The Order of Corporate Reunion – history and mission

The Order of Corporate Reunion was established amid the developments in nineteenth-century Anglicanism that gave rise to the Oxford Movement and the consequent debate over the validity of Anglican orders. Under these circumstances, some Anglicans resolved to ensure that their church had access to Holy Orders which were undoubtedly valid and that would remove the related obstacles to corporate reunion between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.

A Pastoral Letter was published in “Reunion Magazine” of 1877 (reprinted in “The Tablet” of 23 January 1909). This letter was planned as early as 1875 and had been initially addressed to Henry, Cardinal Manning. The eventual letter read in part:

Every faithful Christian must surely be distressed and bewildered at the spectacle afforded by the evil state into which the National Church of England has been brought by departure from ancient principles and by recent events. A long course of change, usurpation, and revolution has moved all her old land-marks. The evil is continually working; no man being able to foresee whereunto it will grow, or what will be the end thereof. Two things are certain, however: on the one hand, that all semblance of independent existence and corporate action has departed from the Established Church, so that she is given up, as it were, bound hand and foot, and blindfolded into the toils of her enemies; while, on the other hand, these enemies are waiting to rob her of her privileges and possessions, and are even now debating how to divide the spoil.

We affirm, that in the Providence of God, the evil itself has opened the door to a remedy. For the Bishops of the Church of England, having yielded up all canonical authority and jurisdiction in the spiritual order, can neither interfere with, nor restrain, Us in Our work of recovering from elsewhere that which has been forfeited or lost – securing three distinct and independent lines of a new Episcopal Succession, so as to labour corporately, and on no sandy foundation, for the healing of the breach which has been made. In thus associating ourselves together, we solemnly take as the basis of this Our Order the Catholic Faith as defined by the Seven General Councils, acknowledged as such by the whole Church of the East and the West before the great and deplorable schism, and as commonly received in the Apostles´ Creed, and the Creed of Nicaea, and the Creed of St. Athanasius. To all the sublime doctrines so laid down, We declare our unreserved adhesion, as well as to the principles of Church constitution and discipline, set forth and approved by the said Seven General Councils. Furthermore, until the whole Church shall speak on the subject, We accept all those dogmatic statements set forth in common by the Council of Trent and the Synod of Bethlehem respectively, with regard to the doctrine of the Sacraments…

Thanking Almighty God most humbly for the restoration of Brotherhoods, Sisterhoods, and Guilds, We solemnly affirm that the Monastic Life, duly regulated according to the laws of the Catholic Church, is a most salutary institution, in perfect harmony with the spirit of the Gospel; and is full of profit to those who, being carefully tried and examined, make full proof of their calling thereto. Our services will always be at the disposal of such – upon whom We invoke the Divine blessing.

As regards the chief aim of this new Order – Corporate Reunion – it is needful to remark finally, that, while We have to deplore the divisions existing amongst the churches, We cannot unchurch any having a true succession. Therefore, We pray for all, We remove all stumblingblocks in the way of union amongst the baptized, whom We hail and regard as brethren, while, on disputed points of Church opinion not yet defined by lawful Authority. We appeal to a free General Council, with earnest prayers to God for its speedy assembly and guidance by the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Who were the men who lay behind this letter, and where did the new Episcopal Succession they referred to come from? According to the research of Dr Bertil Persson, John Thomas Seccombe (1835-95), a medical officer and magistrate, had been conditionally re-ordained priest and consecrated on 18-19 November 1866 by Jules Ferrette (1828-1904), who had been consecrated as Bishop of Iona on 2 June by Mutran Boutros (later Patriarch Ignatius Boutros IV) of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Frederick George Lee (1832-1902), an Anglican priest, was consecrated in Venice in June 1877 by Abbot-General Ignas Guregh (Ignatious Ghiurekian) of the Ordo Mechitaristarum Venetiarum (“Mekhitarists”). Thomas Wimberly Mossman SSC (1826-89), Anglican rector of West Torrington, Lincs., was consecrated in June 1877 by Luigi Nazari di Calabiana, Archbishop of Milan, who may have been assisted by others. It was the Archbishop of Milan who was instrumental in encouraging the creation of the OCR.

