The Liberal Catholic Church is open to theosophical ideas. It is not related to the Roman Catholic Church and has its own administration. The title Liberal Catholic Church is used by various separate and independent denominations throughout the world. Due to differences, division and disagreement, the Liberal Catholic Church has split - into several groups - each still working to the Liberal Catholic tenets, but each feeling its need to work freed from the restraints that group felt it was under. It is an independent and autonomous church, an independent See or authority of its own administration. It is a church which encourages open minds and free thinking: in a catholic setting this was never going to be easy and the divisions should not be a surprise. However, even with its divisions, has a full and noble contribution to make to the spectrum of Christianity. One area of division has been over the ordination of women: it is not the only church divided on this issue.
The Church is called Liberal
Catholic because its outlook is both liberal and Catholic. Catholic
means universal, but the word has also come to stand for the outlook
and practice of the historical church. The Liberal Catholic Church
allies itself with this historical tradition. It combines the Catholic
form of worship - its stately ritual, its deep mysticism, and its
abiding witness to the reality of sacramental grace - with the widest
measure of intellectual liberty and respect for the individual
The Liberal Catholic Church came into existence as
the result of a complete reorganization in 1915-16 of the Old Catholic
movement in Great Britain upon a more liberal basis. This Church
derived its Orders from the Mother See of the Old Catholic movement,
the ancient archepiscopal See of Utrecht in Holland. The Liberal
Catholic Church has carefully preserved this succession of (Apostolic)
The founding bishop of The Liberal
Catholic Church was J. I. Wedgwood (of the Wedgwood China family),
former priest in The Anglican Church, who became a theosophist and was
ordained priest in the Old Catholic Church on July 22, 1913 by Arnold
Harris Mathew. Archbishop Mathew was a resigned Roman Catholic priest
who had been consecrated by Archbishop Gerardus Gul of Utrecht on April
28, 1908, and appointed as the first Old Catholic Bishop in England.
Thus the Liberal Catholic Church claims to trace its apostolic
succession going back to the earliest days in Rome. In time Mathew
broke all ties with the Utrecht Union of Churches, rejoined the Roman
Catholic Church and advised people to resign membership of the
Theosophical Society Adyar, advice which was widely ignored. Wedgwood
was consecrated bishop on February 13, 1916 by Bishop Frederick Samuel
Willoughby (who had himself been consecrated by Bishop Matthew), and
started the organization that would later become the Liberal Catholic
Church, of which Wedgwood became the first Presiding Bishop. Bishop
Wedgwood published articles within the Theosophical Society on
ceremonial work. These interested Charles Webster Leadbeater, an
Anglican priest who was consecrated as a Liberal Catholic bishop in
1916. C. W. Leadbeater became the 2nd Presiding Bishop.
Liberal Catholic Church is governed by "General Episcopal Synod": all
the Bishops of the Church. The Synod meets every three years and elects
a Presiding Bishop from among their ranks as the chief executive
officer of the Church. The Synod also elects priests to the
Episcopacy (that is consecrated as bishop), with the approval
of parishes and Provinces. The bishops of The Liberal Catholic
Church may hold office until the mandatory retirement age of 75. Each
Province is governed by a Regionary Bishop who may have one or more
assistant Bishops. A Province may also have its own Clerical Synod of
Deacons, Priests and Bishops. For the most part, these clergy are not
compensated by the Church and so hold secular jobs, hold property and
they also may marry.
Sacraments and Apostolic Succession
Liberal Catholic Church recognizes seven fundamental sacraments:
Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Unction, Holy
Matrimony, Holy Orders. It claims an unbroken apostolic succession
through the Old Catholics, and its orders are valid as those Churches
of Christendom which maintain the Apostolic Succession. The Liberal
Catholic Church emphasises the eternal nature of Christ who ever lives
as a mighty spiritual presence in the world, guiding and sustaining His
people. It recognises
all Christian worship, of whatever tradition, so long as it be earnest
and true. The Liberal Catholic Church believes that Christ is ever
present within His people the Church, in fellowship and Communion, guiding and
protecting them from birth to death.
Unity of All Religions
Liberal Catholic Church believes that there is a body of doctrine and
mystical experience common to all the great religions of the world:
which cannot be claimed as the exclusive possession of any individual
denomination. It holds that the Liberal Catholic church and
the other great religions of the world are divinely inspired, and that
all proceed from a common source, though different religions stress
different aspects of the various teachings and ignoring some aspects.
