Toward Unity: The Restoration Movement:
“As the Old Catholic Movement combines the tradition of the great spiritual leaders of the latter ages of the Christian Church, it has also effectively united the factors in Catholic Christendom that Hague untiringly labored to preserve: the first administrative principles of the Apostolic Church — to hold inviolate ‘the faith once for all delivered to the Saints.’ The undaunted spirits of the great Christian revolutionaries, the Port Royalists, the so-called Jansenists, the Mariavites and many others have served to prove by their struggle against ecclesiastical intolerance and phariseeism, that in every age within the church they loved the same struggle has been manifest in the lives of but a handful of people at all times. The torch they carried from age to age may have been dimmed at times, but it has always been carried forward, never dropped, never entirely extinguished. Today their efforts are merged in handfuls of many people in almost every part of the world to whom the sympathetic hands of the great Oriental Christian Church lends strength.
“Added to the growing Old Catholic Movement in America were the independent Portuguese Catholics under the Rt. Reverend Bishop Antonio Rodriguez of Massachusetts in 1917 and the appointment of the Rt. Reverend Joseph Zielonka of New Jersey, after his reception into union with several Polish congregations in 1924. The joint Encyclical the Old Catholic Bishops in America in 1925, in which an outline of a really Christian society was advocated, met with such approval by representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church that the Metropolitan John of the Holy Synod, of Russia, representing 127 Bishops and Archbishops in Russia, received the Old Catholic Church in America into union with that body in the same year. In 1933, under an agreement jointly entered into, the Orthodox Archbishop of Prague and Czechoslovakia, Savvatios, under the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, placed the Orthodox Czechoslovaks in America under the jurisdiction of the American Old Catholic Archbishop, while at the same time Savvatios wa named Protector of the Old Catholics in Czechoslovakia. Thus with a threefold rapprochement with the church of the East, a practical and organized unity of a great part of Catholic Christendom has been realized by Old Catholics under a program inaugurated by Archbishop Mathew of England in 1910. Underlying the terms of this union are the fundamental principles of Old Catholicism — an acceptance of the doctrinal points of unity prevailing in the undivided Christian Church prior to the year 1054 A.D., i.e., a belief in Seven Sacraments and in the dogmatic Decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
“Thus the Old Catholic Church in America, though autonomous and self governed by its own synod of bishops, is an organic part of the Old Catholic Church in the Western world and the great Orthodox Church of the East, united in the faith of the first century Christian fellowship and differing only in the language and customs of its different units.
“The American movement under Archbishop Francis, as well as the units of the Old Catholic Church in England, Australia, Canada, unoccupied France, and South America, comprise with the following church what is known as the Orthodox-Old Catholic union — The Old Catholic Church in Poland (Archbishop Jan Michael Kowalski, Felicianow, Bodzanow), The Old Catholic Church in France (Bishop Mary Mark Fatoine, Nantes), The Old Catholic Church in Lithuania (Bishop Felix Taluba, Kaunas), The Old Catholic Church in Yugoslavia (Bishop Marko Kalogjero, Zagreb), The Old Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia (Archbishop Savvatios, Prague), The Old Catholic Church in Portugal and the Azores (Bishop Antono Rodriguez, Lisbon). In all these churches the usual temporal dignities and appointments of ecclesiastical superiors are voluntarily relinquished for a common life with the lesser clergy and the laity. An evangelical spirit dominates the traditional expression of Catholic worship, the greatest distinguishment is considered to be that earned by the hard labor of one’s hands in work dedicated wholly to the Glory of God.”
At this point in our history, we leave the articles by our Benedictine brother and examine the growth of the Independent Catholic Movement since 1941. Already we have been introduced to some key figures in the history of the United Catholic Church. Notable among them are Bishops Gul, Mathew, De Landas, Francis, and Vilatte – all of whom are in the Apostolic succession of our Organizing Bishop, Bishop Bowman.
