Frequently asked questionsThese FAQs endeavour to address questions that are not only asked of enquirers to our Church, but of Independent Catholics more generally. Are you interested in joining our church? Information for enquirers is here.
Q. I thought there was only one Catholic Church! Aren't you Roman Catholics?
A. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest of the Catholic denominations and the best known. It also describes itself as the only true church, a statement with which we respectfully differ. In fact, there are many smaller Catholic churches that are independent - that is to say, not under Roman jurisdiction or led by the Pope of Rome. The word "catholic" means "universal", and it applies to any church that maintains deacons, priests and bishops in the historic Apostolic Succession. The Old Catholic Apostolic Church is Catholic, but not Roman Catholic.
Q. So are you a schism or breakaway from Rome?
A. Some parts of the historic church which broke away from Rome are in our history: as indeed is the case with Utrecht, The Church of England and many others. Our succession is derived directly from the Chaldean Catholic Church via the mission that church founded in the USA in 1917, which is called the Apostolic Episcopal Church (AEC) which still exists today. We are also in succession from the Order of Corporate Reunion (OCR) formed in 1877 to promote the union of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. We have a further succession from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate via the mission established by that church in the British Isles in 1866. Our church, being independent, does not depend in any way on Rome's or any other church's definition of Apostolic validity. However, we note that the Roman Catholic Church considers the Holy Orders of the Orthodox Churches valid, and since we are in direct and unbroken descent from several of these churches, it follows that our orders are similarly valid. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church also considers all Holy Orders conferred outside its own communion to be "irregular" because they have not received its sanction, but they concede their validity irrespective of this.
Q. How do you interpret your mission?
A. In a real sense, being universal - being Catholic - means being called to embrace the full spectrum of the legacies of Jesus Christ. In our view, that means transcending narrow boundaries and doctrinal differences within an ethos that upholds the unity of the entire Church as the Body of Christ. Since we teach Christian Universalism, the united belief of the earliest Christians that all are redeemed through Christ, we do not approach others from the perspective that they are heretical or damned to hell because of their beliefs or interpretations of matters of faith.
In practice, this means that we are a meeting-point for interdenominational and interfaith activity, the former most visibly within the work of the Cross-Denominational Mission. It also means that the values we hold as a Church are specifically liberal and non-dogmatic. We are a broad church, in the sense that our clergy express their vocations through a number of different charisms and hold different positions on theology and some matters of faith, but not in the sense that we accommodate those who are not actively committed to our overall ethos.
Q. So what do your clergy actually do?
A. The range of ministry is wide: public and private celebration of the Sacraments; the Mass, weddings, blessings, renewal of marriage vows and funerals. It also includes less common services such as animal and house blessings. Clergy are engaged in chaplaincy work in hospitals, schools and prisons. Some teach, and others are involved in academic work, including scholarship. OCAC is an 'outreach' church, and the principal serving is that of the 'worker priest', real 'nitty-gritty' Christian serving, but part time and unpaid. Most have secular employment, connecting their serving to the people outside of 'church'.
Q. What is the legal status of independent Catholic clergy in the UK?
A. This point was the subject of a court ruling in the case The Right Reverend Jonathan Clive Blake v. Associated Newspapers Limited (2003). In general, the principle applies that the civil courts will not enter into the regulation of the procedures, customs and practices of religious bodies, and are not competent to render objective judgement concerning the validity of the ordination or status of clergy of non-established churches. As a result, clergy in independent Catholic churches are in exactly the same legal position as the many other clergy of non-established churches in the UK, the largest of which is the Roman Catholic Church. The status of clergy is subject to the internal Canon Law of the church in question.
Q. How do you answer those who say that your clergy are 'false' or failed applicants to larger churches?
A. Those who regard priests as only male for example, or only celibate, or that homosexuals cannot be priests will hold that our priests are not real. Some fundamentalist protestants don't recognise us either. We won't get involved in such discussions: we are too busy ministering to those we serve.
Q. Are all your clergy trained and qualified?
A. Yes. We have operated our own distance-learning seminaries for a number of years and all candidates for ordination/incardination must show that they have completed an acceptable level of education and preparation, as well as showing what we determine to be a sufficient foundation in matters of faith and ministry. They must also complete altar training and there are codes of practice and codes of conduct to adhere to. The Church is concerned that the demands of ministry in today's world are such that we believe specific training is necessary to meet the standard expected by the Church and the public. We also require periods of experience and practical serving. Although some other independent Catholic churches will ordain individuals without such training, this Church does not endorse such a practice.
