This year celebrates the 80th anniversary of the “Bonn Agreement” between the Church of England and Old Catholics (Union of Utrecht):
- Each Communion recognises the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own.
- Each Communion agrees to admit members of the other Communion to participate in the Sacraments.
- 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.