Statement on the Order of Corporate Reunion

The connection between the Apostolic Episcopal Church and the Order of Corporate Reunion (OCR) reaches its eighty-fifth anniversary this year. Recent changes in the Order have prompted us to issue a public statement, so that it may be understood where the Apostolic Episcopal Church stands on a number of issues related to the Order, and what its relationship is to those branches of the Order with which it is not in communion today.

It is not necessary to give a detailed account of the history of the Order since its foundation in 1874 in order to highlight the Order’s challenges in terms of mission and leadership. When I was first admitted to the Order in 2008, as its Pro-Provincial of Canterbury and Bishop of the Order, I was more interested in the Order’s present ecumenical activities, which at that time were being vigorously pursued under the late Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan (1941-2016), than in tying up the various historical and jurisdictional loose ends that surround the Order’s past. That emphasis on mission and what the Order means in today’s world is to my mind the correct focus for a Christian organization. Nevertheless, there are also some important historical and jurisdictional points to be borne in mind.

Nature and purpose of the OCR

The OCR was never intended to be a general ecumenical society or a loose confederation. It had a well-defined purpose reflected in its name; that of achieving corporate reunion between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church; that is to say, the absorption of the Anglican Communion within the Roman Catholic Church and its cessation as a separate (or in Rome’s view schismatic) entity. The OCR’s specific role in this process was to impart valid Apostolic Orders, deriving from the consecrations supervised by the Archbishop of Milan in 1874, to Anglican clergy so that Rome’s objections to the validity of Anglican Orders (as would be detailed in the bull Apostolicae Curae of 1896) could be overcome. Both the original OCR and its 1911 revival after some years of dormancy under Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919) of the Old Roman Catholic Church operated as clandestine societies, re-ordaining Anglican clergymen and in that respect generating much opposition among the Anglican hierarchy for what they saw as unwanted incursions into their jurisdiction. The OCR continued this pattern of activity up to the 1950s under such bishops as Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora (1878-1958) of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church and Mar Georgius (Hugh George de Willmott Newman) (1905-79) of the Catholicate of the West and the Apostolic Episcopal Church, who re-ordained some of those Anglicans who approached them. During the 1960s, the OCR became inactive, and it only re-emerged during the 1980s under Archbishop Bertil Persson (1941-). More of this below.

Several observations are pertinent concerning the character of the OCR. Firstly, it was a religious Order, not a church, and held no jurisdiction of its own. The revived OCR under +Mathew had a Rule to which members were subject, including the daily celebration of the Mass according to the Roman Rite, either in Latin or the vernacular. It also endorsed “The Anglican Missal” which had been published in 1911, inter alia, as a means of making up the defects in the Communion Rite of the Book of Common Prayer. The members were almost all Anglicans with a few Old Catholics and autocephalous Orthodox. No member was not also already a clergyman under obedience to another church. The OCR could not be said to be anything other than a bridging body between the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The OCR acknowledged the complete authority of the Roman Catholic Church and never sought to exercise an independent existence as a communion in its own right; to a large extent it was a Roman “trojan horse” within the Anglican Communion. When in 1874 the Church of England rejected the suggestion that it should officially embrace the OCR, the OCR still saw that it could carry out its mission, though in conditions of some secrecy. Essentially, therefore, the idea of an OCR that is neither secret nor primarily concerned with relations between Rome and the Anglican Communion is a major departure from its original mission.

One point that causes particular difficulty was that the OCR, unlike most Old Catholics, accepted the First Vatican Council of 1870 and there is nothing to indicate it would not also have accepted the Second Vatican Council a century later. Indeed, +Mathew’s successor in the Old Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams (1889-1952), adopted just such a position officially in 1924 and this remains that of most branches of the Old Roman Catholic Church today. The OCR’s purpose is therefore neither more nor less than that “every creature on earth should be subject to the Roman Pontiff”. It was designed to secure Anglican acceptance by and submission to Rome. For those of us who hold to an Old Catholic, Orthodox or Continuing Anglican faith, this is highly problematic. We may accept the principle of Corporate Reunion in a wider sense of ecumenism, but we reject the First and Second Vatican Councils and therefore are prevented from submission to Rome on these, and often other, doctrinal and theological grounds.

Moreover, events have overtaken the OCR. In 1874, Corporate Reunion seemed a long way off. Today, both the United Kingdom and the United States have Personal Ordinariates within the Roman Catholic Church that permit Anglicans to enter the Roman Catholic Church without losing their ecclesiastical character or their forms of worship such as the Book of Common Prayer. Rome has reaffirmed its non-recognition of Anglican Orders and now appears to re-ordain Anglican clergy in the absolute, not the conditional form. This is notwithstanding a deliberate attempt by the Anglican Communion to introduce validity via the Bonn Agreement of 1931 with the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches, which has resulted in every clergyman of the Anglican Communion today (deriving his orders through a male episcopal line) having received an Old Catholic (and therefore supposedly valid according to Rome) line of succession. Our position in the Apostolic Episcopal Church is, and has been since our foundation, that Anglican orders are valid. But Rome’s position on validity now is not even what it was twenty years ago. Rome has become increasingly antinomian on this matter and according to my contacts has adopted the view that even were the Great Schism to be healed, Orthodox clergy would need to undergo conditional ordination – and this from a church that cannot trace any of its extant episcopal successions to a time before the consecration of Cardinal Guillaume d’Estouteville in 1440.

Meanwhile, traditionalist Anglo-Catholicism within the Anglican Communion now occupies a very marginalised position indeed. There is a small handful of clergy within the Anglican Communion who have received conditional ordination from Roman or Old Catholic sources, but there is no evidence that there is any further demand for conditional ordination, or that if such were needed, the OCR would be where those clergy would turn rather than to other valid sources. Increasingly, most Anglicans regard abstract arguments about validity as arcane and the preserve of only the most extreme of Ritualist clergy. Their concern is that their own communion regards them as valid clergy, not that Rome or anyone else does. If they decide to go to Rome, they accept that Rome will re-ordain them as a condition of their acceptance.

It is difficult to argue that when there are structures today that make it easy for Anglicans to enter the Roman Catholic Church, and that have effectively created Corporate Reunion, there is still a case for the OCR’s defined mission. The position taken by some bishops of the Anglican Communion seems to be that it would in fact be happier if most of their Anglo-Catholic clergy went to the Ordinariates. There is also now an extensive Continuing Anglican movement (including the Apostolic Episcopal Church) which preserves orthodox and traditional Anglicanism, and where clergy in most cases hold Orders considered valid both by the Anglican Communion and (according to its past statements) by Rome. In addition, through Anglican realignment, there are now provinces of the Anglican Communion that are traditionalist and that reject the liberal line of Canterbury. In some cases, these groups have begun to send missionary conservative clergy to minister to traditional Anglicans disaffected with the Episcopal Church or the Church of England.

Historical issues

The history of the OCR up to the death of +Mathew in 1919 is relatively straightforward, although there is still some doubt as to exactly what happened in the consecrations of 1874. Until there is a better history, the work of Henry R.T. Brandreth (“Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church”, S.P.C.K., London, 1961), Peter Anson (“Bishops at Large”, London, Faber & Faber, 1964), Mar Georgius (“A Chapter of Secret History”, Patriarchal Press, Glastonbury, 1961), and Bertil Persson (“The Order of Corporate Reunion”, Solna, St Ephrem’s Institute, 2000) will need to suffice for an account of the OCR’s foundation and early years.

