The Old Roman Catholic Church

Old Roman Catholic Church in Europe


Concerning the validity of the Holy Orders conferred by Mathew in the period following his departure from the Union of Utrecht.

Utrecht denial

On the 29 April 1920 the International Bishops' Conference (IBC) of the Union of Utrecht, declared Mathew's consecration to have been "in mala fides" (in bad faith). The suggestion was that the petition for his consecration and its 150 signatories collated by O'Halloran was false in its premise for the consecration[1] and thus the consecration was invalid. However, Mathews had disclosed the matter fully before the Dutch bishops days after the consecration when it transpired that the Anglicans who had participated in his election withdrew from the petition due to the changed situation regarding the Ritual Commission (see wicki article). The then Old Catholic bishops held an inquiry into the circumstances and Mathew was publicly exonerated from all suggestion of misrepresentation in a letter to "The Manchester Guardian" of 3 June 1908, the bishops also refused Mathew's request to retire (see wicki article). Also, on 5 In October 1909, together with the Old Catholic bishops Thiel, Demmel, Spit and the Utrecht Archbishop Gul, Mathew assisted at the consecration of the Mariavite bishop Kowalski, so clearly there was no suggestion of "mala fides" or "invalidity" then by the Old Catholic bishops.

With reference to Mathew's "Declaration of Autonomy" 29 December 1910, the Court session of the IBC on 11 September 1913, simply stated that the matter was "solved" and made no reference to Mathew with regard to any deceit or invalidity. Though the IBC did also state that consecrated persons and communities connected with Mathew would not be welcome by the Union of Utrecht[2] (though recently an invitation was extended to such see Conference of North American Old Catholic Bishops).

The new determination by Utrecht may have been influenced by a desire to have closer relations with the Anglican Communion. In 1908 Lambeth had expressed regret over the consecration of Mathew but had indicated a desire for a closer relationship with Utrecht. This may have been due to the famous pronouncement by Pope Leo XIII in his bull Apostolicae Curae 1896 that Anglican Orders were "null and void". Certainly it had been the impetus of not a few Anglican clergymen to seek Mathew out for clandestine "re-ordination" after his consecration and it may almost certainly have been the basis upon which some had supported the petition for his consecration by Utrecht (see above). The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York had replied to the Holy See in "Saepius Officio: Answer of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the bull Apostolicae Curae of H.H. Leo XIII."[3] giving a defence of Anglican Orders, but discussions about union with Utrecht had been taking place since the end of the C19th ref the Conferences of Reunion in Bonn in 1874 and 1875 convoked by Johann von Döllinger. Though the Dutch bishops in a report of 1894 still could not decide on the recognition of Anglican orders[4]. It would appear then that a desire for closer cooperation on the part of Utrecht with an Anglican desire for the recognition of their Orders, conspired to impugn the reputation of Mathew[5]. By June 1925 the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury stated that the Dutch Old Catholic Church had "after lengthy investigations and serious discussions" arrived "without any reservation (to recognise) that the apostolic succession was not interrupted in the Church of England"[6] and in 1931 the Bonn Agreement was signed and intercommunion agreed between the Utrecht Union and the Anglican Communion.

The new Utrecht position however, cannot and does not alter the sacramental validity of the consecration of Mathew which relies solely on the ceremony and intentions of the consecrating bishops rather than on any external circumstances. As the ceremony is known to have taken place and no-one has questioned the intentions of the bishops involved, according to sacramental theology and canonical principles, Mathew's consecration can only be considered valid[7] “…an act, especially one as solemn as an ordination, must be re­garded as valid, as long as invalidity would not be clearly demon­strated.” [8] Pietro, Cardinal Gasparri (pioneer and co-author of the Codex Iuris Canonici 1917).


