Old Catholic Church

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The Old Catholic Church

The Old Catholic Church is a term that is usually used to describe the churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of papal infallibility after the First Vatican Council in 1870.


The term 'Old Catholic', was actually first used, however, in 1853 to describe the members of the See of Utrecht, who were not under Papal authority.

After the First Vatican Council in 1870, considerable groups of Austrian, German and Swiss Catholics rejected the teaching on papal infallibility, and left to form their own churches. These were supported by the `Old Catholic´ Archbishop of Utrecht, who ordained their priests and bishops; later the Dutch were united more formally with many of these groups under the name Utrecht Union of Churches.

In the spring of 1871 a convention in Munich attracted several hundred participants, including Church of England and Protestant observers. The most notable leader of the movement, though maintaining a certain distance from the Old Catholic Church as an institution, was the important church historian and priest Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799–1890), who had already been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church over the affair. Despite never formally becoming a member of the Old Catholic Church, Döllinger requested and took last rites from an Old Catholic priest. The convention decided to form the "Old Catholic Church" in order to distinguish themselves from what they saw as a novelty (the doctrine of papal infallibility) in the Roman Catholic Church. At their second convention, they elected the first Old Catholic bishop, who was ordained by the Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

In 1874 they abandoned the requirement of priestly celibacy.

From the middle of the 18th century onward the Dutch Old Catholic See of Utrecht had increasingly vernacularized its originally Roman Rite Latin liturgy and even Gregorian chant. The vernacular was slowly adapted in the liturgy by the 1870 Old Catholic churches, until finally introduced in 1877.

The Old Catholic Church in Germany received some support from the government of the new German Empire of Otto von Bismarck, whose policy was increasingly hostile towards the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy See in the 1870s and 1880s.

In Austrian territories, Pan-Germanic nationalist groups, supported the conversion of Roman Catholics to Old Catholicism (or Lutheranism). Liberal politicians and philosophers also sympathised with the Old Catholic movement.

Soon after Old Catholicism's momentous events at the end of the 19th century, Old Catholic missionaries came to the United States. Here it has evolved from a centralized administration with structured oversight of ministry to a local and regional model of administration with self-governing dioceses and provinces. Many Old Catholics in the United States tend toward a revisited version of Roman Catholicism, one that either matches their memory, or how they would have liked the Roman Catholic Church to be.


The Old Catholic Church shares much doctrine and liturgy with the Roman Catholic Church. However it tends to have a more liberal stance on most issues, including the eligibility of women for ordination and acceptance of artificial contraception (birth control).

Each Old Catholic Church dioceses considers itselft

  • Autonomous,
  • Episcopally, synodally structured,
  • Catholic



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