These teachings, as facts in nature, rest on their own intrinsic merit.
They believe that true Catholic faith is the statement of universal
principles. St. Augustine described it: "The identical thing that
we now call the Christian religion existed among the ancients and has
not been lacking from the beginnings of the human race until the coming
of Christ in the flesh, from which moment on the true religion, which
already existed, began to be called Christian." (Retract I. XIII,3).
And St. Vincent of Lerins: "That let us hold which everywhere, always
and by all has been believed: for this is truly and rightly catholic."
The Liberal Catholic Church, therefore, does not seek to convert people
from one religion to another.
1941, there was a schism in the Liberal Catholic Church in the United
States: Bishop Charles Hampton,
who, while he was himself a theosophist*, wished to keep adherence to
theosophical tenets optional for the clergy. This was consistant with
the original intent of the church's founders, who,
although they were theosophists, wanted the church to be primarily
Catholic and open to everyone. Some branches of the church
place esoteric lifestyle and dietary restrictions on the clergy.
Disagreements over the theosophical depth of the church lead to
Theosophist: one who believes it is possible to achieve knowledge of
God by spiritual ecstacy, contemplation or direct intuition.
Legal battle in the US
controversy surrounding Bishop Hampton led to a legal battle in the
United States, which polarised views and eventually led to two
different divisions, both
of which claimed to be the Liberal Catholic Church. Bishop Frank W.
the church's Presiding Bishop in England, removed Hampton, ordered the
confiscation of certain church property at the Regional headquarters
in California and forced the resignation of those clergy under Hampton
if they refused to support his new episcopal replacement. At the time,
majority of Liberal Catholics in the United States supported Hampton
and saw his removal from office and the other
subsequent precedings as a breach of canon law and a violation of some
of the laws of California under which the church had been incorporated
in America. These clergy (and Hampton) continued on their own and won
the right to be
called the Liberal Catholic Church in the U.S. The Liberal Catholic
Church (US) also had claim to the name outside the United States. The
name adopted for this part was Liberal Catholic Church Worldwide. The
other part of the church being called the
Liberal Catholic Church International.
Both divisions are international and have similar structures of
government and administration. The Liberal Catholic
Church International holds that they are the only Liberal Catholic
Church in The USA with legal right to that name. All other Branches
should actually be called 'Synods' to prevent confusion. However, The
Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the U.S.A. also holds a similar
claim and further owns this latter title as a legally registered
trademark for the United States in the State of Maryland (legally
incorporated in 1919; trademark renewed in 1964). Both these claims are
legally valid with respect to their registered names.There have been attempts at
a reconciliation, and some clergy wish
for more cooperation between the two Divisions, but they still exist
2003 a controversial change took place in the Liberal Catholic Church
Worldwide. There were two main issues: first the limitation of the
of Bishops to ordain candidates of their choice, and secondly the
ordination of women. The
parishes in the Dutch, Belgium and Canada provinces who represented the
"liberal" wing of the Liberal Catholic Church Worldwide, by a vote at
their national convention, declared that
the Episcopal Synod under the jurisdiction of the Rt. Rev. Ian Hooker
no longer represented their rightful government. They elected a new
Episcopal Synod under the presidency of the Rt. Rev. Tom Degenaars.
They still use the name The Liberal Catholic Church because they have
never resigned from the Liberal Catholic Church, they consider their
movement as a Reform. This means in effect that the Liberal Catholic
Church worldwide has itself split into two groups. Several law suits by
bishops of the "Conservative
Wing" have determined that the churches of the Netherlands, Sweden, and
of other countries are the rightful Liberal Catholic Church. The
"Conservative Wing" opened "The Order of Our Lady" as an alternative
for women for seeking ordinations in 2002, which is a lay Order and is
not part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Since both groups call
themselves The Liberal Catholic Church, distinguishing between the two
can be confusing. Significantly, in 2003, the newly elected Episcopal
Synod declared the right of women to be ordained. Other Provinces
joined the new Episcopal Synod: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Cameroon,
and both Congos, and Sweden. Several new congregations have been formed
in England and the USA. The membership of this new movement is
estimated at 50,000 members.
The Liberal Catholic Church International at their General Episcopal
Synod in 2004, the Liberal Catholic Church International also began the
ordination of women up to and including the Order of Bishop.
