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Anglicans & Old Catholics

This year celebrates the 80th anniversary of the “Bonn Agreement” between the Church of England and Old Catholics (Union of Utrecht):

  1. Each Communion recognises the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
  2. Each Communion agrees to admit members of the other Communion to participate in the Sacraments.
  3. Full Communion does not require from either Communion the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, sacramental devotion or liturgical practice characteristic of the other, but implies that each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith.

Since then full communion extends to all members of the Anglican Communion.

The history of the Old Catholic communion is complex.

The twelfth century Investiture Controversy resulted, in 1122, in the Concordat of Worms (confirmed 1st Lateran Council 1123; reinforced 4th Lateran Council 1215). The Emperor would not invest bishops, and the bishop would be elected locally, and not be appointed. The See of Utrecht held strongly to this position.

The Reformation in the Netherlands resulted in the Dutch Reformed Church confiscating church property, and making Catholicism illegal. Catholicism went underground. The Pope, Bishop of Rome, suspended the dioceses north of the Rhine and Waal.

Rome, later, began to “re-establish” the Catholic Church in the Low Countries. But many Catholics there saw themselves as part of the continuing church rather than part of a new mission of Rome. They held to their previous rights.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Utrecht elected a bishop that the Pope did not approve. This Archbishop of Utrecht consecrated bishops of other Dutch dioceses, again without Roman agreement, in accordance with the Concordat. While most Dutch Catholics held allegiance to Rome, these “Old Catholics” in schism did not accept Rome’s jurisdiction over them.

The declaration, at the First Vatican Council 1870, of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction, led to Austrian, German, and Swiss Catholics seeking to continue Catholic faith and practice without these additions. They joined with those in communion with the See of Utrecht to form the Old Catholic Communion. The Communion has grown from then.

The Vatican accepted the validity of the orders of Old Catholics – I do not know how the Vatican responded to Old Catholics ordaining women. Old Catholics have been fully involved in Anglican ordinations and consecrations – confusing the Vatican’s position on Anglican orders.

The Old Catholic communion is led by an International Bishops’ Conference (IBC), chaired by the Archbishop of Utrecht and meeting annually. The IBC is a coordinating and not a legislative body. Member churches are autonomous.

Old Catholics take part at the Lambeth Conferences and the Anglican Consultative Council, and maintain relations with Anglican churches around the world.

The Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC) met in York, England from 4 to 8 November 2011.

The Council finalised the text of a joint statement on ecclesiology and mission, “Belonging Together in Europe”. An earlier version of the text was the major focus of the International Old Catholic and Anglican Theological Conference held in Neustadt, Germany from August 29 to September 2, 2011.

In preparation for this post I have corresponded with Canon Dr Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Co-secretary. The text will become public after it has been presented to the International Anglican Commission on Unity Faith and Order (of which my bishop is a member and will be present) in December, and the International Bishops’ Conference standing committee in January.

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11 Responses to Anglicans & Old Catholics

  1. And what will adoption of the Anglican Covenant mean to such agreements as that between the Church of England and Old Catholics (Union of Utrecht)? I believe the answer is, we don’t know. Have the powers that be even considered the matter?

    June Butler

    • Sorry, Vincent, either you are misunderstanding the agreement, or I’m not really understanding your question. This isn’t an agreement about who can receive communion – in terms of the Eucharist it’s more an agreement about who can preside, ordain, etc. Does that make sense? Blessings.

      • Thanks Bosco, I probably have misunderstood. I assumed that permitting participation of members of the other Communion in the sacraments primarily meant receiving the sacraments rather than administering them. If it refers to administration then my question makes little sense.

        • Thanks, Vincent. In researching for this post I’m sure I spotted an Old Catholic page that explained all baptised Christians were welcome to receive communion. That is also the position of the Anglican Church here. The Bonn Agreement means if Old Catholic bishops were in NZ at the time of the ordination of an Anglican bishop, they would be invited to participate in the laying on of hands. Etc. Blessings.

  2. I have one RC friend who told me Church in Wales ordinations are valid as they had Old Catholic Bishops involved in the Early Consecrations and ordinations and another (who was RC, left for Anglican Ordination as he’s married, and has gone back to the RCS after being made an Anglican deacon!) who says the the Vatican made an amendment on Anglican orders and the inclusion of Old Catholics does not make these Anglican orders valid. Sounds like that was retrospective legislation therefore not really valid! The Church knows better than the Holy Spirit who is ordained.

    • Thanks for your comment, Meg. It would be good for these friends of yours to point us to the actual Vatican statements – I can’t work out how, if the Vatican deems Old Catholic orders valid & the Anglican ordinal valid, how the ordinations would be invalid. Blessings.

    • Thanks. Yes, Bishop Daniel, the question in the post was how the Vatican responded to Old Catholics ordaining women. If an Old Catholic woman bishop ordains a man, my understanding would be that the Vatican would not accept that as being valid. Blessings.

  3. My understanding is that Rome’s position is that if a bishop attempts to ordain a woman then not only is that ordination invalid, so are any other ordinations by that bishop because he no longer has a valid sacramental intent. Likewise all episcopal consecrations where a woman bishop participates in the laying on of hands are invalid in the eyes of Rome. Members of the Polish National Catholic Church, which left the Union of Utricht because they opposed the ordination of women, can, like the EO, take Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass. However, Utrecht Union Old Catholics cannot do so because they no longer, in the eyes of the RCC, posess valid holy orders.

    • Thanks, Whit. You present a very interesting perspective. It would be good to have reference to formal Vatican documentation confirming your points. Including of your contention that the Vatican formally accepts Polish National Catholics and EO to communion at RC Masses. I cannot see how that is dependent on the validity of the orders of those churches. Blessings.

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