Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Christianity » Church Divisions » Catholic » Denominations » Old Catholic

Old Catholic churches are an outgrowth of the Old Catholic movement in the See of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Conflicts between Dutch Catholics and the Church, over such issues as original sin, human depravity, predestination, and grace, resulted in a schism within the Church in Holland.

A significant number of mostly Swiss, German and Austrian priests also refused to accept the doctrine of papal infallibility and were excommunicated in 1871, many of them presiding over churches that no longer looked to Rome for authority. Some of these later joined with Anglican or Orthodox bodies but others continued as Old Catholic Church bodies.

The Declaration of Utrecht was issued as the doctrinal statement of the Old Catholic Church in 1889, affirming the main lines of the Catholic tradition up to the year 1000, but rejecting several of the more recent doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, especially papal infallibility, the immaculate conception of Mary, and the celibacy of priests.

The Old Catholic Church maintains that the five patriarchal Sees of the ancient Church remain the equal heads of the Church.

The Slavic branch of the Old Catholic Church has a separate history. In the United States, the Old Catholic movements originated from Pére Joseph René Vilatte in Wisconsin, where several parishes were organized. Another group of English-speaking Old Catholics was brought together in Illinois by Augustine de Angelis, a former Roman Catholic monk. The Old Catholic episcopacy in the United States was established in 1914. However, this body split into several ecclesial bodies, not all of them recognized by European Old Catholics, the major ones being the Old Catholic Church of America, the Old Roman Catholic Church of North America, the North American Old Catholic Church, the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, and the Old Roman Catholic Church (English Rite). Old Catholics sometimes represent a conservative form of Catholicism, although some are quite liberal.


Polish National Catholic Church



Feature Article

Is Mel Gibson an Old Catholic?

old catholic

The first time that I heard about the Old Catholic movement, it was in reference to the actor and producer, Mel Gibson. The story was that Gibson was a member of a sect that left the Roman Catholic Church over the changes that the Church had made in Vatican II. As I heard it, Mel Gibson's father had been instrumental in forming the group that broke away from Rome because he and his followers disagreed on the modernization that was made to the Church with Vatican II, primarily the Latin Rite.

One of the things that I enjoy about being an editor for a web directory is that I am able to learn about a lot of things that I might not otherwise be exposed to and, in this case I learned that this wasn't correct. Actually, Mel Gibson was raised in a sect of the Traditionalist Catholic movement, which is the sect that does not accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, has indeed been outspoken in his criticism of the liberal changes that were made to the Church, and has identified with the Traditionalist Catholic movement. But I don't know that it's fair to say that he was a founder, or that either Mel or his father are poster children for the movement.

In other words, the answer to the opening question is no, Mel Gibson is not an Old Catholic. He is a Traditionalist Catholic, and many of his religious views are perhaps independent of that movement as well.

Who are the Old Catholics?

The Old Catholics are much older than the Traditionalist Catholics. The split between Roman Catholicism and Old Catholicism has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. The Dutch became used to being on its own, as they were pretty much ignored by the Holy See. In 1125, the Roman Catholic pope, whom the Old Catholics view merely as the Bishop of Rome, referred to the Dutch church as independent, granting it the right to name and ordain its own bishops, making the Bishop of Utrecht the head of the Dutch Catholic Church. This was confirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

Relations were amicable, and both the Roman Catholic and the Dutch Catholic churches considered themselves to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Changes in doctrine imposed by Rome were not forced on Catholics in the Netherlands. This changed in 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared himself to be infallible, with the entire Church subservient to Rome. In this case, the issue was over the Immaculate Conception. Pope Pius declared that the Immaculate Conception was the dogma of the Church, mandating that all Catholics accept the teaching. The larger issue wasn't over the Immaculate Conception, however. The essential dispute was over the idea of papal infallibility, with all other bishops answerable to the Bishop of Rome.

During the First Vatican Council of 1868, those bishops who disagreed with papal infallibility walked out, and the issue passed with a unanimous vote of those who remained. Several of the bishops who had walked out of First Vatican Council went to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands and requested to be added to their communion. Thus began the Old Catholic Church.

The Old Catholic Church does not consider itself to have broken away with Rome - rather, they believe that it was the Roman Catholic Church that broke away, through the introduction of new doctrine that was unsupported by either Scripture or tradition.

Vatican Two had nothing to do with it. In fact, most Old Catholic churches are more liberal than the Roman Catholic Church, welcoming LGBT members and women to the clergy, allowing priests to marry, and using common language liturgies long before the the Second Vatican Council introduced the practice to Roman Catholicism. With the changes brought about by Vatican II, many traditionalist Catholic churches have sought and received closer relations with Rome, and some are now in full communion with Rome.

Mel Gibson, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the Old Catholic Church, and never has.

Recommended Resources

Search for Old Catholic on Google or Bing