It will be noted that with the exception of Mar Georgius’s account, in which he put forward his own well-reasoned claim to be the head of the OCR, all of these authors essentially stop at the death of +Lee in 1902 (or +Mathew in 1919) and there is good reason for this. That said, there is no reason to question the basic facts at issue in that earlier part of the OCR’s history. Brandreth, in particular, was an Anglican priest who had no reason to support the OCR, which he described as a “complete failure”. While Brandreth records that +Lee’s son Ambrose destroyed his father’s OCR papers, he does not indicate whether or not he or others known to him had been given sight of their contents before that event took place. As Brandreth says, “it is almost certain that the consecrators of Lee and Mossman were prelates in communion with Rome” (p. 106) and “there seems to be no reason to doubt that the Orders [of the OCR] were accepted as valid at the Vatican, and Lee preserved a document, which has been seen by many persons still living, giving some sort of recognition to their validity.” (ibid.) Such assertions from an essentially unsympathetic party should be accorded significant weight.

When dealing with a body whose existence is almost wholly clandestine, it is inevitable that there are lacunae where we would expect a more extensively documented historical record in a body that was open, public and accountable. There are numerous divergent claims concerning historical membership in, and succession from, the original 1874 OCR. Myth, rumour and legend surround the OCR as a body, and it seems likely that there is still much that awaits discovery about its past and perhaps its present activities. This, however, is not so far removed from the other challenges that face scholars of the smaller sacramental churches as a whole. We do not consider that any of the histories that have been put forward for the OCR in the post-1919 period are either definitive or without problems that are still in need of resolution. We do, however, consider that a number of the historians who have applied themselves to this problem, including Dr Bertil Persson, have acted essentially in good faith and have submitted their work as a contribution to scholarship, to be proved, disproved or amended by others in due course. By contrast, those who have attacked the OCR have generally been those with personal or denominational axes to grind.

The Apostolic Episcopal Church has had an unbroken association with the OCR since 1933, when its founding Presiding Bishop, Arthur Wolfort Brooks (1889-1948) was appointed Rector Pro-Provincial of New York in the OCR by the OCR Provincial of America, Archbishop Ignatius Nichols (1877-1947). +Brooks succeeded +Nichols as Provincial on the latter’s death, and was in turn succeeded by +Wallace David de Ortega Maxey (1902-92), also AEC Primate and in due course head of the Catholicate of the West. Indeed, every Primate of the AEC from its foundation in 1925 has also held senior office in the OCR.

The separation of the headship of the AEC and OCR; the Missouri corporation

In 1998, the retiring Primate of the AEC, Dr Bertil Persson, separated the headship of the AEC and the OCR. He did so, however, not citing the antecedence of the OCR within the AEC, but rather the resignation in his favour of Archbishop Diederik Quatannens (also sometime archbishop of the AEC) who he accepted as OCR Universal Primate based on a lineage traced through Friedrich Heiler and +Arthur Howarth. This lineage also asserts a lineal descent of +Mathew through a clandestine consecration in 1909 by bishops of the OCR who were in succession from its three founders. The AEC, for its part, accepted at that time the unification of its own OCR heritage with that of the +Quatannens branch, but did not at any point extinguish those claims that it had made in its own right. As witness to this, the AEC on 21 November 1995 had caused a non-profit corporation to be established in New York under the name Apostolic Episcopal Church – Order of Corporate Reunion. That corporation, though it has since been separated from the AEC, continues to exist today.

In 2004, Dr Persson retired and was succeeded by the late Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan (1941-2016). During Dr Brennan’s time in office he accepted the offer of Archbishop Michael Kline to establish a Missouri benevolent (or “pro forma”) corporation for the OCR, and this action was completed in 2010. This was seen as being a means of achieving unity in the OCR and acting against the various false claims that had arisen from time to time.

Missouri law requires that there be proper investigation of the bona fides of any organization seeking incorporation in this manner, to establish that it is indeed a benevolent association. The Missouri Corporations Law does not require, or indeed empower, the judge considering the application to conduct an investigation into historical or jurisdictional claims, and there is no evidence that the Circuit Court of Jackson County did so before granting the petition of Archbishops Brennan, Kline, Persson and Spataro, which included a claim to exclusive representation of the 1874 foundation. Nor does the fact that this claim is included in the corporate charter mean that it is necessarily endorsed by the State of Missouri or by any authority beyond the corporation itself. Archbishops Brennan and Kline were the only officers of the corporation. Perhaps surprisingly for a corporation intended to represent the interests of a membership body, the corporation provides only for a single voting member, the Universal Primate.

The AEC gave its support to the Missouri corporation at the time of its formation because it had received the support of Archbishop Brennan, because there was general satisfaction with Archbishop Brennan’s leadership of the OCR, and because it desired unity in OCR matters rather than the division which has sadly been the lot of many of the smaller church bodies. It did not foresee that the formation of the Missouri corporation would become as significant as it proved to be after Archbishop Brennan’s death. Nor did it ever accept that the OCR as it was constituted prior to 2010 had become the Missouri corporation by the mere fact of that incorporation. Archbishop Brennan certainly never allowed that impression to be given to us.

Although Archbishop Brennan appointed no successor at the time of his death, Archbishop Kline became the sole director of the OCR Missouri corporation by default. He was subsequently endorsed as OCR Universal Primate by Archbishop Spataro and Dr Persson in their positions as executor and administrator under the terms of the Missouri corporation. The corporation bylaws do not provide for any role of the other OCR members in the election of the Primate, and they vest absolute power in the Primate. It should be noted that Archbishop Brennan did not make any appointments under the corporation powers although it was his right to do so; this may give some idea of the way in which he viewed the corporation.

Although Archbishop Kline has asserted that the Missouri OCR corporation has worldwide legal authority, this is not a position accepted by the AEC. We hold that the Missouri OCR corporation has no more and no less legal authority than any other benevolent corporation established in the State of Missouri. It has no other standing beyond this, and its claims regarding history, exclusivity and jurisdiction are matters that are properly the subject of ongoing scholarly debate, not issues to be shut down by legal threats and censorship. Certainly, we acknowledge that the Missouri OCR is one of the authentic successors of the 1874 foundation. But the AEC had absolutely no intention when it decided to give its support to the Missouri OCR corporation of thereby giving up its own jurisdictional claims or OCR heritage, and indeed I said as much to Archbishop Kline at the time of his appointment. Nor was its support of the Missouri corporation intended to give carte blanche to any future Universal Primate to make substantial changes to the nature of the OCR that would bring it into conflict with the AEC.

Throughout, it remains the case that while an existing church or an Order may form a corporation for the holding of assets or the conduct of its affairs, that corporation is a separate legal entity from the church or Order itself, which continues to exist alongside any corporate body as an unincorporated association until and unless there is an explicit agreement among the members of that association that it should dissolve itself or merge with another organization. There has been no such decision in respect of the OCR’s membership, nor was there any formal ballot of that membership when the Missouri corporation was formed on the initiative merely of four senior members. As stated previously, Archbishop Brennan never gave any impression but that the Missouri corporation was a vehicle for the support and organizational convenience of the OCR. Its role under him was supplementary, not primary.

Moreover, none of the AEC clergy holding office in the OCR were appointed under the Missouri corporation, nor did they accept that the formation of the Missouri corporation was in any way something that affected their own positions, but solely that it was a matter of administrative good order for the conduct of the OCR’s affairs. The appointments received by AEC clergy in the OCR prior to 2010 were not as non-voting members of any Missouri corporation, but as full members of a religious order of worldwide scope whose Universal Primate was seen not as a hierarch but as primus inter pares. None of those members has resigned from the OCR, nor do they consider that Archbishop Kline has the authority to remove them from membership of anything but his Missouri corporation.