At the first Synod of the Order of Corporate Reunion on 3-4 July 1877, Lee took on the ecclesiastical style of Thomas, Bishop of Dorchester, Rector of the Order of Corporate Reunion and Pro-Provincial of Canterbury, Mossman became Joseph, Bishop of Selby and Provincial of York, and Seccombe became Laurence, Bishop and Provincial of Caerleon. George Nugée (1819-92), also consecrated by Ferrette in 1866, was adopted as Provost.

The Pastoral Letter was formally read on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 8 September 1877. In the following years, the bishops of the OCR consecrated and conditionally re-ordained other Anglicans, and it is said even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple. However, the OCR did not manage to gain the official support of the Church of England, and so with the death of its founders it entered a period of inactivity while the questions it had been set up to address continued to be matters of pressing disquiet for Anglicans.

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 (Source: Bertil Persson: Arthur Wolfort Brooks, St Ephrem’s Institute, Solna, p.5). The office of Prelate then passed to his successor Archbishop Wallace David de Ortega Maxey (1902-92) of the AEC and OCR and has been attached to the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church ever since.


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 could be overcome. Both the original OCR and its 1911 revival after some years of dormancy under Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew 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 is a religious Order, not a church, and holds 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 would be neither secret nor primarily concerned with relations between Rome and the Anglican Communion would be 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 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 is 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 appears to have 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, some of whom are known to the OCR. But 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 strong 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.

It remains the case, however, that the Order has a continuing responsibility to its existing membership, and to those whom it has ordained. If its future is considerably circumscribed, it is not impossible that there may still be circumstances where it may be found to be of significance. More generally, in supporting Anglo-Catholicism and the Catholic tradition within Anglicanism, the Order fulfils a function that is no less relevant and that constitutes a most worthy cause.

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 Ruling Prelate 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. The Vatican document referred to would appear to have been exhibited in Lee’s church. On 27 April 1953, according to Mar Georgius, the Very Revd. Canon A. van Lantschoot, Librarian of the Vatican Library, wrote “Are these consecrations considered as being valid by Rome? Most surely, as they are true Bishops. Are there documents about this? Without doubt, as two among them were later on received into the Roman Church, ie. Mossman in 1885 by his friend Cardinal Manning, and Lee in 1901, the 11th December, by his friend Father Best of the Oratory. Is it possible to obtain a copy of them or some photograph? Regrettably it is not. Such papers are kept in the secret archive.” We should add, incidentally, that two of Lee’s mitres used in the OCR have been preserved thanks to the efforts of his son.

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 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.

Further research has brought into question a number of aspects of the history claimed for the OCR by Quatannens. A list of Universal Primates provided by Dr Persson includes several prelates who we have been unable to verify had any connexion with the OCR at all. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester in the Church of England, is a case in point. Lastly, what Quatannens said about his own episcopal consecration appears to have been the tallest of tales. When we addressed questions to Dr Persson, who had met Quatannens, he responded that the alleged consecration on 2 April 1950 was indeed an invention. Rather, Quatannens had said to him that he was consecrated by Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Charbonneau assisted by David James Mathew, Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain, in Canada, at some time during World War II. Then on 24 May 1951 he said that he was consecrated by Friedrich Heiler, and on 26 October 1980 by Jacques Gautier assisted by Michel Staffiero and Philippe de Coster. With the exception of the last consecration there appears to be no documentary or corroborative evidence in support of any of this. We consider that it is unsafe to base anything upon Quatannens’ many unverified claims and theories.

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. In 2012, Dr Brennan circulated an email in which he considered creating a further incorporation for the OCR in New York, but he did not pursue this. Such an action, however, showed that he certainly did not attribute any exclusivity to the Missouri corporation.

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.

Archbishop Brennan appointed no successor at the time of his death on 2 August 2016. On 28 July 2016, Archbishop Kline circulated an email to senior OCR clergy in which he stated the facts clearly,

“+Bishop Brennan included me as a Synod Bishop of the OCR along with Bishops +Persson and +Spataro when we met in New York City in Leo House Convent and Hotel. I had requested on 2-3 occasions that +Brennan appoint me as a co-adjutor or successor for the OCR, but he was silent on this matter.”

On Archbishop Brennan’s 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 us. 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. 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 we 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 (who could then aid the objective of corporate reunion with Rome). It was never intended to do anything more than this.

