Day 31 of the 54-Day Novena: Joyful Mysteries in Thanksgiving

The Errors of the Old Catholics

Catholic Apologetics #18

To those Catholics who wish to hold fast to the venerable traditions of our Fathers, we will often go to great lengths to find a Tridentine Mass.  And while we may have a regular parish for this purpose in our home area, this can be difficult during periods of travel.  Sometimes, as I search online for a Latin Mass, I stumble upon an alleged parish or mission that claims to be offering the Tridentine Mass but with the notation that it is an “Old Catholic” Church.  Don’t let the “Old” part of the name deceive you. This does not refer to keeping the same Faith as was kept before Vatican II while remaining united to the only true Church: The Catholic Church. The “Old” Catholic Church is a schismatic organization with a long and convoluted history.

Jansenist Roots

The term “Old Catholic” is an ambiguous term. Some sects that operate as “Old Catholics” began when the schismatic See of Utrecht was formed in 1724 by members of the Archdiocese of Utrecht who split and formed their own alleged archdiocesan see under Cornelis Steenhoven. The split was largely driven by the Old Catholics’ support of the Jansenist heresy which the Jesuits were fiercely fighting against. In short, Jansenism denied the necessity of free will in receiving grace by claiming that grace is so efficacious that we need to make no act of assent on our behalf. As a result, Jansenists concluded that this grace was intended only for a predestined elect known to God. The heresy also led to a disregard of the authority of the pope.

In 1653 Pope Innocent X in the papal bull Cum Occasione condemned five key propositions of the Jansenists as heretical.  And Clement XI’s 1713 bull Unigenitus Dei Filius condemned 101 propositions from Pasquier Quesnel, an Oratorian priest who organized the Jansenists into a unified movement. However, the Jansenists and some bishops refused to submit to the Pope’s authority on the matter and held that ecumenical councils and the local church have greater authority than the pope, which is the heresy of Gallicanism.  This led to the formation of the Old Catholic schismatic group based in Utrecht.

Infallibility Denied

However, not all Old Catholics have roots in the 1724 formation of the schismatic See of Utrecht. The term may also refer to Catholics who refused to accept the First Vatican Council’s dogma on papal infallibility in 1870. This group led by Johannes Döllinger, Franz Reusch, and Johannes Friedrich joined with Utrecht to form the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches.  Döllinger established an Old Catholic group in Bonn, Germany and falsely claimed apostolic succession through the schismatic See of Utrecht.

However, the term can also refer to a variety of Polish, Slavic, Croat, and Yugoslavian communities that broke with Rome over what they alleged was discrimination by American bishops.

In 1925, the Old Catholics formally recognized Anglican ordinations, in direct contradiction to Pope Leo XIII who had infallibly declared that such ordinations were “absolutely null and entirely void”, and in 1932, some of the Old Catholics entered into communion with the Church of England. Others today are in communion with the Orthodox Church.

Stay Clear of the Old Catholic Sect

Despite images of what seem to be reverent Tridentine Masses, priests in cassocks, and other external elements that we recognize as Catholic, the Old Catholic Church is not a part of the Catholic Church. They are a schismatic organization that today is highly fragmented. Some groups within the Old Catholic Church ordain women or homosexuals. For instance, an Old Catholic mission in Chicago praises the Council of Trent while also claiming to offer the Tridentine Mass in the vernacular.

Other groups within the Old Catholic network accept only the first seven ecumenical councils, oppose the veneration of saints and relics, discourage pilgrimages and sacramentals, and allow clerics to marry. The Polish National Catholic Church, which also is not truly Catholic, was a member of the Union of Utrecht until 2003 when they broke away over the Union’s support for the ordination of women and homosexuals. And there are many more fragments in the overall hierarchy of these groups.

While some Old Catholics priests may offer valid Sacraments, they are all illicit.  And since women may not receive Holy Orders, any Old Catholic “priest” alleged ordained by a woman does not possess any orders whatsoever.

In short, being a Catholic requires union with the Vicar of Christ and belief in all that the Church teaches. Old Catholics may possess some of the externals we associate with Catholicism, but their beliefs are ultimately opposed to the dogmatic teachings of the Church that Christ founded. Like Protestant services and Orthodox liturgies, the Sacraments of the Old Catholics should be avoided at all cost.


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