robert Caruso: The ascending model of governance in the Old Catholic Church is what is deemed conciliar or non-hierarchical (top-down power structure).

The episcopacy is intrinsically part of the synodical/conciliar nature of the local church. Meaning, where the bishop is so too is the eucharistic fellowship of the local church and vice versa. Further elaborated, the bishop has authority in spiritual and secular matters, but not solely! It was agreed in the Old Catholic church of the Netherlands that the bishop does not possesses sole authority in spiritual and temporal matters, because it would go against everything Old Catholics hold dear theologically and ecclesiastically. The nature of Old Catholic Church governance is the collegiality of bishops in union with the “synodical nature” of the local Church: the people. Hierarchal ex qua non type of authority does not exist in the Union of Utrecht. The Holy Spirit dwells in all the baptized and, therefore, each baptized person possesses dignity as a child of God and is given a vote in all ecclesiastical matters. The local bishop(s) (alongside their ordained priests and deacons) and the local community (the laity) are united together, and assist each other in the reception of doctrine in addition to other juridical/secular governing matters in the church as it may surface. This is the synodical nature of the Old Catholic local churches.

Michael Bayly: Where can people find accurate and up-to-date information about Old Catholicism?

Robert Caruso: It is very difficult to find accurate information about Old Catholicism in this country unless one has access to a theological library carrying academic theological journals. Most current essays from European Old Catholic theologians are written in academic journals, and there are few published books on the subject. I strongly advise those interested in Old Catholicism’s theology and history to avoid self-published books on the subject because most of them are inaccurate and biased.

Below are some texts that I would suggest to those interested in learning more about the history and theology of the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht:

Claude B. Moss, The Old Catholic Movement: Its Origins and History, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1964; reprint Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press ed., 2005).

C.B. was a well-known Anglican scholar who presents for the first time a well documented history and life of the Old Catholic movement. This book is outdated in certain places, but overall a definite read for all interested in the Old Catholic movement.

John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).

Zizioulas is an Eastern Greek Orthodox theologian who has highly influenced Old Catholic classical theologians like Urs Küry (Old Catholic Bishop of Berne, Switzerland 1955-72) and Andreas Rinkel (Archbishop of Utrecht, Holland 1937-70) in the theology of the local church. Zizioulas’ theology is compact and laconic in application. His chapter on the eucharist and catholicity of the church is most illuminating, as is essentially every chapter in his book. Zizioulas’ work has highly influenced Old Catholic ecclesiology, apostolic succession, the sacraments (especially baptism and the Eucharist), and ministry. This book is an essential read for those interested in understanding Old Catholic eucharistic theology of the church.

Some other great texts relating to Old Catholicism and the history of the early church:

Brian Tierney, Foundations of the Conciliary Theory (Great Britain: University Press, 1955; reprint Great Britain: John Dickens & Co., 1968).

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by a Religious of C.S.M.V. and with an Introduction by C.S. Lewis (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1996).

Paul E. Capetz, God: A Brief History (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

Henri J. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994).

Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 1982).

Michael Bayly: And finally, Robert, can you talk about the book you’ve written about Old Catholicism?

Robert Caruso: The book is not titled yet, but the main thesis of it is twofold: (1) to explicate the complex veritable historical origins of the Old Catholic movement that eventually formed the Union of Utrecht (1889) as well as its unique theology of the local church in a foundationally concise and illuminating manner; and (2) present an authentically laconic and current understanding of Old Catholicism as a unified, ecumenical, and diverse church polity that is truly Catholic, yet independent of Roman Catholic papal authority. Furthermore I assert that Old Catholicism has been (for the most part) unknown in the Western Church by many, and it deserves greater visibility as well as broader academic attention.

Hence, this book is intended for North American seminarians, church history professors, Anglican/Episcopal clergy, and the general public – tersely explicating an accurate and current foundational representation of the Old Catholic Church’s complex history and unique theology as well as clarify a more realistic understanding of the so-called Old Catholic churches in North America . All in all, my book will uniquely contribute to responsibly informing and inspiring my intended readers to veritably reflect, comprehend, and entertain the richness of this unknown polity called the Old Catholic Church (Union of Utrecht).

The book is being published by the Apocryphile Press out of Berkeley, CA. The publisher is a small venue, but they are printed through Ingram Publishing, so my book will be available and accessible at all major book store outlets. The book is scheduled to be published around this time next year (2008).

May 2009 Update: Robert’s book is available here at


Michael Bayly, standing second from right, with members of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church during the community’s August 19 retreat on the shores of Clear Lake, Minnesota. Standing at far left is the Right Reverend James R. Judd, Bishop of Heartland Old Catholic Church, while standing third from right is Rev. Robert Caruso, Pastor of Corner Stone Old Catholic Church.