Old Roman Catholic jurisdictions have consistently employed the Tridentine Ordinal and Pontificale for the conferral of ordinations and the consecration of bishops. This was the case with the See of Utrecht right up to and some years beyond the consecration of Mathew himself, without any alterations to the ceremonies. The "Old Catholic Missal & Ritual"[9] published by Mathew in 1909 contains a direct vernacular translation of the Pontificale Romanum and it is either this or the original Latin that is used in all Old Roman Catholic ceremonies still to this day, even by those jurisdictions who permit modern liturgies for the Mass. “A priest or bishop who confers a sacrament doesn’t have to ‘prove’ that he intends to do what the Church does. He is automatically presumed to intend what the rite means. This is certain theological doctrine, taught by the Church. And to deny it is ‘theologically rash.”[10]

Of "Schismatic" or "Excommunicate" ordinations

Traditionalist Roman Catholics sometimes assert that an episcopal consecration without a Papal Mandate is "invalid" despite the teaching of the following Popes; Pope Alexander VII, [11] Pope Clement XI and Pope Benedict XIV declared that consecrations performed without such a dispensation are valid [12]. The teachings of the canonists directly contradict it too. Bouix says flatly: “Even if there should be a consecration without any assistants and without obtaining a pontifical dispensation, it would still be valid.”[13] Regatillo, writing in a 1953 work, goes even further. He says that a consecration performed without a dispensation would be valid even if the bishop “is the only one who is present at the consecration.”[14]

Sometimes it is asserted, that because Mathew was excommunicated by Pius X that anyone ordained or consecrated by him thereafter (11 Feb 1911) incurs the same penalty. However, Canon law is quite clear “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.” [15] Receiving orders from an excommunicate incurs only suspension [16]. Thus Mathew's excommunication is not “contagious” and wouldn’t pass along to clergy deriving their orders from him.

Furthermore, Canon law permits the receipt of Sacraments from an excommunicate “Except as provided in §3,[2] the faithful can for any just cause ask for sacraments or sacramentals of one who is excommunicated, especially if there is no one else to give them; and in such cases the excommunicated person so asked may administer them, and is not obliged to ask the reason for the request.”[18] Though no Old Roman Catholic bishops have been declared "excommunicate" (which must be publicly declared by the Apostolic See and the person named[19]) since Mathew and thus as his excommunication is not contagious, this scenario does not apply.

Licit or illicit

It is also suggested that such orders are "illicit" i.e. non canonical. The canonical dispute between the Holy See and the See of Utrecht about whether the Ultrajectine See could elect its own Bishops was never canonically i.e. legally, concluded (Pius IX ignoring "due process" and erecting an uncanonical heirarchy in Holland in 1853). Thus, it is arguably only just according to Canonical principles to assume that the inalienable right granted by Papal Bull of Bl. Eugene III is still extant and in effect[20].

The rightful Archbishop of Utrecht (Geraldus Gul) in 1908 consecrated and comissioned Arnold Harris Mathew as a Bishop in accordance with the norms of universal ecclesiastical law, nominating and electing him to a title. When the See of Utrecht fell into 'apostasy' in 1910, Bishop Mathew justifiably declared autonomy from the Ultrajectine See on December 29th 1910[21] and justifiably perpetuated her canonical rights and prerogatives for the continuation and perpetuation of the Old Roman Catholic Church from Utrecht.

On August 5th 1911, [now] Archbishop Mathew was received by His Eminence the Most Reverend Archbishop Gearrasimos Messara of Beruit, Syria into the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and the East and intercommunion was established between the second most ancient See of Christendom and first "cathedra" of the Apostle Peter and the Old Roman Catholic Church recognised as an "autocephalous" i.e. self-governing, jurisdiction. This occurred similarly with the Patriarchate of Alexandria in 1912. Thus making the Old Roman Catholic Church a Canonical entity in both the Western and Eastern Catholicates.

Thus the term "Episcopi Vagantes" ought not be applied to the Old Roman Catholic Church, in all her duly constituted and canonically governed ecclesial communities around the world, nor particularly her Bishops. The Old Roman Catholic Church is a recognised autocephalous and canonical ecclesial entity equal to any other so recognised Church of the East and has an historic and legitimate claim to Canonical status within the Latin Rite.

Affirmations of validity

There are various incidences where Old Roman Catholic orders have been affirmed by theologians, canonists and even representatives of the Holy See.

According to supporters the consecration of Hiram Hulse indicates that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA regarded the Mathew line as being not only valid but even desirable. On 12 January 1915, in New York City, Hiram Hulse was consecrated as a Bishop in Cuba for the Protestant Episcopal Church assisted by Bishop de Landes Berghes in the Mathew line. This indicates that there were no apparent perceived problems in relation to valid holy orders in the early 20th Century. The orders of De Landes Berghes, consecrated after Mathew left the Union of Utrecht, were apparently viewed by his contemporaries as valid despite any adverse comments from Utrecht.

Archbishop Frederick Linale of the Old Roman Catholic Church Great Britain[22], third in succession from Archbishop Carfora (via Richard Arthur Marchenna and George Gerard Shelley) sought and obtained a declaration from Rome confirming the validity of his Orders. On 1/9/1982, Archbishop Romolo Carboni[23], the Apostolic Nuncio to Italy, wrote to His Eminence, the Cardinal Prefect of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, [document 1490/82], asking him to look into the Apostolic Succession of Mgr Linale. This task was given to Mgr Annibale Ilari, who had access to the Vatican Archives. In his written report to the Cardinal Prefect, dated 8/2/83, Mgr Ilari ended with the conclusion:

"I have attached a brief scheme of succession which ties Mgr Linale to the Supreme Pontiffs Benedict XIII, Benedict XIV and Pius IX, with the aim of assuring him that his lineage truly links him to the See of Peter."

In 2002, Cardinal Gagnon [24] was invited to investigate documentation relating to the episcopal orders received by Bishop Andre Letellier, with a view to commenting on the validity of his consecration. Letellier was consecrated on 23 May 1968 by the late Archbishop Andre Leon Zotique Barbeau of the Catholic Charismatic Church of Canada. Archbishop Barbeau had in turn been consecrated by Archbishop Charles (Ignatius Carolus) Brearley[25], an English Old Catholic bishop based in Sheffield, UK.

Cardinal Gagnon's statement in part reads "...nothing allows me to doubt the validity of episcopal ordination of Mgr André Letellier by Archbishop André Barbeau and that of Archbishop Barbeau by Archbishop Ignatius Charles Brearley, Primate of the Church of the "Old Catholics" having its seat in England. The ordinations of the "Old Catholics " are generally considered to be the same as those of Orthodox bishops."[26]


Clearly, despite critics, there is incontrovertible evidence that the Apostolic Succession of Arnold Harris Mathew originating from theSee of Utrecht, has been consistently considered "valid" by Vatican officials and Roman Catholic canon lawyers and theologians, [27] irrespective of the excommunication of Mathew by Pius X [see above]. But in all such cases it has been assumed that orthodox praxis and intention has been concurrent with each ordination/consecration and the cases of particular affirmation have only been of individuals known to be conservative in Catholic doctrine. In all above cases too, only the Pontificale Romanum has been used for the Rite of Consecration, other liturgies are not therefore affirmed. It certainly cannot be assumed that the arguments and affirmations detailed here are in any way applicable "across the board" to other groups outside the Old Roman Catholic tradition, most especially those whose teachings are not consistent with orthodox and conservative Catholic doctrine. Similarly, though the canonical principles above may be applied to other scenarios, the conclusions rely inherently on orthodox Catholic praxis and would not apply to those demonstrably apostate or heretical by comparison to traditional Catholic doctrine.

It is generally suggested that a Roman Catholic may fulfill his Holy Day of Obligation by attending Mass celebrated by an Old Roman Catholic priest if unable to attend a Roman Catholic Mass.[28] The Roman Catholic Church teaches, "The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches" in the 2000 declaration, Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This speaks primarily to the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, but also to "separated churches in the West", which is understood to be a reference to Old Catholics.[29]


