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Old Catholic Church


The purpose of this column/FAQS is to educate site visitors on which churches, organizations, etc. are in Communion with the Catholic Church. The following letter was written in 2000, but still holds true today:

April 3, 2000

TO:Pastors, Administrators, and Pastoral Coordinators
FM: Reverend Gerard M. Lopez
RE: Instruction on Old Catholic Church Groups in the Diocese of San Bernardino

Recently, there have been a number on inquiries regarding Old Catholic churches operating in the Diocese. The secular media have covered different stories regarding these church groups. In some cases, there has been a certain amount of confusion resulting from the public statements of representatives of these church groups.

This instruction seeks to answer some questions that may be in the minds of the Christian faithful here in the Diocese. Pastors, Administrators, and Pastoral Coordinators of parishes in the Diocese are strongly encouraged to publish and disseminate this information in their church bulletins. Further questions may be submitted to the Office of the Moderator of the Curia.

  1. "What is the origin of these Old Catholic groups? Are they truly Catholic churches? "

    Old Catholic church groups are various national churches that at different times have formally separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church. There are three main groups of Old Catholics: the church of Utrecht in Holland separated from Rome in 1724; German, Austrian, and Swiss Old Catholics were organized in opposition to the teachings of Vatican Council I in 1870; Slavic Old Catholics, mainly in Poland and Croatia and the former Yugoslav republic, came into existence in America because of a refusal to accept clerical celibacy. The teaching basis of the Old Catholic church groups is the Declaration of Utrecht of 1889. This Declaration rejects the teaching office of the Pope and supports married clergy. Thus, these Old Catholic church groups are totally separated from the Roman Catholic Church. These Old Catholic groups and their religious leaders are NOT IN COMMUNION WITH THE BISHOP OF ROME, POPE JOHN PAUL II.

    The Christian faithful of the Diocese are advised that not all church groups that use the word "Catholic" or even "Roman Catholic" in their title are in communion with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. Likewise, these church groups are not under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Catholic Bishop, Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes. Though they can legally use the title "Catholic" for secular purposes, these church groups have broken away from the Roman Catholic Church because they reject important teachings mandated by the First and Second Vatican Councils.'

  2. "Is it trite when Old Catholic ministers claim their sacraments are considered valid by our Church" Only a handful of sacraments of Protestant churches are considered valid by the Roman Catholic Church. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does accept the Christian baptism of several Protestant denominations (e.g., Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and etc.). 2 However, the baptisms of other denominations are not be accepted as valid (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Quakers, and etc.).3 To determine if a sacrament is valid, it is important to study the situation on a case by case basis. It IS INCORRECT TO SAY THAT ALL SACRAMENTS OF THE OLD CATHOLIC CHURCH ARE CONSIDERED VALID IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. The sacraments and rites of an Old Catholic church group may appear identical in form and language to those of the Roman Catholic Church. However, these Old Catholic rituals lack the essential unity with the Roman Catholic faith and tradition of the last 2000 years.

  3. "Can a Roman Catholic knowingly and validly receive the sacraments of the Old Catholic church groups? "

    The Universal Church Law, the Code of Canon Law, very clearly teaches that Roman Catholics, the faithful of Christ, are morally bound and obligated to preserve their communion with the Church at all times, especially in their acts of public worship (Canon 209, section 1). Therefore, it is not permissible for Roman Catholics to join these Old Catholic groups. To join and actively participate in these groups is to separate oneself from the life and union of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Also, Church Law teaches clearly that the Catholic members of Christ's faithful may lawfully receive the sacraments only from lawfully recognized and approved priests of the Roman Catholic Church. (Canon 844, section 1). This is most especially the case for the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Mass.4 A Roman Catholic who knowingly and consciously receives the sacraments of any Old Catholic church group formally and publicly destroys their unity of faith, worship, and life that exists with the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, it is very important to understand this fact: Even if a certain Old Catholic sacrament were valid, the Roman Catholic faithful are not permitted to receive such a sacrament lawfully and legitimately.5

  4. "Old Catholic church groups claim that because they have former validly ordained Roman Catholic priests as ministers, this means that their sacraments are just as valid as Roman Catholic sacraments. Is this true? "

    Priestly ordination is a permanent and valid sacramental action. Merely because a priest joins another church group does not mean he ceases being a validly ordained priest. However, in order to function and serve the community, a Roman Catholic priest needs special permissions called "faculties" in order to function validly and lawfully. No minister of the Old Catholic church possesses faculties from the local Roman Catholic Bishop to administer any sacrament to any Roman Catholic member of the Bishop's Diocese.

    Also, any Roman Catholic priest who formally joins another religion (either Christian or non-Christian), such as the Old Catholic church, is formally and totally separating himself from communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the tradition and primacy of the Pope. Church Law clearly teaches that such priests are forbidden to celebrate the sacraments and exercise any church office for the benefit of the people (Canon 1331, section 1, nos. 2 and 3; also, Canon 1336, section 1, nos. 1, 2, 3).

  5. "If a Roman Catholic knowingly and consciously joins an Old Catholic church group or celebrates their sacraments, is there any spiritual harm? "

    Yes, there is serious spiritual harm if a Roman Catholic abandons the faith and joins such an Old Catholic church group. To join such a church group means that a person is rejecting their Roman Catholic faith. Church Law clearly states that such a person officially and automatically separates him/herself from communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This can lead to what is called a "latae sententiae" excommunication (Canon 1364).