The OCR has worked extremely closely alongside the AEC for almost ninety 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 obviously caused 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 today 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 us what it means by this. We 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 our 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. 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 in 2017 would, if implemented, have resulted 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 rarely apply to join the OCR at present, this seems to us 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.


As explained above, the AEC has continued to represent the unincorporated OCR association and 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 provable jurisdictional descent dating back almost ninety years.

We have 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, have remained members of the unincorporated worldwide OCR association that traces its roots to the 1874 OCR foundation. We are not connected with, and have withdrawn any endorsement from, Archbishop Kline’s Missouri corporation.

Moreover, the mission of the OCR under our care has been taken back to its original and authentic aims. It 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.

Regrettably, rather than seek the path of reconciliation, or simply allowing us to go our separate ways in peace, Archbishop Kline has continued to launch personal attacks and abuse upon our clergy, amply demonstrating his unsuitability for the clerical office and even defacing memorial pages for dead clergy. His behaviour has been such that we contend that it has marred the Missouri representation of the OCR to the point where it can no longer be regarded as upholding basic Christian principle, let alone the mission of the Order.

To this end, and in order to safeguard the aims and mission of the OCR, the Order of Corporate Reunion has been 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. While it is not asserted that the unincorporated OCR has ceased to exist, the incorporation in England and Wales is intended to be the vehicle whereby its mission can now be continued and safeguarded for the future.

The Apostolic Succession in the Order of Corporate Reunion

Frederick George Lee, Thomas Wimberly Mossman SSC and John Thomas Seccombe, Founding Bishops of the Order of Corporate Reunion (for details of whose consecrators see above) on 6 March 1879 consecrated:

Richard Williams Morgan (Mar Pelagius) (1815-89), Archbishop of Caerleon-on-Usk, Curate of Marholm, Hants., in the Church of England, who on the same day, assisted by Seccombe and Lee, consecrated:

Charles Isaac Stevens (Mar Theophilus) (1835-1917), Archbishop of Caerleon, Caertroia and Verulam, who on 8 May 1890 consecrated:

Leon Checkemian (Mar Leon) (1848-1920), First Primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, who on 2 November 1897 consecrated:

Andrew Charles Albert McLaglen (Mar Andries) (1851-1928), Titular Archbishop of Claremont and Colonial Missionary Bishop for Cape Colony, South Africa, Third Primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, who on 4 June 1922 consecrated:

Herbert James Monzani-Heard (Mar Jacobus II), Archbishop of Selsey, Patriarch of the Ancient British Church, who on 13 June 1943 consecrated:

William Bernard Crow (Mar Basilius Abdullah III) (1895-1976), Patriarch of Antioch in the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church, who on 10 April 1944 consecrated:

Hugh George de Willmott Newman (Mar Georgius) (1905-79), Catholicos of the West and Patriarch of Glastonbury, Archbishop and Deputy in the Apostolic Episcopal Church, Ruling Prelate of the Order of Corporate Reunion, who on 6 June 1946 assisted by John Sebastian Marlow Ward, Charles Leslie Saul, John Syer, Francis Ernest Langhelt and Richard Kenneth Hurgon, all bishops of the Catholicate of the West, consecrated:

Wallace de Ortega Maxey (Mar David I) (1902-92), Primate, The Apostolic Episcopal Church, Prelate and Rector Provincial of the USA, The Order of Corporate Reunion. Assisted by bishops Ronald R. Ramm,  Jürgen W. Bless, Emile F. R. Fairfield, Arthur Garrow, Daniel N. McCarty, Paul G. W. Schultz, Archbishop Maxey consecrated and enthroned as the third Archbishop-Primate of the AEC on 7 November 1986:

Nils Bertil Alexander Persson (Mar Alexander) (1941-) Primate, The Apostolic Episcopal Church, Universal Primate, The Order of Corporate Reunion. Assisted by Archbishops Phillip Lewis and Paget E.J. Mack, Archbishop Persson consecrated and enthroned as AEC Archbishop of Great Britain and Bishop and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury in the Order of Corporate Reunion on 23 November 2008:

John Kersey (Mar Joannes Edmundus) (1972-) Primate, The Apostolic Episcopal Church, Prelate, Bishop and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury in the Order of Corporate Reunion