Orthodox Old Romans have never claimed to be anything other than Catholics striving to maintain and perpetuate the perennial Catholic faith. The following distinctives should assist the inquirer to recognise authentic Old Roman apostolates and missions from others who call themselves “Old Roman Catholic” who are anything but!
Old Roman apostolates are few in number and their histories often overlap in terms of individuals and events. Old Roman apostolates are conservative in their governance, beliefs, and religious practices. They are identifiable by their endurance and steadfastness. Although they acknowledge their roots in the early See of Utrecht, they reject any association with “Old Catholics” and reject being labeled as “schismatic.”
Annexed by Bl. Pius IX in 1853 to avoid settling a long standing canonical dispute over rights and privileges granted by previous Popes “in perpetuity” to the See of Utrecht (Netherlands). Old Roman clergy have continued to preserve intact the doctrine and liturgy extant at the time of their disavowal by Rome; it is for this they are known as “Old” and for their fidelity to the Latin Rite tradition as, “Roman”.
Old Romans believe “… that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (St Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory 434AD). Central to the Old Roman apostolate is the preservation and continuance of the orthodox Catholic Faith received from the Apostles and understood through the collective experience, study and testimony of two thousand years of Catholic tradition. To this end the Old Romans have been particularly vigilant concerning the development of Modernism within the Church, noting its subtleties and insidious progression from the time of the Enlightenment to the present day.
As the Old Roman bishops stated to the papal legate in 1823, “We accept with the greatest willingness, and without any exception whatever, all the articles of the Holy Catholic Faith; we will neither hold nor teach, now or afterwards, any other opinions than those which have been decreed, determined and published by our Mother, the Holy Church, conformably to Holy Scripture, tradition, the acts of the Ecumenical Councils, and those of the Council of Trent.”
This Old Roman anti-modernist position is in stark contrast to the progressiveness of Old Catholicism with whom Old Romans are sometimes confused. The two could not be more different. Though Old Romans and Old Catholics share a common history derived from the primitive See of Utrecht, they each represent two quite distinct progressions from the same source; one orthodox, the other apostate. The difference should be obvious to even the most casual observer.
✠Arnold Harris Mathew of England was consecrated to the Episcopate in 1908 by ✠Gerard Gul of Utrecht at a time when Utrecht was still truly orthodox. At the time of ✠Mathew’s consecration at Utrecht, no serious inroads had been made upon the Catholic Faith by the Church of Utrecht, nor had she yet departed in any way from Catholic traditions and practice. By the end of 1910, however, the heterodox influence of the “Old Catholics” had proved too much for Utrecht, overwhelmed her, and so great and far-reaching were the changes which she was prevailed upon to make in her formularies and doctrinal position, that on December 29, 1910, ✠Mathew was forced to break ties with Utrecht in order to preserve the Old Roman legacy ✠Mathew adopted the name previously used by the Utrajectine Church before they deviated from orthodox beliefs, “Old Roman” Catholic. He composed the following prayer, still recited in Old Roman churches after the Leonine prayers.
Almighty and everlasting God, Whose only begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, has said, “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd”; let Thy rich and abundant blessing rest upon the Old Roman Catholic Church, to the end that it may serve Thy purpose by gathering in the lost and straying sheep. Enlighten, sanctify, and quicken it by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, that suspicions and prejudices may be disarmed, and the other sheep being brought to hear and to know the voice of their true Shepherd thereby, all may be brought into full and perfect unity in the one fold of Thy Holy Catholic Church, under the wise and loving keeping of Thy Vicar, through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
On 12 April, 1925 the successor to ✠Mathew of the Old Romans in England, ✠Bernard M Williams repudiated again the errors of the Old Catholics and in 1939, ✠Williams would further declare “We disclaim all pretensions to being in any sense ‘a Church.’ We are simply a Rite within the Catholic Church…” In traditional papal encyclicals, a “schismatic community” is a Christian community adhering to valid sacraments but without recognizing the primacy of place of Rome or the importance of the papacy. This cannot be levelled at the Old Romans who clearly betray a recognition of the primacy of the Popes and the importance of maintaining communion with all Catholics. But after the promulgation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Missae that followed, seeing the crisis in the Church increase exponentially, the Old Romans have taken a position to continue in the practice of the immemorial Catholic Faith.
“If someone, for a reasonable motive, holds the person of the Pope in suspicion and refuses his presence, even his jurisdiction, he does not commit the delict of schism nor any other whatsoever, provided that he be ready to accept the Pope were he not held in suspicion. It goes without saying that one has the right to avoid what is harmful and to ward off dangers. In fact, it may happen that the Pope could govern tyrannically and that is all the easier as he is the more powerful and does not fear any punishment from anyone on earth.”Thomas, Cardinal Cajetan, De divina institutione Pontificatus Romani Pontificis (1521)
Orthodox Old Roman bishops possess only one line of Apostolic succession in close lineal descent directly from Archbishop Gul of Utrecht via the consecration of ✠Arnold Harris Mathew in 1908. This succession is shared in common with 95% of Roman Catholic bishops in the world today and is generally known as the Rebiba succession. Old Roman bishops do not claim multiple lines of succession nor are their co-consecrators from non-Old Roman groups.
Authentic Old Roman bishops are consecrated exclusively employing the Pontificale Romanum according to the Tridentine Rite of episcopal consecration. To the prejudice of those ordained by any other pretended western rite who petition to join them, Old Romans will reordain sub-conditione according to the Pontificale Romanum.
All the Ultrajectine Old Roman bishops from ✠Steenoven in 1725 down to ✠Mathew in 1908 were decreed individually excommunicate by successive Popes for receiving episcopal consecration without a papal mandate. The mandatum is the papal document granting permission for the consecration of a bishop who will serve as a bishop in any capacity, including as an auxiliary or titular bishop. This despite the privilege granted the Chapter of Utrecht to elect their own bishops by Bl. Pope Eugene III in 1145 and affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (canons 23 & 24), and the request and notification by the Ultrajectine bishops to Rome of the election and consecrations.
Even though the historical bishops in the Ultrajectine succession received declaratory sentences of excommunication, the 1917 CIC states; “It is not permitted to extend penalties from person to person or from case to case, even though the reason is the same or even stronger.” Canon 2219§3. In other words, excommunication is not contagious nor contiguous, but personal and its effects limited to the named individual. Since the consecrations of ✠Herbert Beale and ✠Arthur Howarth no Old Roman bishop has been declared excommunicate since 1911.
Rome still recognises the validity of the Ultrajectine apostolic succession as various Old Roman clergy who were previously under Roman obedience and have individually reconciled with the Holy See have been required to repent of their receiving holy Orders. Likewise, in dialogue with the Polish National Catholic Church (in America) since 1996 the Holy See has recognised the validity of the holy Orders and sacraments administered by them which derive from the same Old Roman apostolic succession. Anecdotally, individual Old Roman bishops upon enquiry with the Holy See have also had the presumed validity of this Apostolic succession confirmed.
Though different Old Roman apostolates have used distinguishing titles to differentiate between themselves, usually reflecting geographical location, they have always been titled Old Roman Catholic.
The Old Romans adhere to an ecclesiological system of episcopal governance and strive to follow the 1917 CIC as closely as possible. They do not regard their apostolates as parallel to nor opposing existing contemporary Roman Catholic jurisdictional structures. They sincerely hold themselves to be operating in unprecedented times under a state of necessity for the Church.
Before and after the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the latæ sententiæ penalty for episcopal consecration without a papal mandate was a suspension a divinis (Canon 2370) “… suspended by the Law itself, until the Apostolic See dispenses them.” In 1951 Pius XII decreed an ipso facto “automatic excommunication most especially reserved to the Apostolic See” for a man appointed to a canonical office without appointment by the Holy See, i.e. as an ordinary over an existing canonically erected jurisdiction. This was reaffirmed by the encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis (29 June, 1958) concerning the problem of the Chinese Patriotic Association’s illicit installation of schismatic bishops to head vacant dioceses in China.
Though some might assume the automatic sentences described above apply to Old Roman bishops, under both codes of Canon Law, i.e. 1917 Canon 2205§2 and 1983 Canon 1323§4 respectively, persons acting contrary to the law believing there to be a grave necessity to do so, are dispensed from canonical penalty: “No penalty is incurred by a person forced by a necessity to act against the law.” Both the original dispute between Utrecht and Rome over the election of bishops, the usurpation of the primitive Ultrajectine See’s hierarchy, and particularly the prevailing modernist crisis in the contemporary Church are considered sufficiently grave by Old Roman bishops enough to necessitate their actions.
Following traditional custom, Old Roman bishops are consecrated to “titular titles” of vacant extinct sees – careful to check they are vacant at the time of their election and consecration. Bishops are elected and consecrated to provide episcopal oversight to specific geographical areas of the Old Roman apostolate and to guarantee the validity of sacraments. Old Roman bishops understand these titular titles will be surrendered to an orthodox Pope when reconciliation with the Holy See occurs.
Catholic faithful who attend and support Old Roman apostolates, missions and chapels, do so on a voluntary basis i.e. by implicit request for sacraments and pastoral services. They are not required to make a contrary profession of Faith to that which any Catholic rightly holds to be the Catholic Faith and only if converting from other Christian traditions is an abjuration of heresy and profession of Faith required.
Though Old Roman bishops and clergy do not consider themselves to be labouring under any sentence or censure, Canon Law provides, “If a censure prohibits the celebration of sacraments or sacramentals or the placing of an act of governance, the prohibition is suspended whenever it is necessary to care for the faithful in danger of death. If a latae sententiae censure has not been declared, the prohibition is also suspended whenever a member of the faithful requests a sacrament or sacramental or an act of governance; a person is permitted to request this for any just cause.” Canon 1335 CIC 1983
The Old Roman Ordo is based upon the Universal Kalendar as it was extant in 1910, though local variations in regions and territories are of course permitted.
Authentic chapels and missions of the Old Roman apostolate offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass exclusively according to the perennial Latin Rite, i.e. the “Tridentine Rite” as codified by the Council of Trent and promulgated by Pope St Pius V with Quo primum (14 July, 1570). Traditionally and whenever possible using earlier editions of the Missale Romanum prior to 1948.
The solemn liturgies of Holy Week and the Sacrum Triduum are offered similarly according to the rites and ceremonies as extant prior to the changes introduced by Pope Pius XII with Maxima Redemptionis (19 November, 1955). Likewise the pastoral offices e.g. Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Viaticum, etc, are all taken from the Rituale Romanum of the Tridentine Rite. Though predominantly in Latin, occasional parts may be said in the vernacular for pastoral and catechetical reasons.
All ordinations both to the minor and major orders respectively employ exclusively the Tridentine Rite, i.e. the Pontificale Romanum and from earlier editions dated before Sacramentum Ordinis (30 November, 1947) of Pope Pius XII and for the consecration of bishops, the editions prior to Episcopalis Consecrationis (30 November, 1944).
Old Roman clergy and religious pray from earlier editions either of the Breviarium Romanum prior to the 1910 reform, Divino Afflatu (01 November, 1911) promulgated by Pope St Pius X, or using earlier editions of the Diurnale monasticum.
It should be obvious then to any inquirer coming across a group claiming to be Old Roman, that
if the Pope is not prayed for,
if the liturgy offered is not Tridentine,
if traditional Catholic customs are not practised,
if the clergy have not received minor ordinations, and
if the teaching contains modernist errors and attitudes…
the likelihood is they are NOT Old Roman Catholics.