  1. Urs Küry: "The Old Catholic Church. Their history, their teaching, their concerns." Complemented and provided with a third addendum Edition. Page 97 Dr. Urs Küry was a professor at the University of Bern and former bishop of the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland
  2. Über die sogenannten "Vagantenbischöfe" by Matthias Niche
  3. Saepius Officio, Answer of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Bull Apostolicae Curae of H. H. Leo XIII, 19 February 1897 (Latin original) (English translation).
  4. Urs Küry: "The Old Catholic Church. Their history, their teaching, their concerns." Complemented and provided with a third addendum Edition. Page 109
  5. Christoph Schuler: The Mathew Affair. The failure to Establish an Old Catholic Church in England in the context of Anglican Old Catholic relations between 1902 and 1925 Stichting Centraal oud Katholiek Boekhuis, Amersfoort 1997
  6. Über die sogenannten "Vagantenbischöfe" by Matthias Niche
  7. This is “the queen of pre­sump­tions, which holds the act or contract as valid, until inva­lidity is proved.” Wanenmaker, Canonical Evidence in Marriage Cases, (1935),408.
  8. “…tum quia actus, praesertim adeo solemnis qualis est ordina­tio, habendus est ut validus, donec invaliditas non evincatur.”Cardinal Gasparri, (also compiler of the Code of Canon Law), Tractatus de Sacra Ordinatione (1893), 1:970
  10. Leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology, (1956) 482 quoted by Cekada, Anthony. “The Validity of the Thuc Consecrations.”Sacerdotium 3, Spring, 1992
  11. Brief Alias, 27 February 1660. “Quantum spectat ad sacramentum et impressionem characteris fuisse validam.” "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  12. De Synodo Diocesana 13.13.9-10. “…consecrationem hujusmodi validam, licet illicitam, esse censuerunt… ratam firmamque, sed illicitam Consecrationem pronuntiavit.” Benedict’s emphasis, quoting Clement’s decree of 26 November 1718. "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  13. D. Bouix, Tractatus de Episcopo (Paris: Ruffet 1873), 1:243. “Sed etiamsi fiat consecratio absque ullis assistentibus, et absque obtenta Pontificia dispensatione, adhuc valida erit.” "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  14. E. Regatillo, Interpretatio et Jurisprudentia Codicis J.C. (Santander: Sal Terrae 1953), 465. “Unus episcopus sufficit ad validitatem consecrationis, dummodo ritum essentialem cum debita intentione ponat. Idque etsi sine pontificia dispensatione unicus sit qui consecrationi intersit.” "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  15. Can 2219 §3. Non licet poenam de persona ad personam vel de casu ad casum producere, quamvis par adsit ratio, imo gravior, salvo tamen praescripto can. 2231. Codex Iuris Canonici 1917 "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada 
  16. i.e. a prohibition from licitly exercising orders. “Those who presume to receive orders from one who is excommunicated, or suspended, or interdicted, after a declaratory sentence has been passed upon him, or from a notorious apostate, heretic, or schismatic, ipso facto incur a suspension a divinis reserved to the Holy See; one who in good faith is ordained by any such person is forbidden to exercise the orders so received until he shall be dispensed.” Can 2375. Catholici qui matrimonium mixtum, etsi validum, sine Ecclesiae dispensatione inire ausi fuerint, ipso facto ab actibus legitimis ecclesiasticis et Sacramentalibus exclusi manent, donec ab Ordinario dispensationem obtinuerint. Codex Iuris Canonici 1917 "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  17. Can 2261 §1. Prohibetur excommunicatus licite Sacramenta et Sacramentalia conficere et ministrare salvis exceptionibus quae sequuntur. §2. Fideles, salvo praescripto §3, possunt ex qualibet iusta causa ab excommunicato Sacramenta et Sacramentalia petere, maxime si alii ministri desint, et tunc excommunicatus requisitus potest eadem ministrare neque ulla tenetur obligatione causam a requirente percontandi. Codex Iuris Canonici 1917 "The Great Excommunicator" by Rev. Anthony Cekada
  18. Canon 2258.2 §2. Nemo est vitandus, nisi fuerit nominatim a Sede Apostolica excommunicatus, excommunicatio fuerit publice denuntiata et in decreto vel sententia expresse dicatur ipsum vitari debere, salvo praescripto can. 2343, §1, n. 1. Codex Iuris Canonici 1917
  19. In 1145 Bl. Eugene III granted the Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht the perpetual right to elect their own bishops. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council (Canons 23 and 24) confirmed this privilege. In In 1520, Pope Leo X decreed in his papal bull [Debitum Pastoralis] that the Bishop of Utrecht, his successors, his clergy, and his laity should never be tried by an external tribunal of canon law. If any such proceedings did take place they were null and void.