    In addition, even if a Roman Catholic does not officially join these Old Catholic groups, but merely participates in their religious rituals, there also is serious spiritual harm. Church Law teaches that a serious penalty can be applied to those who participate in the prohibited religious rites of these Old Catholic church groups. Such participation is serious and not to be taken lightly. (Canon 1365).

  6. "How can a person reconcile themselves to the Roman Catholic Church if they have previously joined such an Old Catholic group or participated in such prohibited religious rites? "

    The reconciliation and the lifting of any penalty for separation can normatively be achieved through the Office of the Bishop of a Diocese (Canon 1355). Persons in this situation are encouraged to contact their local parish priest or Pastor who will assist in the process of reconciliation and re-union with the Roman Catholic Church. Persons who persist in separating themselves from total and complete communion with the Roman Catholic Church may not participate in the sacraments and sacramentals of the Church. (Canon 1331, section 1, no. 2). They need to be reconciled first through the sacrament of Penance (Confession). [Cf., Canon 1357].

  7. "What is the Diocese's position on the Pathfinder Renewal Center ministry and the ministry of Reverend Ned Reidy located in Palm Desert? "

    As was stated and explained in the diocesan memorandum of February 18, 2000 Reverend Ned Reidy is no longer officially connected to the Diocese of San Bernardino or the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He officially resigned from the Holy Cross Order. The Holy Cross Order no longer will grant him faculties to function as a recognized Roman Catholic priest. Also, the Diocese of San Bernardino wishes to alert the Roman Catholic faithful that he is no longer considered a priest in good standing, and he is not to portray himself as a Roman Catholic priest in good standing. The Diocese also instructs the Catholic faithful that they may not participate in any religious rites, services, Pathfinder retreats, or any type of religious ritual that he performs or sponsors. Pastors are strongly encouraged to explain this prohibition to their parishioners and staff. In particular, parish groups, catechists, candidates for Confirmation, and members of parish youth groups MAY NOT participate in Reverend Reidy's Pathfinder Retreats.

    The Pathfinder Renewal Center is an Old Catholic church group. It has no recognition or support from the Diocese of San Bernardino. It is not a ministry of the Newman Center. It should not portray itself as a Newman Center ministry in any way or form. The Roman Catholic faithful, through this Instruction, are prohibited from joining or formally affiliating themselves with this church group. The Roman Catholic faithful are also prohibited from participating in any religious rites and services of this Old Catholic church group. Public and conscious participation in the Pathfinder Renewal Center church group will be seen as a public act of separation and abandonment of the Roman Catholic faith. Persons persisting in joining or worshiping in this Old Catholic group are also prohibited from celebrating any sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church. Such persons must first seek the sacrament of Reconciliation from the local parish priest. Such persons must also be re-united into the life of the Church through the Office of the Diocesan Bishop.


The Universal Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (CCC) states: "In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church. The liturgical assembly derives its unity from the `communion of the Holy Spirit' who gathers the children of God into the one Body of Christ. This assembly transcends racial, cultural, social -indeed, all human affinities." (CCC 1097). It is hoped that this Instruction will allow the Roman Catholic faithful of the Diocese to appreciate the unity of worship and teaching we have from the Roman Catholic Church. The prayer of Christ himself is that "they may all be one," a prayer for the New Millenium. (John 17: 22) May the unity of our common tradition prevail over misconceptions and errors that so often have confused the members of the Diocese.


  1. There are different types of Old Catholic church groups in operation in the United States. For a lengthy, yet partial, listing of these church groups, please contact the Office of the Moderator of the Curia.

  2. The following are some non-Catholic churches which have valid baptism: all Eastern non-Catholics, Adventists, African Methodist Episcopal, Amish, Anglican, Assembly of God, Baptists, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of the Brethren, Church of God, Congregational Church, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Evangelical Churches, Evangelical United Brethren, Liberal Catholic Church, Lutherans, Methodists, Church of the Nazarene, Old Catholics, Old Roman Catholics, Polish National Church, Presbyterian Church, Reformed Churches, United Church of Christ.

    The validity of Mormon baptisms (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is doubtful. The Holy See has ruled in 1991 that there are not sufficient grounds to say that Mormion baptisms are invalid. Nevertheless, the Holy See does permit conditional baptism of Mormons who desire to become Roman Catholics. With regards to marriage cases, Mormon baptism is presumed to be valid. (Source: The Pastoral Companion, John M. Huels, OSM, JCD, page 342; 1995 edition)

  3. The following are churches without valid baptism: Apostolic Church, Bohemian Free Thinkers, Christadelphians, Christian Community, Christian Scientists, Church of Divine Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Masons, Church of the New Jerusalem, Pentecostal churches, Peoples Church of Chicago, Quakers, Salvation Army, Unitarians. (Source: The Pastoral Companion, John M. Huels, OSM, JCD, page 342; 1995 edition)

  4. Also, please see "Guidelines for the Reception of Communion," issued in 1996 by the United States Catholic Conference. A copy is on file with the Office of the Moderator of the Curia and the Office of Worship.

  5. An exception to this general rule is found in Canon 844, section 2. The circumstances of this exception, however, are very narrowly defined and are very specific, extremely limited, and very strictly applied. For further information, please consult the Office of the Moderator of the Curia and the Office of Canonical Services.

Additional Acknowledgements:
The following persons were consulted in the preparation of this Instruction: Reverend Monsignor Philip A. Behan, JCL; Very Reverend Anthony T. Ferrero, JCL, VF; Mr. Stephen H. Osborn, JD, JCL; Very Reverend Steven C. Porter, STL, VF.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved