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Sunday, 7 September 2008
"What It Means To Be An Old Catholic" by The Most Rev. Raphael J. Adams

The following are excerpts from a recent article by The Most Reverend Raphael J. Adams, priest and lecturer. [Please note: Our North American Old Roman Catholic Church here in Los Angeles, realizes that the author's use of expressions such as: 'VatCaths' [for Vatican Catholics] could be considered offensive, and would not be our own choice of words.]


Several weeks ago, while I was visiting St. Mark's in Louisville, a curious message was left on the answering machine.  A gentleman was inquiring about a particular Old Catholic parish, wanting to know if it was "really Catholic".  A relative had explained to him that the parish in question couldn't really be Catholic, "since they're not under the pope".  Being "under the pope"is really important to curial Catholics, so important that being "Catholic" has come to mean being papal.  In other words, according to VatCaths, for one to be truly Catholic, one must be "under the pope".  I have come to call this absolute requirement of being under papal domination the "missionary position" theory of Catholic identity.  If you're  a real Catholic, the pope must always be on top. 

One of the things that separates Old Catholics from Vatican Catholics is that we are reluctant to "assume the position"-i.e., submit to papal domination-as a matter of course.  By no means do we advocate the abrogation of the papacy, or even deny that it ought play a unique role in the Church.  Historically, however, we have tended to conciliarism rather than curialism.  Revisionist historians of the curial stripe would have everyone believe that our "uppity" attitude is a recent aberration brought about by an overreaction to the declaration of papal infallibility which Pio Nono finessed out of Vatican I in 1870.  A more objective analysis would clearly demonstrate that we adopted our attitude toward the papacy long before Vatican I, and in so doing, joined the good and godly company of the likes of Saints Gregory I and Augustine of Hippo. 

With Gregory, we maintain that there are no "bishops of bishops", "office" and "order" not being synonymous.  For example, no one has ever been "ordained" archbishop, cardinal, or pope.  Such positions are filled by appointment or election.  These are clearly political "offices" rather than sacramental "orders". 

With Augustine, we affirm that the papacy can be (and has often been) downright wrong and in need of occasional correction and redirection.  Also, that it has a tendency to overstep its legitimate boundaries.  Unlike VatCaths, we Old Catholics have retained the Church’s historic understanding of papal primacy, universal jurisdiction, and papal infallibility as three distinct and evolved concepts.  That muddle-headed and dependent personalities wad them together, and are thus unable to evaluate the nature and validity of each, is their misfortune. 

“…I am not a "former" Catholic.  I am a continuing Catholic.  I have chosen to identify with one historical tradition within the body of the Church Catholic rather than with another, namely, with the Ultrajectine rather than the Ultramontane.  I stand happily within a continuing Catholic faith tradition shared by Geert Groote, Thomas á Kempis, Zerbolt of Zutphen, Wesel Gansfort, and Desiderius Erasmus; a tradition defended by the likes of Antoine Arnauld, Blaise Pascal, Lord Acton, and Ignatz von Döllinger.  To my way of thinking, "Is the pope Catholic?" is a question that remains to be settled.  But my posing of the question is just the tip of the iceberg.  Below its cold surface is that solid mass of nominal "Roman" Catholics who have no more regard for a monarchical papacy than I do and no greater confidence in the validity of papal encyclicals. 


In other words, unity is not conformity!  While we certainly affirm the traditional role of the papacy, we do not concede to it more than the tradition of the Church Fathers-and the popes who rejected the notion of their own infallibility--did.  We do not acknowledge that the papacy has the right to supercede that tradition.  Indeed, we must respectfully and lovingly let the pope, as we do our civil authorities, know when he is "buck nekkid".  As Old Catholics, we must maintain unity, not by complicity with innovation and error, but by following the apostolic mandate to speak the truth in love - no matter how inconvenient that loving truth-speaking might be.  We have to say "no", even in the face of overwhelming opposition.  Our Catholic history should have taught us that being in the minority does not mean being in the wrong--does the name "Galileo" ring a bell?  So we have yet another apostolic mandate to consider:  God must be found true if every man living be shown a liar.

Ultimately and essentially, Catholic unity is effected by being one with Christ.  Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church.  Nothing will change this. Nothing will make Old Catholics "submit", knuckle under, shut up, go away.  Or hide.  Not from "warnings" about Old Catholics, accusations of Jansenism, criticisms of Mathew or Vilatte, sensationalistic journalism, and the droning mantra of missionary position Catholicism.  These are old, tired, tactics.  We are not the first to be subjected to the tedium of pharisaic demands for conformity. Indeed, we find ourselves in excellent company: 

[Jesus said] "How can I describe this generation?  They are like children sitting in the market-place and shouting at each other, 'We piped for you and you would not dance. We wept and wailed, and you would not mourn.' For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He is possessed.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him!  A glutton and a drinker, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!' And yet God's wisdom is proved right by its results" (Matthew 11: 16-19 NEB).



Posted by frbjoern1 at 12:59 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 8 September 2008 1:38 PM EDT

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