  20. Reprinted from "An Episcopal Odyssey" by Arnold Harris Mathew, Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Rite in Great Britain and Ireland, November 1, 1915
  21. ORCC GB website
  22. Biography details
  23. Édouard Gagnon (January 15, 1918 – August 25, 2007) was a Canadian Roman Catholic cardinal and President of the Pontifical Council for the Family for 16 years, from 1974 to 1990. He became a cardinal on May 25, 1985.
  24. Brearley had been consecrated by Matthew Cooper, who had been consecrated by James Bartholomew Banks, who had been consecrated by Frederick Samuel Willoughby, who had been consecrated by Mathew
  25. "To whom it may concern: After having studied the documentation about Mgr André Letellier and his predecessors in episcopal succession, I am convinced that he has been validly consecrated a bishop. It is not my intention to rule on the reports of the organization, incorporated under the name of Catholic Charismatic Church of Canada with the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada and of Québec. But nothing allows me to doubt the validity of episcopal ordination of Mgr André Letellier by Archbishop André Barbeau and that of Archbishop Barbeau by Archbishop Ignatius Charles Brearley, Primate of the Church of the "Old Catholics" having its seat in England. The ordinations of the "Old Catholics " are generally considered to be the same as those of Orthodox bishops. I have known Archbishop Barbeau for more than 60 years since our time at the Grand Seminary of Montreal. I have had little contact with him thereafter, having exercised my ministry far from here. But he has always been known to me as a man of prayer, a mystic. And I think that his disciples are also, above all, men of prayer. + Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, p.s.s. Montreal, 6 May 2002" For further details, and a copy of the statement, see
  26. The Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly affirmed its recognition of the validity of the Orders and Sacraments of the Old Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. See Addis and Arnold's Roman Catholic Dictionary, which says of this Church: “They have retained valid Orders... We have been unable to discover any trace of heresy in these books,” (i.e. Those officially ordered for use in the Old Roman Catholic Church). A Catholic Dictionary, by Donald Attwater, bearing the imprimatur of Cardinal Hayes of New York, states of the Old Roman Catholic Church: “Their orders and sacraments are valid.” Another statement concerning the Old Roman Catholic Church, appears in the work by Father Konrad Algermissen, Christian Denominations, published in 1948 and bearing the imprimatur of John Cardinal Glennon of St. Louis: “The North American Old Roman Catholic Church (has) received valid episcopal consecration...”(p. 363). In 1928, The Far East magazine, published by the St. Columban Fathers of St. Columban's, Nebraska, answered an inquiry concerning the validity of orders conferred in the North American Old Roman Catholic Church. The magazine article mentions Archbishop Carfora favorably and states that: “these orders are valid...”(p. 16. Jan. 1928 issue). “We have no reason to doubt that the Old Catholic Orders are valid. The Apostolic Succession does not depend on obedience to the See of Peter, but rather on the objective line of succession from apostolic sources, the proper matter and form, and proper intention…likewise Old Catholic Bishops are bishops in Apostolic Succession…The Old Catholics,, like Orthodox, possess a valid priesthood.“ [William J. Whalan, pp204,248] “Catholics may receive the Eucharist, penance, or anointing from sacred ministers of Catholic denominations whose Holy Orders are considered valid by the Roman Catholic Church. This includes all Eastern Orthodox priests, as well as priests of the Old Catholic or Polish National Church.” [Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., p.44]
  27. “The principal condition is that these sacraments can be received only from validly ordained ministers. These are ministers who belong to “churches that have preserved the substance of the Eucharistic teaching, the sacraments of orders, and apostolic succession” This would include all Eastern non - Catholic churches, the Polish National Church, Old Catholic, and Old Roman Catholic." [The Pastoral Companion – A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry – Third Edition [1997] by John M. Huels,J.C.D. page 335]
  28. Dominus Iesus, 17 and footnote 59

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