Q. What about criminal record checks?
A. All clergy are required to submit a recent CRB or equivalent criminal record check at the time of their ordination, and submit renewed checks every few years. The Church will not ordain candidates with serious criminal convictions. In the case of candidates with less serious or spent convictions, or who can otherwise show that they have made sustained and successful efforts to rehabilitate their way of life over a period of time, the discretion of the Church may be applied in individual cases, in line with the practice of other mainstream churches. The Church has comprehensive policies regarding clergy discipline and child protection available on this website.
Q. Are there lay members of your church?
A. Yes, there certainly are. As a universal communion, the Church does not maintain a specific lay membership, but it does maintain and use a specific ceremony for those who wish to express a commitment to membership as part of their spiritual journey. In addition, the lay outreach of the Church's ministries is very considerable. Since this includes all who come into contact with our clergy in the context of ministry, it includes those who receive the Sacraments, those who experience funeral ministry, chaplaincy, pastoral care and the many other forms of ministerial work that our clergy are involved in. We reach out to all people and so do not limit our activities to a list of lay members.
Q. What is your day to day relationship with the Church of England and the larger churches?
A. There is no formal organisational relationship, and consequently matters are largely determined on a local level. Some of our clergy enjoy good relationships with Anglican and Roman clergy, and co-operate closely with them in a number of matters. Other clergy sometimes experience hostility from representatives of the larger denominations, often as a result of ignorance and outdated prejudices about independent Catholic churches, or a rejection of ecumenism on principle. At their best, relationships with other churches are characterised by mutual respect. Our clergy function on this basis, and a number of them are consequently invited to be visiting preachers, or as cover for absent clergy, or to participate in interchurch outreach. We welcome such invitations, since they are at the heart of our mission, and we extend similar invitations to other churches ourselves.
We enjoy close relationships with many other independent catholic churches, through intercommunion and through our membership of the Independent Catholic Churches Council.
Q. What is the position regarding church buildings?
A. Those who are familiar with the larger churches often regard "the church" as meaning a building dedicated for that purpose. However, even in the larger churches, declining congregations are leading to a difficult position regarding the maintenance and continued use of church buildings. Many have been sold and converted into housing or even demolished in recent years, and those that are left are often subsidised by the more popular parishes while catering to only a handful of worshippers. Where this pattern becomes endemic, the buildings can become a millstone around the church's neck and an active impediment to mission. One or two parishes in our church do own a building, and many more rent or use other churches rooms, but many have other arrangements.
Small churches have to make decisions regarding their priorities in mission. For churches whose goal is growth and numbers, particularly those in the evangelical tradition, buildings are all-important - though often it matters not whether they are their own, or hired for the purpose. For our church in the context of its particular mission, the priorities are different. We do not see our path as simply emulating the larger churches, nor are we concerned with numbers for their own sake. Our activities are not concerned with insisting that people come to church in order to receive ministry, they are concerned with taking the church to the place where ministry is needed. As a result we do not accept that the ownership of property in itself is some kind of talisman of respectability for a church, any more than we would judge someone we met on the basis of where they chose to live. We are mindful that Jesus Christ had no home to call his own and found this no impediment to His ministry.
For those of our clergy whose ministry is congregational in nature, the use of shared or hired premises remains the norm. Other clergy have ministries which are much more diverse than the traditional parish mould, and there they benefit from the freedom of not being tied to a particular location. They may take services in buildings belonging to other churches, in people's homes, in community centres, in meeting rooms or even in the open air. Most have an oratory in or near their home which can accommodate a small gathering for a service.
Q. How do you differ from other Liberal Catholic churches?
A. The first point to make is that in practice, we have far more in common with other Liberal Catholics than divides us. However, we do not teach compulsory vegetarianism or abstention from alcohol and tobacco, and we celebrate the Mass using wine rather than unfermented grape juice. Unlike some, but not all others, we ordain women up to the episcopate, and unlike many others we openly support gay marriage. We do not encourage an exploration of Theosophy or other esoteric schools, neither do we discourage it. Nor do we share the negative attitudes of some Liberal Catholics towards the wider independent Catholic movement and its churches.
Probably the biggest difference is in our ethos. Where some Liberal Catholic churches are predominantly inward-looking and concerned above all with the preservation of a tradition and legacy deriving from Bishop C.W. Leadbeater, we are outward-looking, ecumenical and progressive. We believe that the vision of the Founder of Liberal Catholicism, Bishop James I. Wedgwood, was for a universal church, not merely for a church narrowly based on Theosophy and elaborate ceremonial. We also believe that the church must be open to a genuine liberalism in its theology and practice, so that it is not the case that, while bearing the name "Liberal", it becomes a predominantly conservative organisation.
We have very good relationships with a number of other Liberal Catholic churches and clergy, and value greatly our co-operation with them.
Q. What is your Scriptural basis for supporting the ordination of women, and gay marriage?
A. The answer to this was put best by Bishop Timothy Cravens in 2004. He writes, "When Our Saviour Jesus Christ was crucified, the veil in the Temple was rent in two, opening the Holy of Holies to all. The Holy of Holies was open only to the high priest, the Holy Place and Court of Priests to the Zadokite priesthood, the Court of Levites to Levites, the Court of Israelites was open only to Jewish men (and all preceding places were likewise only open to males within their category), the small and cramped Court of Women was open to Jewish women, and finally the Court of Gentiles was open to all. Jesus came to abolish the separation and alienation that took place within this system, where people were classified according to their parentage and sex. Instead, ALL are freely invited to participate fully and equally in the life of the church.
We see this articulated beautifully in Galatians 3:28 - "There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." Now, early on, this began to break down due to human sinfulness, and we see far too many traces of this within the New Testament (sadly including those books bearing my name!) But the [Independent Catholic Christian Church] interpretation of this is that all Christians are to be treated equally as regards the sacraments - all, regardless of sex or gender, may be considered for ordination on the basis of gifts and maturity, not economic status or sex or ethnicity - and likewise, all marriages between two baptized persons entering into lifelong covenant are sacramental. There can be nothing disordered about lifelong, committed, covenanted love - and to declare as "disordered" a marriage because the partners are not of the "right" sex or ethnic heritage, or to reject the validity of a gifted priest's ministry because she is female, is to repudiate one of the central messages of reconciliation in the Gospel." (Quoted in Bishop John Plummer: The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement, p.90).
Another relevant discussion concerning the authority for the ordination of women is provided here.
Q. What does the Church say with regard to the private celebration of the Mass?
A. Although some Catholic churches discourage the private celebration of the Mass, Liberal Catholics have always believed that it has a special role in the context of a healing Sacrifice for the world. Where the Mass is celebrated alone or in a small group met together in a home oratory we have the opportunity to encounter the experiences of the earliest Christians, who discovered the living truth that such celebrations can be profound encounters with Christ. As a result, we encourage the private celebration of the Mass and do not believe that it requires a congregation in order to be somehow validated.
Q. What about the Religious Orders that are part of the Church?
A. The Church includes several dispersed Religious Orders that are a part of its diverse heritage in independent Catholicism. Each Order is the outward expression of a particular charism, be that towards St Francis, St Benedict, St Joseph, or the life of St Mary Magdelene. Those who are attracted to particular charisms are welcome to enquire towards membership as appropriate.
Q. Why don't all the small independent Catholic churches get together as one big church?
A. When an outsider looks at the independent Catholic movement, he or she is often surprised to see that churches are separated by what appear to be outwardly minor matters of doctrine and practice. The closer one gets to these issues, the more one realises that they are bigger than they appear at first sight. In most cases they are the direct outcome of the expression of faith in conscience, and constitute a statement of essential identity for the church and those within it. Such churches may in turn have their past in a difficult and painful decision to leave another church that was no longer prepared to accommodate these views. For their members, it may be preferable to be in a small, even tiny, community where God is worshipped as they see fit than to be a continual dissident minority in a larger church.
Attempts at dogmatic unity within the independent Catholic movement - which runs the entire gamut from ultra-traditionalist to ultra-liberal with every possible shade of variation in between - seem to be doomed to failure. That said, there continue to be some significant and productive alliances between conservative denominations. Fellowships and associations that respect their members' theological and ministerial independence tend to be a more fruitful way forward, since they privilege unity over uniformity. We participate in these initiatives both through our own Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship, which brings together clergy and communities in the liberal tradition from all over the world, and in our membership of the Independent Catholic Churches Council, which unites both independent Catholic, Liberal and Evangelical churches. Our ICCC membership not only gives us status as a recognised church all over the world, but also gives us a voice in the major ecumenical forums.