The changing nature of the OCR post-1998

In many ways, the OCR post-1998 has come to be affected by a number of problems similar to those that had been created within the AEC during Bertil Persson’s primacy.

The most important of these problems is a lack of continuity of mission. Bertil Persson’s ministry has been above all a personal ministry. He has had a very wide range of ecumenical contacts both within and beyond Christianity. His successor +Peter Paul Brennan was similarly tireless in his establishing of further ecumenical contacts with almost all the major Christian groups in the United States. These contacts were then seen by association as part of the visible ministry of the OCR. However, with the retirement of +Persson and the death of +Brennan, the reality is clear that the contacts in question were in fact far more associated with +Persson and +Brennan than they ever were with the OCR. In terms of anything substantial, they have not left anything for the OCR to retain or build on.

This explicit association of the OCR with the personal ministries of +Persson and +Brennan was allied to a deliberate abandonment of the original ultramontane vision and purpose of the OCR, and re-invented the OCR as an open ecumenical society of clergy. Both of these primates had in common their desire and ability to work with both highly conservative and extremely liberal groups. They established a visible presence at ecumenical gatherings, putting forward a straightforward message of the promotion of Christian unity and the healing of division. This was something that Christians of all  denominational affiliations could readily support.

Alongside this was the more specific ecumenism of the gatherings of clergy from the smaller churches that took place under OCR auspices at St Lucy’s Cathedral in New York. These clergy were almost all both members of the OCR and in intercommunion with the AEC, meaning that the two bodies came to be seen as synonymous by a number of people. Indeed, +Brennan at one point had to address a note to members saying that he did not endorse the abbreviation AEC-OCR and that the AEC and OCR were in fact separate bodies. With the death of +Brennan and +Patriarch Yuri of the American World Patriarchs, and the increasing incapacity through age and ill-health of some other clergy, it seems less likely that such ecumenical gatherings will be taking place in the future, even if the Rector of St Lucy’s were minded to permit Archbishop Kline the use of the Cathedral.

Practical issues

In late 2017, a number of proposals were circulated to the OCR membership from the Missouri corporation. These included that the OCR should establish a hierarchical administration, that it should seek to expand its membership significantly, and that it should as a matter of policy impart valid Apostolic Succession to any clergy requesting this.

Our principal concerns in response were that the OCR had now essentially changed its nature from a loose order of clergy to what was in essence an independent sacramental church, and that the current proposals, if implemented, would have taken this still further. We took the view that this was not what the OCR’s founders or Archbishop Mathew intended the OCR to be, and that its original mission as a bridge between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion seemed to have been cast aside.

Moreover, from an Anglican perspective, we hold that a church grows from the bottom up, not the top down. Securing buildings for worship and a lay community of the faithful are an essential challenge for us, and one which we have only managed to meet in the AEC through the considerable sacrifice and efforts of our members. Much work still remains to be done. Top-down organizations consisting almost entirely of independent bishops, and particularly organizations with little or no lay following, are not something which we consider comparable to this, nor something we would seek to be associated with as we move forward. They have no history of contributing to the mission of furthering the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and of glorifying Him.

It seems to us, too, that the idea of imparting consecration in the manner proposed fundamentally misunderstands what consecration is. Consecration is not the collection of lines of succession, nor is it an act, in itself, that absent from a properly constituted church with authentic jurisdiction and mission has any meaning whatsoever. Within the AEC, we define “validity” as that which our communion considers to be valid. Others consider us to be valid too, but if they did not, that would not affect the meaningfulness of our own validity for our mission and purposes. Too many independent clergy consider that this question is all about being able to tell others that Rome or Canterbury somehow recognizes them. The Roman Catholic Church today, according to the views of its own canon lawyers as expressed to me, does not understand Holy Orders in this manner. The Anglican Communion is likewise unimpressed and in its eyes, claims of multiple successions are a handicap, not an asset. Consecration in the OCR, throughout its early years, was intended to use the order’s Roman jurisdiction to make Anglican clergy with (as the founders saw it) valid jurisdiction but invalid Holy Orders into Anglican clergy with both valid jurisdiction and valid Holy Orders. It was never intended to do anything more than this.

The OCR has worked extremely closely alongside the AEC for some eighty-five years on the basis that the AEC defines itself as a canonical and recognized church and the OCR is an order of clergy functioning as a society or religious membership body. The change in this relationship since the death of Archbishop Brennan must obviously cause us to reassess our position. Moreover, without disrespect to others who see the matter differently, the AEC is not a part of the independent sacramental movement, nor does it wish to be, but a part of the Continuing Anglican movement with all that this implies. The decision by the OCR to seek greater links with the independent sacramental churches, and to move further away from its Anglican roots, inevitably pulls it in a different direction from the AEC. Most obviously, clergy are being asked in effect to serve two churches, the AEC and the OCR, which are governed separately and according to different priorities, and despite the goodwill of those involved, this situation has given rise to significant problems.

As a prime example of these problems, the Missouri OCR now includes multiple clergy who have been excommunicated by the AEC, of whom the most prominent is Bertil Persson. It is against the canons of the AEC for its clergy also to belong to communions that include clergy who have been excommunicated or deprived of faculties for disciplinary cause from the AEC (Canon IX:12b). This prohibition also applies to members of the Order of Antioch according to its Statutes, specifically Statute IX:11b. Moreover, the Missouri OCR has for the first time in the OCR’s history excommunicated one of its members in controversial circumstances, and the AEC remains nonetheless in communion with that prelate. As stated earlier, if the OCR is construed historically as a religious order and membership body of clergy, it has no jurisdiction to excommunicate anyone (and can, at the most, merely demit them from its membership). Jurisdiction, as the OCR properly conceives it, can only properly belong to the Pope.

The Missouri OCR has appointed a number of new clergy to office in recent years. It has also defined itself more clearly as a conservative organization, though it is not entirely clear to me what it means by this. I do not know whether any of the more liberal clergy who were previously involved with it have resigned, or simply ceased involvement. It has defined its mission as including the conferral of Apostolically valid Holy Orders on prelates who wish to receive this. In my view, this policy, though doubtless motivated by the best of intentions, carries with it a number of risks. Firstly, those who belong to a defined and canonical communion such as the AEC have stringent requirements for acceptance for ordination. We have put those requirements in place not only because there is a general problem within the smaller churches of ill-prepared and unstable clergy, but also because we prefer to live within a small church where a clear identity and mission can be defined, rather than a larger one where there is effectively little control or accountability. The AEC does not seek to exercise any veto over the decisions of the Missouri OCR, but it must in any intercommunion relationship be satisfied that candidates accepted for ordination in that intercommunion partner are required to meet certain basic tests as regards their educational background, their ministerial history and suitability, and above all that they be personally known to existing senior clergy for a reasonable amount of time. Even these safeguards do not always prevent problems, as I myself can testify. But they do ensure that when they are in place, any charge that the body in question is a mere ordination mill can be refuted.

A further difficulty is that there are some genuine divisions among the OCR membership. There will always be some measure of compromise in any such organization. But this compromise should not be such that members feel they are uncomfortable with the position they are placed in. The views expressed by some members concerning Archbishop Kline’s leadership have deserved more than the dismissive treatment they have received from him. A membership body such as the OCR cannot be led in the same hierarchical manner as a police department. Even hierarchs ultimately rule by consent.

