An Old Catholic perspective

I wrote a posting on the other blog under the title Absolute ordinations and received an interesting comment from Fr Jerome Lloyd of the Old Roman Catholic Church in Europe (I give the site of his ministry in Brighton as the best-maintained part of his presence on the Internet). I esteem Fr Jerome for his youthful spirit of initiative and desire to serve as a priest for the good of other people, which seems to me to be the capital criterion of the legitimacy of a priestly ministry.

This Church in England belongs to the jurisdiction of a long-established Canadian branch of the Old Roman Catholic Church. Here I have portrayed Fr Lloyd doing his famous stunt on a tightrope, and I think he has done something good for charity, and this is praiseworthy. I have been in a sailing regatta for Aid to the Church in Need (much less dangerous!), and we get a considerable amount of enjoyment out of these events.

As you know dear Father, from your own experience, anybody not in a canonically regular position with Rome is regarded by Rome as “irregular”. What has been interesting of late ref the TAC and Ordinariates is her regard for the “irregularity” of those from other “regular” denominations? As I seem to remember reading here somewhere or on the English Catholic, it would appear Rome would have preferred the clergy of the TAC to have remained in communion with Canterbury throughout the apostasy and seems to regard the “regular” Anglican clergy who did as more desirable?!

I now take accusations of “deception” very seriously and a certain RC blogger will soon know that, despite my charitable silence ref previous attempts to impugn my ministry. I conduct my ministry in a very open and accessible way, full information is readily available about Old Roman Catholicism through our website(s), and we have deliberately remained a member of Churches Together so that ecumenical colleagues can know us and observe us. Whilst some would rather “sweep us under the carpet” many are appreciative of our active participation and the opportunity to know and understand more about us. Our website is very clear about who we minister to sacramentally and whom we won’t. There is no reason, certainly locally, for anyone to confuse me with a “regular” RC priest.

More importantly perhaps is our active engagement and partnerships in the local community – we’re not about “Mass in the garage Catholicism” but about active apostolates addressing the needs of our urban society with all its various issues. We are partners in a homeless project, outreach project and a mental health project and are firmly committed to “living the Faith”. That witness is credible, real and proof of our commitment to Christ together with our daily Mass offered in a public space and internet broadcasts reaching hundreds of souls per month. We’re about as “regular” a church as an “independent” outfit might be without the advantages of historic legacies and benefactions! We’re not materially rich, but we can sustain a public worship space and ministry that is observable and appreciable. Perhaps that’s why I/we get so much “stick” from those with all the advantages of being “mainstream” but who for some strange reason see us as competition?

“Catholic” – yes, I believe we are. We believe we have valid Sacraments and have enough “evidence” to support such belief for most enquirers. Its rather boring to go into “all that” (as you know) but we’re not stupid when it comes to Sacramental theology and believe we fit all necessary criteria both for Western and Eastern* appreciations. We teach the Catholic Faith – perhaps with a more contemporary and pastorally sensitive approach compared to other orthodox Catholics – but our teaching is wholly Apostolic and traditionally conservative but includes a great dollop of charity to ease and coax troubled souls as they spiritually grow and develop in faith rather than club and judge the sinners we’re called to save. We can appreciate everything doctrinally previously agreed between Old Catholics and the Orthodox (which you have been good enough to make available elsewhere on this blog) and yet resist the relatively recent doctrinal quirks of the PNCC (which interestingly you haven’t addressed yet, at least I don’t remember you doing so).

Re “canonical regularity” we’re as regular as the next church – we try to behave as “canonically” as possible re our internal discipline and we try as much as possible to follow recognised canonical “norms”. Do we desire an accommodation with Rome like the Ordinariates? I think the jury is still out on that as everyone watches the rise and fall of the dust. We’re certainly no more or less “irregular” than any Continuing Church from Anglicanism, which of course we claim doctrinally similarly to be ref “Old” Roman Catholicism. Do we desire communion with Rome? Yes, of course, ultimately, but we’re still content with the old “probably not in our lifetime” scenario and happy actually to leave the doctrinal discussions to the Orthodox with Rome; when they reach an accommodation or an understanding then we would have to address such ourselves. Meanwhile, we have and are developing our ecumenical dialogue with the Holy See, which is something better than nothing.

Ultimately, I don’t think you can beat St Vincent of Lerins’ definition of what is “Catholic” and ancient ecclesiology seems clear that priests co-operate with a bishop. In a perfect world there would be one bishop for any given geographical area and a college of priests co-operating with him. We don’t live in a perfect world though and unfortunately must work with what we (for a variety of reasons) believe we have to. Should a priest who suddenly finds himself without a bishop, cease to act sacramentally until he find another? I would have to answer “yes” to that. But that’s only my very humble and perhaps naive opinion?