1982 Ernest W. Jackson had resigned from Province of Canada and
started yet another group called The Liberal Catholic Church -
Theosophia Synod. The
group was always very small, but on May 15, 2005, Presiding Bishop John
Schwarz III vacated his leadership of the Liberal Catholic Church
-Theosophia Synod and joined with the progressive Dutch, Belgium and
Canada branch of the LCC. None of his Bishops and few of the parishes
followed him. Bishops James Lippert of Minnesota, and Judson Saas of
Chicago remained with the Liberal Catholic Church - Theosophia Synod.
One of the Churches most active Parishes, The Church of St. Raphael
Archangel, Orlando Florida, has a strong and very active Ministry, and
continues to grow. The Theosophia Synod while a tiny branch of Liberal
Catholicism, is very much alive and active and is claiming to maintain
the vision of their first Patriarch, Rt. Rev. Ernest W. Jackson which
was to restore The Church to the Spirituality of founders Rt. Rev. C.W.
Leadbeater, and James I. Wedgwood.
However whilst all this was going on, Professor Elizabeth Stuart was ordained Bishop in Britain on the 10th of April, 2003. Having already been ordained through the
minor orders at Winchester, and subsequently to that she
was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood, was consecrated to the episcopate according
to the Liberal Catholic Rite.
Bishop Richard Arthur Palmer former Auxiliary Bishop of the 'Mother'
Liberal Catholic Church in Great Britain consecrated her to the
Episcopate at the chapel of Royal Holloway, Egham assisted by Bishop
Jonathan Blake and Bishop Michael Wilson in the LCC succession. There
was a fourth Bishop in attendance from another succession who also laid
on hands. This consecration was facilitated by 'The Reformed Liberal
Catholic Church (Old Catholic)' through its daughter church, The Open
Episcopal Church. Subsequently Bishop Elizabeth Stuart has, since splitting from
them, become the Archbishop of the British Province of the Liberal
Catholic Church International in Great Britain.
And Another Schism
2006 yet another schism resulted in the formation of a new group called
The Young Rite. The past Presiding Bishop of the "mother" Liberal
Catholic Church, Bishop Johannes van Alphen, who had resigned in
2002, had consecrated Mario Herrera in 2002 who in turn had
consecrated Benito Rodriguez in 2005. These three bishops consecrated
Markus van Alphen, a former priest of the Dutch Liberal Catholic
Church, in June 2006 in Hilversum, The Netherlands. Bishop Markus
started the Young Rite as an autocephalous (which means one which appoints its own leader) group operating within the
Liberal Catholic tradition, yet separate from any of the Liberal
Catholic Church organisations. Although the Young Rite shares many
beliefs and customs with the Liberal Catholic Church and derives its
Apostolic Succession from it, they are not affiliated with or
recognised by any of the Liberal Catholic Church organisations, nor do
these organisations recognise their sacraments and ordinations.
Characteristics of Branches
The most liberal of the Liberal Catholic churches is the Liberal
Catholic Apostolic Church; which is the largest and most prolific of
the movement, with churches and members around the world. They use the
motto 'Ancient in faith, modern in vision' and are embracing, liberal
The Liberal Catholic Church worldwide
requires its clergy to believe in such theosophical tenets as
reincarnation and the ascended masters. It encourages its priests and
its bishops to have a vegetarian diet and to refrain from using tobacco
as well as alcohol. Significantly it also continues to require deacons,
priests and bishops to be male. In this regard, The Liberal Catholic
Church follows the same practise as the Roman Catholic Church and the
Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The reformed movement in Liberal Catholic Church (Dutch, Belgium,
Britain, Canada, Denmark, Sweden), retains the emphasis on the tenets
defined by the founders of the Liberal Catholic Church, but in addition practices
ordination of women.
The Liberal Catholic Church - Theosophia Synod claims
to restore the church to the intentions of and the Spirituality of the
Liberal Catholic founders. It does not ordain women.
The Liberal Catholic Church International
does not as a group require any belief in theosophical tenets, while it
continues to accept them if they are the personal choice of the
individual. The Liberal Catholic Church International practices ordination of women.
Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church
Liberal Catholic Church International
Liberal Catholic Church Province of USA
Liberal Catholic Church UK
Liberal Catholic Church - Theosophia Synod
Liberal Catholic Church Worldwide
St Francis, typical LCC church in US
Reformed Liberal Catholic Church
The Well Chapel UK