The proposals made recently would, if implemented, result in the OCR expanding further. Rapid expansion without a period of consolidation, and rapid expansion of membership without that membership actually committing to something substantial, both bring problems of instability within organizations. Since the independent sacramental movement is relatively small, and since clergy of the larger churches do not generally apply to join the OCR at present, this seems to me to indicate that any expansion at the moment would involve a dilution of standards. That is not to say that there are not some excellent independent clergy who might become OCR members. But it is nevertheless true that they do not necessarily have enough in common to generate an organization with a meaningful mission and with the prospect of putting that vision into action. The progress the OCR has made in the past has been made through personal contact face to face between members, not through building a long list of clergy on a website. Unless things are done on the ground that give the OCR life, it will remain beset by these problems.


We in the AEC have taken the view that the OCR is at a point where a complete revision of its position and purpose is needed. Because the original aims of the 1874 organization have effectively been achieved through the Personal Ordinariates, the OCR finds itself in a difficult position. Possibly there remains work to be done to fulfil the 1874 mission, but that work would need to be directed towards unity with a Rome which many OCR members regard as being today in a state of profound error. The obvious question would be, if we want union with Rome, why do we not merely submit to Rome?

Another approach would be to look to the reasons why the OCR became inactive during the 1960s – surely because there was no longer a pressing need for the mission it maintained – and to consider whether the OCR had not, in fact, run its course then and should admit this and cease activity.

The revived post-1998 OCR seems to me to be the least convincing option. It is difficult to keep count of the number of ecumenical communions that have come and gone over the years – the Catholicate of the West (today part of the AEC), the Ligue Oecumenique of +Julien Erni, the Brazilian ICAN, FICOB, and so on. Moreover, the AEC continues to define itself as an ecumenical communion within its conservative Anglican/Orthodox outlook, and indeed Bertil Persson’s history of the OCR identifies the AEC as the only organization to have put the ecumenical vision of the founders of the OCR into practice. I find it hard to see how the OCR could now take on a mission as an expanding ecumenical communion without directly duplicating the mission of the AEC. That was an outcome that during the +Brennan era we managed largely to avoid because +Brennan was so active in the liberal end of the movement while we in the AEC confined ourselves to the conservative end. Now the OCR has assumed a more conservative character, it is not so easy to see these missions as being separate.

If the OCR became larger, it would also experience more of the problems that come with expanding clergy numbers. The biggest of these is accountability. Where clergy are all known to each other personally, fully assessed over a number of years, ministerially well-experienced and academically well-qualified, the basics at least are taken care of. When admitting clergy whom one has never met in person, in countries which one has no intention of visiting, it is frankly asking for trouble. Many such clergy are honest and worthy. But it only takes one or two bad apples to permanently damage a communion in the eyes of the public, and thereby the ministries of honest and worthy clergy. Those bad apples will look for whatever gives them the easiest route to status without being subject to oversight. A prelate and church based abroad and unable or unwilling to keep tabs on them are effectively tailor-made for them. We might say that the OCR is merely admitting clergy to membership of a loose ecumenical federation, not licensing them as ministers. But recent experience has shown that the OCR can and will be used by disenfranchised clergy to claim affiliation with a body that is old and credible, and the public cannot be expected to be interested in fine distinctions concerning canonical obedience. In essence, you cannot have rules for the admission and conduct of clergy unless you have a means to enforce them – and that means a willingness to enforce them across national boundaries and across continents.

There are two inner communions of the OCR. These two churches are both still headed by Archbishop Francis Spataro as Primate (appointed as such by +Brennan in 2001). That action of appointing a separate Primate has effectively separated their governance from that of the OCR, although of course Archbishop Spataro remains a senior OCR member. They have in some cases entered into separate intercommunion arrangements that do not involve the OCR.

They are firstly the body founded by Archbishop Mathew in 1916 and variously called The Uniate Western Catholic Church, The Uniate Western Catholic and Apostolic Church, The Western Catholic and Apostolic Church, and The Old Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. This church professes the Uniate position of the Roman Catholic faith. It accepts Vatican I and is dedicated to union with Rome. It was designed by +Mathew to fill the role in Britain that is today filled by the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The other church is The Universal Christian Communion/The Universal Episcopal Communion founded by +James Christian Crummey of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church in 1930. This church most closely resembles the OCR in its post-1998 role. If the OCR desired to continue as a world federation along the lines proposed in late 2017, it would seem to me that the UCC is a more obvious banner to do that work under than the OCR. That does not mean, however, that the other caveats regarding expansion and accountability that I have mentioned above would not apply.

As explained above, the AEC continues to represent the unincorporated OCR association, and while it makes no claim to exclusivity or primacy, it has no intention of allowing either the Missouri corporation or Archbishop Kline as that corporation’s single officer to affect its position. The complete failure of our discussions with Archbishop Kline and his subsequent actions in disregard of the AEC and its interests have caused the AEC and the Order of Antioch to remove themselves from communion with him and with the Missouri OCR that he continues to head. For the purposes of clarification, the AEC continues to assert that its clergy, being members of the OCR appointed wholly independently of the Missouri corporation, remain members of the unincorporated worldwide OCR association that traces its roots to the 1874 OCR foundation. We do not claim that we have any exclusive right to that heritage, nor do we deny that others may have equally justified claims. With immediate effect, we are not connected with, and have withdrawn any endorsement from, Archbishop Kline’s Missouri corporation.

For the AEC, the OCR’s role so far as the future is concerned is therefore intended to be largely commemorative, confined to AEC members in the main, and by its nature non-public, being more akin in spirit to the original vision of the Order than to any of its post-1998 manifestations. In this aim, we ask for God’s help and the prayers of those who support our communion.

9 April 2018 a.d., no. 11 of 2018

Secretary to the Metropolitan Synod of the Apostolic Episcopal Church

Posted in Church news, Ecumenical news, Notices

Easter 2018

The Apostolic Episcopal Church wishes all a very happy Easter.

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Christmas 2017

The Apostolic Episcopal Church wishes all a very happy Christmas.

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The Apostolic Episcopal Church is featured in the journal “Polish Free Mason”

The current edition of the journal Wolnomularz Polski – The Polish Free Mason – includes an article on the Apostolic Episcopal Church and its relationship to Freemasonry.


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Bestowal of the Sokolnicki Medals at ceremony in Poland

On 24 April a ceremony took place in Poland at which the Juliusz Sokolnicki Memorial Medals were presented by H.E. Dr Norbert Wójtowicz, Grand Prior for Continental Europe of the San Luigi Orders. The Medals, which are awarded in silver and in gold, were instituted by the Apostolic Episcopal Church to commemorate the late Count Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki, who was a bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church. They are charity medals and for each medal, a donation will be made to support activity centres for children from poor families in Wrocław, Poland.

Dr Wójtowicz presents the Gold Medal to Ryszard Złociński

Recipients of the Sokolnicki Medals in Gold: Stanisław August Chmura, Maciej Myczka and Ryszard Złociński.

Recipients of the Sokolnicki Medals in Silver: Jerzy Mieczysław Korwin Małaczyński, Wacław Nowak, Jolanta Cieśla Zagórska, Jan Stanisław Posiew.

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Death of the Revd. Richard Pumphrey

The sudden death of the Revd. Richard Pumphrey as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident has deprived the Apostolic Episcopal Church of one of her most effective priests.