To bring us up to the 1970s, we will on occasion refer to the book “The Wandering Bishops” by Lewis S. Keizer, originally published in 1976 as “Academy of Arts and Humanities Monograph Series: Number Two.”
According to Keizer, during and after the Second World War, Mar Georgius I, Patriarch of Glastonbury and Catholicos of the West began unifying the various strands of Old Catholics and independent Catholics. By 1956, through sub conditione consecrations, he had accumulated all sixteen lines of Apostolic succession know to exist: Syrian-Antiochene, Syrian-Malabar, Syrian-Gallican, Syro-Chaldean, Chaldean-Uniat, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian-Uniat, Order of Corporate Reunion, Old Catholic, Mariavite, Nonjuring, Anglican, Russian Orthodox, Russo-Syrian Orthodox, Greek-Melkite, and Liberal Catholic.
Sub Conditione consecration is a procedure in which two already consecrated bishops consecrate each other, thereby sharing their Apostolic lines. In that way, each of their churches recognizes without question the Apostolic successsion of the other. This has been used, for example, to remove doubts about the validity of Anglican and Episcopalian successions by adding the universally recognized Old Catholic line.
Keizer tells a fascinating story about how the Russian Orthodox line of succession became available to the American Catholic Church. Henry Joseph Kleefisch, an American, was fleeing Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918, and found himself in the company of Archbishop Sergius (later Patriarch of Russia) and two other Orthodox bishops, Raban Ortinski and Theophilus. The four men were stopped by revolutionaries and imprisoned for summary execution. Since Kleefisch was an American, however, they were told that he could go free.
Realizing that their execution would literally end the Russian Orthodox Apostolic Succession, Archbishop Sergius asked to be given half an hour of prayer with his bishops and Mr. Kleefisch (who was soon to be released). When they were alone, the Archbishop explained the situation and begged Kleefisch to accept the burden of the episcopacy, with the trust that he would later transmit it to a properly constituted Archbishop for the Russian Orthodox Christians.
Stunned by the gravity of the trust, Kleefisch accepted and was consecrated under the Canon of Necessity at Harbin, Siberia. Shortly thereafter he was released and returned to Europe. Meanwhile, however, the Bolsheviks had decided to release the Archbishop and his companions, and the Russian Church was saved.
When Kleefisch later came to understand the importance of his commission, he willingly shared the line for the sake of future unity among the churches. In 1945, Archbishop Lowell Wadle of the American Catholic Church obtained the Russian Orthodox succession from Bishop Kleefisch. By that time, Archbishop Wadle had already obtained the Vilatte lines (Malankara Orthodox, Syrian Malabar, and Jacobite Antiochean) from Bishops Boyle and Clarkson, and the Syrian/Melchite Uniate and Byzantine Uniat lines from Archbishop Aneed, who was in Communion with Rome. He also obtained the Old Catholic line of Bishops Mathew, De Landas, and Francis from Bishops Verostek and Cooper. Finally, in 1957 he travelled to England and obtained the sixteen lines of Mar Georgius I.
Two of the bishops who consecrated Bishop Bowman in 1996 were in the direct line of Archbishops Wadle and Aneed. One of them, William Donovan, was at that time the Primate of the American Catholic Church. Two other consecrators, Bishops Lima and McCormick, are in the Old Catholic line of Vilatte, Mathew, De Landas, and Carfora. Bishop Bowman’s fifth consecrator, Bishop John Reeves, is in the Vilatte line and also has a succession from Bishop Costa of Brazil, a Roman Catholic bishop who broke with Rome in 1960.
It sometimes seems that bishops in the independent Catholic movement are obsessed with their “pedigree.” But there is good reason for that. For one thing, our validity is often challenged by clerics who have never heard of the Old Catholic Church and assume that we are self-appointed. Secondly, many of us in the Independent Catholic Movement are attempting to bring a measure of unity to the Body of Christ. Mutual recognition of the validity of Orders and sacraments is critical to that unity.