A big “Thank you!” to Robert for his generous and insightful responses to my questions about Old Catholicism.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches
The Old Catholic Church of Great Britain

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Beyond Papalism
Casanova-inspired Reflections on Papal Power – at 30,000 Ft.
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
In the Garden of Spirituality: Ron Rolheiser
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
Beyond a PC Pope
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Chris McGillion Responds to the “Exacerbating” Actions of Cardinal Pell
“Uncle Vince” is at it Again
It’s Time We Moved Beyond Theological Imperialism
Paul Collins and Marilyn Hatton
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”

Photograph of Rev. Robert Caruso by David McCaffrey.


Anonymous said...

It's great to see "Old" Catholics, sometimes called "Liberal" Catholics, discussed. In terms of historic developments within Christian doctrine, this schism actually represents a continuation, rather than a departure, from the apostolic tradition.

For one important aspect, they, like Orthodoxy, accept Petrine primacy, but not Petrine supremacy. The Councils have never sanctioned the latter, but Popes have consistently assert it. JPII's Canon Law explicitly claims it. Yet, from Cyprian, Tertullian, and others, the Episcopacy is the sacrament of unity: One. Thus, collegiality, not supremacy, has been the authentic teaching, with the Bishop of Rome primus inter pares ["first among equals"], followed by the Bishop of Constantinople. This elementary position was declared at Nicea, I.

I don't recall if "Liberal" Catholic embrace or reject Augustine's Original Sin, which Orthodoxy rejects, but the doctrine is perverse. In a series on "The Devil Made Me Do It," I explore this and similar theories of "sin" I find deplorable. Calvin misunderstood Original Sin, and declared with his reading of Paul's epistle to the Romans, total human depravity! Humans are incapable of doing any good. Surely, a reading of Romans 1- 8 permits such an preverse anthropology, but not within Orthodoxy. Even Aquinas, who accepted Original Sin, could not accept the theory of the Immaculate Conception -- in the 13th C. -- which Orthodox reject as unnecessary.

From a "theological" perspective, I find Orthodoxy far more consistent than any of the other schisms. The one drawback to it is is codification of all Councils up to the Great Schism (1054), and the inertia of the Holy Spirit thereafter. I believe it was the Lateran Council, in which the "flioque" dispute was resolved, only to have it then repudiated by Constantinople. At Lateran the phrase, "proceeds from the Father through the Son" replaced "proceeds from the Father and the Son." The revision is entirely consistent with the earliest conceptions of processionism, as stated as early as Clement of Rome (c. 100) and others, although Liberation Theologian Leonardo Boff makes an excellent case for the filique approach, even if it is a novation, rather than a devlopment.

As J. H. Newman wrote so eloquently in "On Consulting the Faithful," the sensus fidelium follows the Vicentian Canon, or it is not authentic development, but a novation. With the Schism preventing Eastern Christendom from further consensus, it has ceased to develop, codified in medieval time, rather than evolved and grown organically. Rome, on the other hand, has novation after novation. And the "filoque" clause violates the norms of the Ecumenical conciliar theology, the normative means of establishing orthodox catholic faith.

In the final analysis, these differences, theoretically, should not be material, but alas they have been. If the Church is the Ark of the New Covenant, and the Holy Spirit the Divine Person guiding it through its overseers -- collegially, not autocratically -- then Orthodoxy stifles the Spirit, while Rome reaches newer and newer levels of ultramontanism. The notion of Rahner's that the Church is both an evolutionary "organism" first, and an instrumental "organization" secondarily, is defeated by this Schism and their polarity in their inability to achieve consensus.

The notion that the Church through its episcopal collegiality proposes, rather than imposes, requires episcopal collegiality, otherwise it won't guarantee the Vicentian Canon, and begets either codification or supremacy instead. Such division illustrates the error of both approaches, as well as the increasing sense of becoming irrelevant. It's no longer an Ark, which navigates the waters of time, but literally a Rock, stubborn and immovable, or a relic, also stubborn and immovable.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Gay Species,

As always, thank you for sharing your informed and well-articulated perspective.

As to the Liberal Catholic Church and Old Catholicism, following is Robert Caruso's response to my question on how these two churches are related. His response is from that part of my interview that’s yet to be published on The Wild Reed (but will be soon!).

Robert said:

I do not know much about the Liberal Catholic Church and its theology. I do know that the Liberal Catholic movement derives from Europe (England, I believe), and somehow received Old Catholic apostolic succession, but they were never part of the Old Catholic (Union of Utrecht) churches. Thus, Liberal Catholics are a completely different polity altogether from that of Old Catholicism. Recall what I stated in question three above, that apostolic succession is understood much broader than just the historical continuity of episcopal lines of succession. This stated, just because a church claims to have Old Catholic apostolic succession does not indicate ipso facto that they are Old Catholic in polity.