Charles Richard Pumphrey was born in 1947 in Evansville, Indiana. Strongly traditionalist in his beliefs, his advocacy of traditional Anglicanism was of a piece with a worldview that he saw as defending a threatened Western civilization. He graduated with an Associate of Arts degree with a major in Bible from Freed Hardeman College in 1967 and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education and History from David Lipscomb College, Tennessee, in 1969, also studying for a year at Memphis Theological Seminary. In 2003 he received the degree of Master of Theology in Pastoral Counseling from Campbellsville University, Kentucky.

Faced with the modernist changes in the Anglican Communion that became particularly visible towards the end of the twentieth-century, he initially joined the Orthodox Anglican Church. This church was founded as the Episcopal Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America by Episcopalians in 1963, and was not originally a “continuing Anglican” body, but in 1999 a decision was taken that it would orientate itself to a greater extent with the Continuum, with its name changing to the Orthodox Anglican Church in 2005. He was ordained deacon in 2001 and priest in 2002 by that church’s presiding bishop, the Most Revd. Scott McLaughlin. In 2002, he received the degree of Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from St Andrew’s Theological College and Seminary of the Orthodox Anglican Church, and then served that seminary as a professor between 2002 and 2008. He also undertook pastoral charges as associate priest of Holy Apostles, a Bolivian ministry in Elizabethtown, Kentucky (2004-06), and student chaplain to Ephraim McDowell Memorial Hospital in Danville, Kentucky (2003). He also served as chaplain to his local fire department for several years.

In secular life, he worked in the field of insurance, and was latterly Senior Field Representative for the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company.

In April 2008, faced with declining opportunities for ministry in the OAC, he was received into the Anglican Catholic Church, one of the Continuing Anglican churches that derived from the 1977 Congress of St Louis, and was inducted as celebrant at All Saints, Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. He was advanced to Rector of that church in May 2010.

Later that year, he became interested in the opportunities for ministry in the Ecclesia Apostolica Divinorum Mysteriorum, a new communion of the Apostolic Episcopal Church that had been formed with a specific mission towards the inner and contemplative traditions. He was received by incardination into EADM from the ACC in December 2010 and subsequently licensed as a priest in the Apostolic Episcopal Church in February 2015. He was further admitted to membership in the First Class of the Order of Antioch and to membership of the Order of Corporate Reunion.

He was married five times, lastly in 2012 to Tricia, who survives him. Their marriage was close and resulted in a loving home life. One interest they shared was the raising of chickens. By his first marriage he had two daughters, Jennifer and Rebecca, and with his fourth wife he adopted Stephanie. He was also a foster parent and between 2002-07 he served as Chairman of the Washington and Marion County, Kentucky, Foster Care Review Board and as a member of the Interested Party Review Board.

Richard Pumphrey was passionate about making a difference to the world around him. He was politically engaged in what he believed was a struggle for the survival of Western civilization and the Christian values that were at its heart. He advocated for the American Freedom Party and, via social media, was a frequent commentator on political and social issues. In all of this, he avoided any suggestion of bigotry or hatred and grounded his commentary in sound religious principle, careful research and a genuine regard for his community. He also displayed a sense of humour that made his writings accessible and invited others to share his world and the deeply-held values that illuminated it. One of the most significant roles that he took on was as a mentor to young people interested in Traditional Anglicanism.

Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with his widow Tricia and his family.

Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!

Posted in Church news, Notices

St Alban’s Church, Buenos Aires, joins the AEC

The Apostolic Episcopal Church has received St Alban’s Church, Buenos Aires, Argentina, into membership. St Alban’s is a Continuing Anglican community meeting at a church in Buenos Aires for worship according to the Book of Common Prayer and Bible study.

The Deacon-in-charge of St Alban’s, the Revd. M.R. Salguero, has been incardinated and the Lay Reader, Mr Edward A. Kesting, has been appointed within the AEC.

Details of worship arrangements and location can be found on the Missions page.


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New agreement with the Venerabile Confraternita di Maria del Buonconsiglio della Buona Morte e Misericordia, Città di Castello, Italy

The Apostolic Episcopal Church has entered into a Treaty of Full Collaboration, Partnership, Accreditation and Recognition with the Venerabile Confraternita (o Compagnia) detta del Buonconsiglio di Città di Castello and the OR.VEN. – Ordine Venerabile della Venerabile Confraternita di Maria del Buonconsiglio della Buona Morte e Misericordia, Città di Castello, Italy (Order of the Venerable Confraternity (or Company), known as of (Our Lady of) Good Counsel of Good Death and Mercy of Città di Castello). This chivalric and Christian brotherhood can trace its origins to the last years of the first millennium (990-999 A.D.) and in its present form dates to 1230, making it probably the oldest religious brotherhood in continuous existence today. The Order is based at Città di Castello (Province of Perugia) where it has its own Magistral Church, and is governed by a Grand Prior (Grand Master). Dr Kersey has the honour to be a Perpetuum (Grand Cross) of the Order, its highest rank.

>>Further information


Posted in Church news, Ecumenical news

Easter 2017

He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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Christmas 2016


The Apostolic Episcopal Church wishes everyone a very happy Christmas.

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Launch of the Anglican Association of Colleges and Schools

aacs-armsThe Apostolic Episcopal Church has publicly launched the Anglican Association of Colleges and Schools as a ministry for the wider Anglican community.

The Association’s mission is to assure the maintenance of high standards in Christian education. It is international in scope and is a non-profit body. It serves both those educational institutions established by the Apostolic Episcopal Church and those in the wider Christian community, with an emphasis on those institutions that define themselves as broadly Anglican in ethos, whether or not they are affiliated to the Anglican Communion. The Association does not discriminate based on denominational affiliation, and is also open to institutions that are non-denominational in their approach.

The website of the Association is at

Posted in Church news, Ecumenical news, Notices

Changes at the Association of Independent Evangelical Lutheran Churches

As a result of continued ill-health, Bishop Pedro Bravo-Guzman OCR has announced that he is stepping down in favour of Bishop Manuel A. Acuna of Argentina who will now lead the Association.

The representative in the United States will now be AEC Emeritus Primate Archbishop Francis Spataro.

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Death of Mgr. Roger Fawcett

100_2051galileeThe death has been announced of Mgr. Roger Fawcett, priest of the Old Roman Catholic Church and Dean of St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral in New York.

Mgr. Fawcett, who resided in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, served as a priest for 25 years in a wide range of settings. He served at St. Leonard’s, St. Augustine’s, Ss. Johns and Holy Trinity, St. Columba and St. Lucy’s churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He was appointed Dean of St Lucy’s in 2009 and came to know many of the AEC and OCR clergy through their involvement there. An indication of the regard in which he was held was that he was at one point entrusted with the responsibility of a parochial vicariate in the Roman Catholic Church. The photograph above shows him on a visit to the Holy Land.

Before being ordained by the late Archbishop James Hubert Rogers, Primate of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, at the age of 43, Mgr. Fawcett was a professional actor and appeared all over America in productions in the Musical Theatre as well as Shakespeare, Shaw, Moliere and all the moderns. He supported Bob Goulet, John Raitt, Bernadette Peters, Celeste Holm, William Bendix, Richard Kiley and many other stars. He starred in commercials, appeared in two pre-Broadway productions and a dozen Off-Broadway shows.