[*There was an intercommunion, still technically extant, made between the Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch and Alexandria of 1911 and our (much maligned, misrepresented, though we appreciate naive) forefather +A H Mathew which has never been formally revoked and which included a grant of autocephaly. We’re all too aware of the unfortunate characters and history of the past – no church is without blemish – but in recent years a great sorting of the “chiff from the chaff” and a greater desire for mutual co-operation between ORC jurisdictions provides an opportunity to perhaps revisit and refresh this covenant. No doubt the detractors will be many, but would a genuine desire by churches recognisably distinct yet in traceable continuity from the past and orthodox in faith and praxis be waived out of hand? Who knows until we try. But arguably and technically we’re not historically “irregular” as far as one “lung” of the Church was concerned having been previously granted autocephaly. Messed up? Yes, regrettably so. But then Continuing Anglicanism seems to have made all the same mistakes again… and has never achieved an accommodation with any historic See.]

I find the comment a little ‘on the defensive’, as we all tend to become under intense criticism by Roman Catholic zealots and lay apologists. All that makes us feel we have to justify ourselves. How far that is true in Fr Jerome’s case, it is hard to tell, but something is there. He rightly notes that for the official Roman Catholic Church, nothing less than complete submission to its authorities and laws will do – it is truly all-or-nothing. The clergy of the TAC have discovered that there is no negotiating with Rome unless you have really big-time political clout, and very few other than heads of state have. For Roman Catholicism, schism seems to be worse than heresy: breaking canon laws is the worst thing in the world, whilst they will turn a blind eye to ‘goofy’ masses and bad doctrinal teaching. The fact of the matter is that offences against canon law are quantifiable and sanctioned accordingly. Other matters are more difficult to manage – and I am not one for conspiracy theories.

We are all sensitive to being called ‘bogus’ Roman Catholics as if we were seeking to poach the ‘property’ of the local Roman Catholic parish. People are free to go to church where they want, or not to go to church. It is insulting to be thought of as stupid sheep needing a nanny Church! Like Fr Jerome, I am open to the fact that my ministry (chaplaincy and availability) is not recognised by Rome, nor does it seek to be.  Fr Jerome is also clear on his blog, but nothing is good enough for Roman Catholic zealots in bad faith!

Fr Jerome has the use of a public room for Mass, presumably rented for an affordable amount. Videos of his Mass are a fine initiative for bringing church to the housebound and elderly. Brighton is quite a large town, where property prices are astronomical (I have a nephew who lives there, an architect, and he struggles). There are many social problems and opportunities for priests of any church to help in some way with voluntary work. That kind of thing is more difficult in France, but I am involved in cultural and sporting (sailing) activities. Perhaps in England it is easier to show oneself to be a priest and be accepted as such doing the voluntary work as an aspect of ministry. He has a rented room for his mass, and I have an outbuilding for permanent use as a chapel. I also have a weekly Mass to celebrate each week for two persons in Dieppe. But they are not members of my Church, and I find it difficult to understand why they want my services as a priests. Not all mysteries are to be understood! I too have credibility from the fact I have been in the same house in our village for six years and I am not one of those quacks who do exorcisms and faith-healings for large sums of money. France is a country where you keep quiet and go along with the system. The English are a class of our own, and the French have never forgotten St Joan of Arc and the Napoleonic Wars!

Why oppose the celebration of Mass and the rest of the liturgical life against urban voluntary and humanitarian work? I have the feeling of another over-reaction. Catholic because one has valid Sacraments and one’s theology is standard Catholic? I can accept that. It is the same with some of us stragglers in the TAC, or what’s left of it. The PNCC? True that I have not addressed the doctrinal quirks, because I am not a member of that Church. I think some of these elements will come to light in the coming dialogue between orthodox (ie: against the “revisionist” agendas with which we are all familiar) Anglicans and the Union of Scranton. Patience…

Canonical regularity? It is true that most of us try to observe some acceptable form of religious and priestly discipline, and that we do not have the right to act on any whim or fancy. I have no reason to believe that Fr Jerome’s community is behaving in a less acceptable way as the standards I aspire to hold and follow in my life as a priest. I would have immense problems of conscience in the case of being totally outside any Episcopal jurisdiction. My Archbishop has retired and the TAC College of Bishops has abolished the jurisdiction in which I was incardinated. Archbishop Prakash has written to me to inform me that I am transferred to the jurisdiction of Bishop Craig Botterill and the TTAC in England. I am thus still a priest in a Church, but I still have questions to ask. If I found myself absolutely alone in ecclesial terms, and this situation was to prove definitive, I would feel inclined to call it a day and try to live out a Christian life in some other way.

There are arguments for the legitimacy of Churches descended from foundations by Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, the unrevoked act of communion with the Patriarchate of Antioch. I admire Fr Jerome’s honesty about the fact that every Church has messed things up, and the record of the TAC has to a large extent justified Rome’s decision to dismantle it and use it only for spare parts and not as a running vehicle.

Fr Jerome’s testimony is important, as are the many things he has told me in private one evening in a pub near Manchester. Of course I keep those matters sub rosa, as is my duty as a priest. He and his apostolate have my blessing and humble prayers.

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