The Liberal Catholic Church exists as two branches and their theology is significantly different from Old Catholicism (the two liberal branches even differ theologically between each another). One of the branches teaches a theological doctrine very much antithetical to essential Christian doctrine (e.g. reincarnation) in addition to other teachings not associated with Christianity in general.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. Clearly, reincarnation would not fit the parousia and eschaton. But, aside from the what clearly is not merely schismatic, but apostasy, I thought Union of Utrecht had chosen a new nominalism for their titular identity.

The issue of apostolic succession, of course, only guarantees and safeguards the Doctrine of Processionism and apostolicity. But as you know better than I, the Nicene Creed has four criteria (marks) for the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. It does not guarantee the other three conditions, which are as necessary as succession.

Anonymous said...

I re-read the Father's comments, particularly in light of the "church." On theological grounds, he takes on the first-seven Ecumenical Councils? And the Petrine See has no significance? Yet, Nicea I states unequivocally that the Bishop of Rome is first among equals, that no single bishop, not even the local bishop, speaks on his own authority (statements that go back to Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, etc.)

I think Cyprian expresses the notion better than anyone or any council. The episcopacy is one. A seamless garment woven of many threads, a single river with many tributories, the single tree rooted in Christ with many branches. The episcopacy is the sacrament of unity, the bond of peace, inseparable and indivisible, a unity that cannot be rent, indivisible in its unbroken entirety." (Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, c. 250). Of this single episcopacy with many offshoots, it has its chief, it's first among equals, the chief of the apostles, the see of Saint Pater (both biblical and Nicea and earliers). The Bishop of Constantinople is second among equals, per Nicea.

On just this limited matter, the episcopacy is clearly more than merely apostolic succession, but isn't even episcopal, without apostolic succession. In other words, succession is necessary, but not sufficient.

Thus, the overseer (bishop) who is not in communion with other bishops may have the necessary apostolicity of succession, but without the fullness of the episcopacy itself, he's merely a leaf on a branch, detached from the trunk (the episcopacy) and without roots (in Christ's Church). Many bishops, including Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, have been removed for heresy (in Chrysostom's case falsely), but Chrysostom himself remained an apostolic successor and bishop, even remained in communion with Pope Innocent I, while a local synod excommunicated him. Today, Chrysostom is revered as one of the Church's most illustrious Doctors of Theology.

What Old Catholics (and Anglicans, and even Orthodox and Rome) have to recognize is Cyprian's very basic notion of the entire episcopacy is one, united, undivided, and acts as God's oracle only through conciliar mechanisms. Of this unity, the Bishops of Roma and Constantinople have first and second place in term of "chief" among equals, but that without equals of other bishops, a single bishop is not a part of the church. Only those bishops in communion with the "one episcopacy," having valid apostolic orders of succession, may be members of the apostolic college, but it is the apostolic college, as a whole, not any given bishop, that confers apostolicity to the Church. The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 could not make this point any clearer, and because it occurred in Jerusalem, not Rome, James presided over the Council, not Peter, as James was the apostle whose apostolic see of Jerusalem is head of the local church in Jerusalem. Peter is still given the deference of first among equals, but even he knew his pastoral primacy was nil in Jerusalem, only in Rome.

Just because a schism retains apostolic succession (as some Lutherans, Coptics, Armenians, Anglicans) does not in and of itself make any one of its bishops more authortative than any other. NO bishop has authority over another bishop. Not even the Pope (his Canon Law B/S notwithstanding).

The episcopacy is one, with many members. Only the one episcopacy, bond of inseparable peace, indivisibility, and unbreakable," is the mark of apostolicity, not any particular bishop. Those outside the "one" Cyprian calls an adultreress, defiled, unchaste, because the marks of the true church are (i) one, (ii) holy, (iii) catholic, (iv) apostolic (Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed). 3 out of 4 does not make it. ALL FOUR are required, as the Church that had all FOUR first proclaimed (the third article in Constantinople 381).

Just as Baptism is a necessary condition to salvation, it is not a sufficient one. Likewise, apostolic succession is a necessary condition for apostolicity, but not a sufficient one. Only, the entire episcopacy as one, with the Petrine See as primate, Constantinopolitan See as auxillary, confers apostolicity. Only conciliar pronouncements have divine authority. And since no Council since 1054, save the Lateran II (1139), included the whole episcopacy, none of the conciliar pronouncements since then are binding. But Lateran III (1179), in an odd move, determined only cardinals could elect the bishop of Rome, which is odd on two fronts: (i) in terms of choosing a local bishop, all baptized Christians make that process individual to their local custom. (ii) But since this particular bishop is also Pope, and many of the cardinals lived outside the Roman diocese, how could they represent the local church in selecting its local overseer?

