Liberal Catholic Church
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 conscience.

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) Orders.


Church History
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.


Church Structure
The 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
The 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
The 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.

First Schism
In 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 division.
* Theosophist: one who believes it is possible to achieve knowledge of God by spiritual ecstacy, contemplation or direct intuition.

Legal battle in the US
The 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. Pigott 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, the 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 independently.


Another Schism
In 2003 a controversial change took place in the Liberal Catholic Church Worldwide. There were two main issues: first the limitation of the right 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.

In 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
In 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 and growing.
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.

Lin
ks
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
Young Rite

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