As a priest, Mgr. Fawcett taught at St. Francis Seminary (Brooklyn; now defunct), lectured at Hunter College, New York University, Lock Haven State College and Beloit College, and served as Retreat Master for hundreds of retreats all over the east coast and midwest, mostly for people in recovery, for the Matt Talbott organization. He performed hundreds of weddings, again as far as Hawaii.

Mgr. Fawcett lived within close reach of Ground Zero and wrote movingly of his ministry after the attacks of 9/11. He was a friend of Fr. Mychal Judge who lost his life that day. He said “I know my heart will never again be the same. Yet, I also know – don’t ask me how it may be possible because He does indeed work in mysterious ways – that I have several thousand new friends who walk with me and protect me in a way I’ve never known before.”

A Requiem Mass will be held at St Lucy’s Cathedral on 19 November at 1pm.


Posted in Ecumenical news, Notices

Death of Archbishop Cecil Mercurius

The death has been announced of Archbishop Cecil Mercurius, Primate for Outreach of the African Orthodox Church. Archbishop Cecil passed away on 28 October at the age of 83 after a long period of illness. He was a member of the Order of Corporate Reunion and participated in a number of ecumenical services of the Order at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral and elsewhere.

Archbishop Cecil, known familiarly as Brev, was originally from Guyana and worked there as an adviser to the Prime Minister on co-operatives and latterly on religious affairs. On moving to the United States he established himself in Brooklyn, New York. He had much to do with the Guyanese-American community and visited his homeland on a number of occasions. His funeral took place in New York on 4 November.

In the photograph below he is pictured right with Archpriest Lamed Burrison of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church of New York (left) and the late Patriarch Yuri I of the American World Patriarchates (centre).



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New intercommunion agreement with the Union Apostolique Gallicane

The Apostolic Episcopal Church has entered into an agreement of intercommunion with the Union Apostolique Gallicane, which is headquartered in France and registered as a non-profit association there. The UAG is a descendant of the French ministry of Archbishop Joseph-René Vilatte and has had links with the Order of Antioch for several years now.


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Consecration service for the Norfolk chapel

The Vilatte Chapel at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, was consecrated in a service today that included the formal enthronement of Dr Kersey as Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and Catholicos of the West. In the photograph below, Dr Kersey is seated on his cathedra wearing the gold bullion stole and pectoral cross of Archbishop Vilatte, and the cope of Archbishop Forest Barber of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

The Vilatte Chapel is a private chapel located in the grounds of Dr Kersey’s Norfolk home and will serve as the worldwide headquarters for the AEC, the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi and related church bodies.

Prince-Abbot enthronedIMG_0690IMG_0670

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Funeral Mass and Interment for Archbishop Brennan

+PPB funeral mass

+PPB funeral 2

Photo credit: Fr. Marek Bozek

The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop William Manseau and the Eulogy was given by Bishop Pedro Bravo-Guzman. Archbishops Spataro and Lorentzen represented the Apostolic Episcopal Church. A Memorial Service will follow; details to be announced.

Image | Posted on by

Death of Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan

Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan OCR, OA, passed away on 1 August following a short illness.

+PPBArchbishop Brennan was appointed Universal Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion in 2004 and led that Order with distinction until his death. The Order is a nineteenth-century foundation that came into being at the behest of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milan, who saw in its organization a means of overcoming any perceived deficiencies in Anglican orders through a system of conditional ordinations and consecrations designed to impart indisputably valid Catholic and Orthodox lineages. Having not succeeded in obtaining official approbation from the Anglican hierarchy, the Order consequently carried out its mission in a clandestine fashion. It was highly active under Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, its Primate between 1911 and 1919, who conditionally re-ordained many Anglican priests of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion, much to the ire of Canterbury. The Order continued the same work in a much lower-key fashion into the succeeding decades; even today there are OCR clergy within the Anglican Communion.

The OCR has been continuously united with the Apostolic Episcopal Church since 1933, when our founder Archbishop Brooks was appointed to the Order. In 1998, the then-Archbishop Persson resigned from the Primacy of the AEC and accepted that of the OCR; his six year pontificate saw the original mission of the OCR replaced by a much wider ecumenical worldview that was in keeping with his tenure as AEC Primate. When he installed Archbishop Brennan as his successor on 11 July 2004, it was doubtless with an awareness that he would continue on similar lines. Under Archbishop Brennan, the OCR took on a particular mission to bring unity and ecumenical understanding among clergy of the smaller churches. It also saw Archbishop Brennan himself pursue friendly relations with many prominent clergy of the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches. By the end of his life, there were few well-known church leaders who had visited the United States and not met him in the course of an ecumenical service or gathering, often learning something of the OCR and its mission on the way.

Archbishop Brennan with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia

Archbishop Brennan with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia

Peter Paul Patrick Brennan was born in 1941, and was of Irish ancestry. He pursued his vocation as a Franciscan friar at Graymoor, attending St John’s Atonement Seminary in Montour Falls, New York, until 1959, and then at St Pius X Seminary, Graymoor, Garrison, New York, until 1964, when he began studies at St Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, transferring the following year to Immaculate Conception Seminary where he completed the third year of studies in 1967.

PPB marriage to Marie Kirby 1968The course of his life seemed set. But God had other plans. While a seminarian, he met his future wife, Marie Kirby, who was then a member of another Roman Catholic community, and they both left their respective communities in order to marry. This inevitably caused a change of focus, and they pursued careers as teachers, with Brennan graduating from Manhattan College in 1974 and spending thirty-five years in the service of the New York public school system. They had three children, and in due course, five grandchildren, before Marie predeceased her husband, a loss which he felt very deeply.

During the 1970s, the call to the priesthood was still strong, and it was in that context that Brennan discovered the Old Roman Catholic Church under Archbishop Richard Marchenna of New York. Unlike the Vatican, the Old Roman Catholic Church had no bar on married priests, and consequently Brennan was ordained priest by Marchenna on 20 May 1972. Two years later, he was incardinated into the African Orthodox Church, a historically Black church that derived its Holy Orders and jurisdictional authority from Archbishop Joseph René Vilatte, and was conditionally reordained priest in that church on 29 June 1974. On 10 June 1978, he was consecrated bishop in the African Orthodox Church by Bishop Richard McFarland assisted by Leonard J. Curreri, and would serve as a bishop of that church until his death. Latterly he was active in the ongoing attempt before the courts to return Holy Cross Church in New York to its proper ownership among the African Orthodox Church hierarchy.

Subsequently Brennan received conditional consecration on a number of occasions for the purposes of additional commissioning, and was entrusted with episcopal office in a number of different churches and prelatures. He was among the very few prelates who was able to work effectively both in highly traditionalist and highly liberal settings. Being by nature prayerful of manner and willing to meet others on their own terms – values that  stemmed from his Franciscan origins – he was at home wherever the people of God were to be found. During his long pontificate he became a leading source of Holy Orders for bishops of the independent sacramental movement running the gamut from ultramontane traditionalists to ultrajectine progressives. He also supported the ordination of women and was friendly with the “Danube Seven”.

PPB at installation of Metropolitan Jonah Dec 08

Archbishop Brennan with Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) at the latter’s installation as Primate of the Orthodox Church of America

From 1984 onwards he had responsibility for the Ecumenical Diocese of the Americas, today known as Good Shepherd Companions, of which he was latterly International President. This was a successful vision of a church without boundaries, catholic in the most expansive sense of that term, and uniting a number of leading progressive clergy.

Archbishop Brennan concelebrates the Mass with Archbishop Milingo in Korea

Archbishop Brennan concelebrates the Mass with Archbishop Milingo in Korea

His most visible position latterly was within the Married Priests Now! Prelature, a cause which attracted wide support from within and outside the Roman Catholic Church. One notable supporter was the Catholic bishop Emmanuel Milingo, who was himself married, and in 2006, Brennan was one of several bishops to be conditionally consecrated by Milingo. The Vatican maintained that this act had no effect on his clerical status, but it was nevertheless happy to extend an Apostolic Blessing from the Pope on the anniversary of his original episcopal consecration.

apostolic blessing on +PPB

In retirement, Brennan took to breeding Irish setters, a pursuit that he much enjoyed. He visited London, UK, regularly and took the opportunity to meet with Dr Kersey and our clergy there. His friendship with Dr Kersey dated from just after the latter’s ordination to the priesthood in 2006. He was frequently an ecumenical guest at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral, New York, and on occasion presided at the Mass as relief for the clergy there.

On 24 June, Archbishop Brennan entered Mount Sinai Hospital as a result of symptoms later discovered to be a heart attack, together with pneumonia and a lung infection. He specifically requested that no public mention be made of his condition. He was released to the Meadowbrook Care Center and on 1 August was visited by Archbishops Spataro and Lorentzen of the AEC and OCR. Archbishop Lorentzen anointed him and gave him Holy Communion. He passed away shortly after they had left.

The Requiem Mass for Archbishop Brennan will be celebrated at the altars of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.


Posted in Church news, Ecumenical news

Dr Kersey and senior colleagues appointed Pontifical Academicians

Dr Kersey and Dr A. Michael D.G. Walsh, lay member of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, have been appointed Pontifical Academicians, becoming Honorary Academicians of the Pontificia Accademia Tiberina in Rome.

In addition, the Accademia has conferred full accreditation and recognition upon the Western Orthodox University, which is under Dr Kersey in his capacity as Catholicos of the West.

TiberinaThe Accademia Tiberina was founded in 1813 and received official recognition from the Sacred Congregation of Studies under Pope Leo XII in 1825. Already in 1816, the Papal States had granted the Accademia the right in perpetuity to display on its door the coat of arms of the Senate and the Roman people. In 1878 the Accademia was given permanent hospitality in the palazzo of the Cancelleria Apostolica by Pope Leo XIII.

medagliaaccademia-tiberinaThe Accademia counts five popes among its distinguished past membership: Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius XII, and numerous Cardinals of the Catholic Church. Among its many other distinguished members are the composers Liszt, Bellini, Rossini and Respighi, the inventor Marconi and the chemist Marie Curie.

The Accademia has also honoured Eastern Catholic prelates, including the Patriarchs of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the Syrian Catholic Church. During the 1930s, as a means of improving relations between the Holy See and the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, the Duc d’Allery de Bourbon, who was a member of the Camerier Secret of the Pope, arranged for Prince Edmond I de San Luigi to be admitted an Academician of the Accademia Tiberina. The present appointment of Dr Kersey, his successor, some eighty years on stands as testament to continued friendly relations with Rome.

Posted in Church news, Ecumenical news, Notices

Book review by Dr Kersey

The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion
by Julie Byrne
Columbia University Press, New York, 2016. ISBN 9780231166768

Byrne - Other CatholicsThis book, despite the comprehensive title, is in fact a study of one particular denomination in the firmament of independent Catholicism, the Church of Antioch founded by Patriarch Herman Adrian Spruit. Those who want an honest, affectionate and illuminating account of that church, whose liberal embrace has given birth to a host of esoteric and modernist daughter churches up and down the United States, will find it here. Regarding its theology, which diverges substantially from our own while nevertheless maintaining certain important points of contact, it can certainly be said that it has always embraced the widest of viewpoints; regarding the mainstay of the book, Archbishop Richard Gundrey, formerly head of the Church of Antioch, we can only say that in our contact with him some years ago he was courtesy itself and gave every assistance in understanding what his church stood for and how it saw its mission.

This, then, is a book that is generally about interesting, good people whose interpretation of Christ’s mission, though it may not meet our definition of orthodoxy, nevertheless should give all of us pause to reexamine our own convictions and understand that where others see a different path to their experience of God, there can be much to gain from appreciating their perspective even when we do not share it. It is the story of a church that ultimately, at the end of this book, suffers a deeply damaging and, it seems at the time of writing, enduring split when a presiding bishop is elected who is out of sympathy with the prevailing currents of the church as it has been constituted in the past, resulting in the majority of the clergy leaving the church.

Here we recall the lesson expressed simply by Mar Georgius, who like myself had learned it from experience: without dogmatic agreement there can be no meaningful unity. There can be a temporary form of unity around a charismatic leader, but that unity will not outlast the leader in question. The only unity that counts; the only unity that will endure, is a steadfast witness to the Christian Faith. It is precisely because the Church of Antioch conceived its theology so widely that there was no unity of vision to call upon when personal conflicts and divergent views divided the community, and without that vision, its people suffered greatly, even if they did not entirely perish. Liberalism cannot be conceived purely as open-mindedness, for open minds can all too easily become empty heads. It must be a precisely articulated statement of positive values to which individuals can subscribe, and of signal importance is that such a vision must be sufficiently distinctive so that its followers do not simply find that there is little to choose between their communion and another.

Dr Byrne, who is Mgr. Thomas J. Hartman Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University, a Roman Catholic institution, has worked assiduously to create a work worthy of its subjects. Her writing is intelligent and clear, and it is to her credit that it not merely stands scrutiny as an academic text, referenced with comprehensive footnotes, but is very readable for the generalist who wishes to approach the subject from the perspective of the interested layperson without necessarily engaging with the labyrinthine intricacies of the independent movement.

The problematic aspects of this book are not in its discussion of the contemporary Church of Antioch but in its chapters on historical matters that deal with the smaller independent churches. Here, it is impossible not to become acutely aware of the problems facing the modern scholar on such matters. The source material that is widely available gives an incomplete and far from impartial record of events. Indeed, its very preservation and destruction reflects agendas of support and suppression that in turn originate in personal and denominational rivalries generations deep. It is only by immersing oneself in a world of handwritten documentation and private publications so ephemeral that their rarity is now legion that one can gain any true picture. It may be reflected that this is an academic area where veracity and value are not to be judged simply by the ability of an author to attract a mainstream publisher and issue books for profit. The world of closed private archives and elusive long out-of-print pamphlets is certainly not for everyone, and it can at times seem as if its entry criteria (not limited to extreme persistence and deep pockets) are far removed from the lofty aims of dispassionate historical scholarship. But this is the nature of the beast, and those who would seriously engage with this subject must come to terms with it accordingly. To do otherwise is to cut the individuals concerned out of their own story.

Some scholars in this field have endeavoured to bring at least some of this material to a wider public so that it can aid in the search for truth; this is why, for example, several comprehensive examinations of the life of Archbishop Vilatte (by Archbishop Philippe de Coster and myself) have been released in open source full text through the internet publisher Scribd.

Moreover, the choice of sources in itself speaks of a selectivity of outlook that can result in bias, however unintentional. If the desire is to speak of the Church of Antioch, it must be acceptable to choose primarily sources from within that church and of its same liberal persuasion, unless the author wants to perform the dubious academic contortion of “writing against the subject” (which has been offered as a justification for traducing the independent churches before now). If the desire is to speak of Archbishop Vilatte and others of his ilk, it is as well to bear in mind that they were by no means liberal figures in their theology and neither can the same be said for the majority of their proper, jurisdictional successors. If contemporary scholarship seems to serve aspects of the liberal, progressive independent churches well, the same cannot be said of their conservative counterparts, which are justifiably unhappy at being indiscriminatingly lumped together with that which represents the antithesis of what they stand for, not merely in theology but in their concept of the church and of order and hierarchy within it. Indeed, conservative independents have always found few friends among mainstream scholars and, like their counterparts in Anglo-Catholicism, have acquired a marginal identity because of this. From these margins have come such figures as the late Bishop Karl Pruter, whose Old Catholic Sourcebook remains, though out of date and long out of print, the only reasonably reliable survey of the American independent churches and their histories. It is unfortunate that it does not figure greatly in the footnotes of this book.

Vilatte would certainly not have recognized or approved of the theology and approach of the Church of Antioch. That does not necessarily make that theology and approach wrong and Vilatte right, but it does mean that claims to the Vilatte legacy by prelates who in reality represent little of his beliefs and have inherited none of his jurisdictional authority are problematic.

Some of the errors are egregious, because they misrepresent the nature of clergy or organizations to the point where they are made to stand for something they in fact opposed. Page 158 tells us that “By 1955, independent bishop Hugh de Willmott Newman [Mar Georgius] in England was consecrating women as deacons”. The late Mar Georgius, who published a comprehensive work outlining with reference to all the significant theological arguments exactly why women could not be ordained to the major orders, would surely turn in his grave at this sentence. It would also be news to him that one could consecrate anybody to the diaconate rather than simply ordaining them, but the record shows that he certainly did not ordain women to any major order. What he did do was to set several women aside to the ancient office of Deaconess, which is a lay order quite different from the male diaconate. Unfortunately, Byrne here takes the work of Bishop Lewis Keizer “The Wandering Bishops: Apostles of a New Spirituality” on trust in supplying this information.

A far more serious problem is Byrne’s reliance on the now-discredited book of Serge Theriault concerning Vilatte, which contains numerous false statements and even false documents designed to support Theriault’s tendentious claims to jurisdiction and descent. Theriault was excommunicated by this church as a result of his behaviour. He has made much of claiming a lineal descent from Archbishop Vilatte, even though he is not even licitly in Archbishop Vilatte’s apostolic succession, but his denomination is purely and simply a work of modern reconstruction even by the open evidence of its own documents, and has no continuous traceable jurisdiction from the nineteenth-century origins he claims. Rather, Vilatte’s original jurisdiction was decreed in 1946 by Mar Georgius as Catholicos of the West to be inherent in the Ancient Christian Fellowship of the late Mar David (Maxey), and thus it passed into the Apostolic Episcopal Church upon the formal union of that church with the ACF in 1948.

Page 142 repeats the frequent error that “the inheritor of [Richard Duc de] Palatine’s church was Stephan Hoeller.” While Bishop Hoeller was certainly closely associated with Palatine for a time and received his Holy Orders from him, the two came to separate their work definitively some years before Palatine’s death in 1978, at which point Hoeller became independent. At Palatine’s death, his church, and the Sovereign Imperium of the Mysteries of which it was a part, was inherited by the Council of Three comprising, inter alia, the late John Martyn Baxter, who was Palatine’s life partner and closest associate, and the late George Boyer, who would subsequently receive episcopal status in the Apostolic Episcopal Church. It should be noted that an examination of the published and unpublished teachings of Palatine, preserved in our archives, shows them to be significantly different from those promoted by Dr Hoeller’s church.

Pages 112-113 suggest that it was Archbishop Vilatte who “revived…the Order of the Crown of Thorns”. It was the Patriarch of Antioch who was the revived Order’s chartering authority in 1891, though certainly at least partly at Vilatte’s prompting, but the Patriarch had previously received a petition in respect of the Order in 1880, over a decade before Vilatte came to his attention, from the Revd. Gaston Jean Fercken, and it was Fercken whom he appointed the Order’s Grand Master in preference to Vilatte, who only succeeded to that office on Fercken’s resignation a year later. What is particularly unfortunate, and could easily have been corrected by a simple reference to the website of the Order which contains copious historical materials, is Byrne’s assertion that the Order “harboured esoteric theology or incorporated Freemasonry”. This is another Theriault fantasy built upon fictitious documents, notably a Masonic text claimed by Theriault to be from the original prospectus of the Order but in fact completely absent from it (that prospectus has been published online in full by us). The theology of the Order from its foundation to today has always been entirely orthodox, and while freemasons may become members, the Order has never been Masonic in character and has never had any formal connection with any Masonic fraternity. Nor has it ever had any connection with Theriault, who has never been a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and simply usurped its name for his own ends by founding a schismatic body in the late 1990s.

The claim that Vilatte “permanently linked independent Catholicism to western esotericism” (p. 111) is also somewhat wide of the mark. By the time he met Vilatte, Joanny Bricaud was far more orthodox in his theology than he was esoteric. That is not to say that he had altogether ceased to engage with esoteric theology, but he certainly earned a rebuke from Vilatte when he sought to introduce anything to him that departed from traditional Catholicism. Vilatte was never an esotericist. He was orthodox throughout his life. His friendship with Bricaud was above all exactly that; a friendship between two men with common interests and in Bricaud’s case, a vital mission for ensuring the continuation of Vilatte’s work. Vilatte did not consecrate Bricaud, and he himself did nothing to encourage his esotericism or that of anyone else.

P. 111 also suggests that “relics of Vilatte occasionally surface for sale on eBay”. Such a statement cannot entirely be contradicted, of course, but it seems on the face of it most unlikely. The Vilatte archive was preserved with enormous care and attention during his final years in France, and at great cost to those doing the preserving. No items were separated from it until very recently when part of that archive came to its current home in the United Kingdom under my charge. The current archivists regard the continued preservation of these artefacts as a sacred trust. In this country, the Vilatte relics are owned by a charitable trust of which I am a trustee, and wherever possible are maintained in active liturgical use. Their terms of ownership do not permit them to be sold, and any person who is offered Vilatte relics for sale would be very well advised to establish beyond reasonable doubt that they are authentic before parting with any money.

We are told on page 122 that “when the African Orthodox Church branched to South Africa, its bishop, Daniel Alexander, communicated with Vilatte, who invited him to join the Order of the Crown of Thorns.” This is not the case. The invitation to Alexander to join the order was extended not by Vilatte, but by his successor as Grand Master of the Order, Prince-Abbot Edmond I de San Luigi (F.J.E. Barwell-Walker) in a letter of 10 March 1938, the original of which is preserved in the archive of the African Orthodox Church at the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. Vilatte was well into his retirement among the Roman Catholics at the point of Alexander’s consecration in September 1927. We are not aware of any evidence that the two men were ever in contact.

Page 351 note 89 confuses the contemporary denomination called the Mexican National Catholic Church under Archbishop John Parnell with the original MNCC, a body founded by Archbishop Carfora which was in communion with our church and whose last bishop, the late Emile Rodriguez y Fairfield, was personally well-known to a number of our clergy. There is no connection whatsoever between these two bodies, nor is such a connection now claimed on Archbishop Parnell’s website.

Page 359 note 40: possibly pace J. Gordon Melton, Mar Georgius did not “found the Catholicate of the West”. The details of the foundation of the Catholicate are to be found elsewhere on this website. The practice of multiple consecrations meant something very different to Mar Georgius compared to what it meant to Spruit, as witnessed by their respective writings.

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