Now a cardinal is not an apostolic office; indeed, I'm not sure what it is. As "princes of the church," they supposedly elect the pope. But the Pope is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome. And worldwide princes cannot elect a local bishop per Canons at Nicea. Pope John XXIII in 1960 required that all cardinals be bishops. That means none of the church in Rome selects its own pastor. Only "select" bishops from around the world. Technically, this is a vast improvement, inasmuch as the primitive model of selecting successors was by predecessors (for example, the Eleven choosing Matthias in Act 1). As polity and the church grew, electing one's bishop locally, and then consecrating the bishop by three nearby bishops outside the diocese in question became standard, rather than the original "succession by direct laying-on of hands." But, if bishops are to choose the successor and consecrate, then the whole college, not just the Pope's favorites, should be vested. Now, he and he alone chooses the local church's bishop. That process is entirely un-apostolic. Either the predecessor chooses the successor, or (ii) the whole college chooses the successor, or (iii) the local church chooses the successor, but never one bishop chooses all other bishops.

Ironically, "supremacy" and its cognates are used repeatedly throughout Canon Law, which the Pope's own curia drafted, but "supremacy" is not a word any conciliar document has ever used in reference to the Bishop of Rome. Christ is the Supreme Head of the Church. Lumen gentium 1964, which is a dogmatic conciliar statement, refers ti the Roman Pontiff's primacy. Primacy is not supremacy. And let me close from citing it: "This teaching concerning the . . . primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office, the sacred synod proposes anew to proclaim publicly and enunciate clearly the doctrine concerning bishops, successors of the apostles, who together with Peter's successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God" and "in the person of the bishops [plural], then, to whom priests render assistance, the Lord Jesus Christ, supreme high priests, is present in the midst of the faithful. . . through pastoral care."


"The Church from the earliest of times the chief place, according to the witness of tradition, is held by the function of those who, through their appointment to the dignity and responsibility of bishop, and in virtue consequently of the unbroken successions, going back to the beginning, are regarded as transmitters of the apostolic line. Thus, according to the testimony of St. Ireneaus, the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved in the whole world by those who were made bishops by the apostles and by their successors down to our own time. . . . the bishops have be divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ (Lk 10:16)"

In EVERY case, the bishops -- PLURAL -- "in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided [Christ] set up Peter as the head," states over and over that the sole supremacy by conciliar standards is in the God-Man Jesus. That his Ministry and Oversight is continued through his apostles and their successors, with Peter the chief of the Twelve.

Thus, for an Old Catholic to locate apostolicity in a single bishop, or seek it in the sensus fidelium, OR for Roman Catholicism's Popes betraying Ecumenical Councils by locating all authority in a single bishop is the SAME error, just different bishops.

The Authority, Oversight, Teaching Office, Governance, etc., is vested in the one episcopacy itself, with the Petrine bishopric the "chief" (first among equals), not to ANY single bishop, but to all the bishops in concert, that confers apostolicity. The Apostles numbered TWELVE. Their very first act on Pentecost was to replace Judas with Matthia, to reconstitute the TWELVE. THEY chose their successors [plural], and the Council of Jerusalem involves ALL TWELVE apostles and whomever else they could accommodate. Only through these COUNCILS does the Church of Christ speak with guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only through episcopal collegiality is true apostolicity to be found. Not in the Bishop of Utrecht or the Bishop of Rome or Jerusalem or any single bishop. While apostolic succession is a necessary condition, so too is episcopal collegiality. One or the other is seriously defective. And if only councils decide the truth/falsehoods of the Church, by Old Catholic theology, the Holy Spirit has been silent since the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, 869-870. By Roman Catholic theology, those Councils have continued, the Holy Spirit still active, and its Roman Pontiff still over-reaching.

But if God's Voice, Authority, Truths, etc. were only in ONE voice, then none of this matters. But that is NOT the teaching of sacred conciliar proclamations: THE EPISCOPACY IS ONE, its individual bishoprics many. Christ alone is Supreme, the Bishop of Rome a primate (first among EQUALS). That's what the Church of Ecumenical Councils teaches. The normative statement of Christian Belief binding on all Christians is the Nicene Creed. It asks us to believe nothing about the scriptures, only the Three Divine Persons in One God. And under the "Holy Spirit," it asks us to believe in, "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." Okay, if this belief is normative, and even this non-Christian thinks it is, what does it mean to be "apostolic?" Laying-on of hand by Unbroken Succession of individual bishops or the Episcopacy? Since the latter presumes the former, simply both. But since the former does not presume the latter, it alone confers succession at most. And succession alone is not apostolic, at least not according to those who wrote the definitions, and wrote this Creed. And it sure does not mean sensus fidelium, which pertains to the definition of "catholic," not "apostolicity."