Established in 1874 at the impetus of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Venice, the Order of Corporate Reunion was initially intended as a means whereby Rome’s objections to the validity of the Holy Orders of the Church of England could be overcome through the practice of subconditional ordination or consecration of Anglican clergy. Three clergymen, led by Dr Frederick George Lee, were consecrated bishops in the Catholic and Orthodox successions and formed the episcopal college of the Order. Following its promulgation in 1877, the Order did not gain the support of the Church of England hierarchy, and despite some notable Anglican adherents, it fell into obscurity soon afterwards.
The question of Anglican validity was brought into sharper focus by the Papal Bull Apostolicæ curæ (1896) which pronounced Anglican orders to be “absolutely null and utterly void”. An encyclical by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Sæpius officio (1897) replied in detail and found Rome’s conclusions to be in error. Notwithstanding this defence, there were numerous clergy of the High Church party within the Church of England who found the position unsatisfactory and believed Rome rather than their own hierarchs.
In 1911, a revival of the Order of Corporate Reunion was promoted by the British Old Catholic archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919), and the Order occupied the greater part of the latter years of Mathew’s ministry, being connected with Mathew’s plans for a Uniate British church that also drew strongly on nineteenth-century ecumenism. Mathew and some of the bishops in his succession were extremely active in conditionally validating the Holy Orders of Anglican clergy, and thereby came into conflict with the hierarchy of the Church of England which strongly opposed the practice. Of necessity, the work of the OCR during and after this period was largely clandestine.
The Order of Corporate Reunion came into contact with the Apostolic Episcopal Church in 1933 when its Provincial for the United States of America, Archbishop Ignatius (William Albert Nichols) (1877-1947) consecrated the founder of the AEC, Archbishop Arthur W. Brooks (1888-1948) and appointed him Rector Provincial of the State of New York for the OCR. On 17 November 1946, Brooks was appointed by Nichols as his successor as Prelate of the OCR, making him the overall head of the Order. The office of Prelate then passed to his successor Archbishop Wallace David de Ortega Maxey (1902-92) and has been attached to the Apostolic Episcopal Church ever since. Archbishop Maxey appointed Archbishop Ronald Robert Ramm as his successor, who in turn appointed Archbishop Paul Schultz who died in 1995. Archbishop Schultz was succeeded by Archbishop Francis C. Spataro, who was AEC Primate and OCR Provincial for the USA between 1998 and 2015.
The past AEC and OCR Primate Dr Bertil Persson has written that the Apostolic Episcopal Church is “the only concrete result of the vision of a uniate church, once created by abbé Portal and Lord Halifax, and that has its ideological root in The Order of Corporate Reunion.” [Bertil Persson, The Order of Corporate Reunion, St Ephrem’s Institute, Solna, Sweden, 2000, p. 30.] Moreover, the Order of Corporate Reunion under our charge is the only such representation of the Order that can show both a provable lineal descent from its founders and a jurisdictional descent dating back almost ninety years.
The OCR has a defined and specific role as an intermediary body between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. It exists to support Anglo-Catholicism both within the Church of England and within the wider Continuing Anglican movement, and as a source whereby the Holy Orders of clergy serving in the Church of England may, through additional commissioning, receive the blessing of the Apostolic Succession as construed historically by the Catholic Church.
Today, several clergy who have received such additional commissioning serve within the Church of England; their status is maintained as a matter of confidentiality within the Order. Clergy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church or of other communions may also be admitted to membership.
Dr John Kersey was appointed as Bishop of Canterbury and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury in the OCR in 2008. These were the offices originally held by Dr Frederick George Lee. In 2015, on succeeding as Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, he additionally inherited the office of Prelate of the Order that had been associated with the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church since 1946. His predecessor as Primate, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro OCR, continues to serve as the Order’s Provincial for the USA and representative in New York today.
The OCR in New York became associated with the Society of St John Cassian, founded by Archbishop Spataro in 1990, which likewise works for ecumenical unity among the churches of the Anglican and Old Catholic traditions. While the OCR is under the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Society of St John Cassian is under the universal jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. These bodies were incorporated as the Apostolic Episcopal Church – Order of Corporate Reunion in New York in 1995.
Between 1994 and 2018, the representation of the OCR maintained by the Apostolic Episcopal Church was formally united with a different OCR heritage, that of the late Diederik Quatannens, in which the head of the OCR was designated Universal Primate. In 2018, in response to proposed changes of mission and direction that had followed the incorporation of that representation of the Order in Missouri, USA, the OCR as associated with the Apostolic Episcopal Church terminated its relationship with the “Missouri OCR” and resumed the position that it had maintained prior to 1994. Since that time it has been independent of all other representations of the Order.
The Order of Corporate Reunion is incorporated in England and Wales as a company limited by guarantee with number 12692440 and exemption from using the “Limited” suffix. The articles of association state that this is the sole legitimate representative of the 1874 foundation of the Order. It is both the only body today that carries out the Order’s original mission, and the body with the oldest provable jurisdictional succession from its foundation.
Hierarchy of the Order of Corporate Reunion
Bishop of Canterbury and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury (Prelate of the Order)
The Most Revd. John Kersey, OCR
Rector Provincial for Scandinavia
The Very Revd. Benny Freilow, OCR
Rector Provincial for Brazil
The Most Revd. Dom Nagui Zayat, OCR
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Rector Pro-Provincial for the United States of America
The Most Revd. Francis Spataro, OCR
Vicar of Ohio
The Very Revd. Michael Reed, OCR