The International Catholic Confederation, our Origins and Distinctives.
In order to understand who we are as the International Catholic Confederation, it may be helpful to look into some of our distinctive origins. As with most churches in the Old Catholic Tradition, that story begins with a circuitous route back to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, via a Schism with Rome in 1870.
Old Catholics have lurked on the fringes of Catholicism for more than a century. The name is so similar to our Roman Catholic counterparts, it can be a source of confusion, and some consider us an enigma. Yet beyond the confusion, the story is intriguing. In the tumult of today’s changing church, there may be a cloudy mirror here in which we can see part of ourselves.
“One of the difficulties we’ve had is to properly identify ourselves,” says Bishop Michael Callahan. “One reason” stated Callahan, “is that Old Catholics are a church founded upon schism.”
The schism in questions has its roots the ancient see of Utrecht Holland. Some of the several Old Catholic sites on the Internet mark their independent spirit back to 1145 when Pope Eugene III, at the request of Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III, granted the see of Utrecht the right to elect its own bishops. Utrecht has played its independence card ever since.
In 1520, a Pope Leo X bull gave bishops of Utrecht “the right of adjudication of its own affairs without reference to the tribunals of the Holy See.” All this came home to roost in the years following the Protestant Reformation when through Jesuit lies and other machinations, Utrecht split from Rome, fully embracing its historic independence.
Later, in the wake of the First Vatican Council of 1870 at which Pope Pius IX muscled through the doctrine of papal infallibility, dissension grew among Catholic communities, especially in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Many of these local churches broke away. Ignaz von Döllinger, a professor of church history at the University of Munich, provided theological ballast and leadership. The movement spread to England and beyond, though ironically it fared poorly in England because the Anglican church insisted it had the franchise on disagreement with Rome.
Fast forward to the modern era, an often debated question is “where do you get your authority?” The simple answer to that is that we get our validation directly through Christ via unbroken line of successive bishops. In Catholic theology, this is known as Apostolic succession. This particular history will focus primarily on the most recent few generations of bishops in that line of succession.
Though each National Church in the International Catholic Confederation has their own distinctive apostolic heritage, for this discussion, we’ll look into the Apostolic Succession of Archbishop Michael Callahan, who, like most Old Catholic bishops in the United States trace their apostolic succession back through Arnold Harris Matthew, Earl of Landaff.
Bishop Matthew was consecrated to the episcopacy on April 28, 1909, as Regional Bishop of the Old Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Great Britain. Matthew’s consecration was at the Cathedral of Saint Gertrude, Utrecht, by Dutch Archbishop Geradus Gul, assisted by James John Van Theil, Bishop of Haarlem, Nicholas Bartholomew Peter Spit, Bishop of Deventer, and Joseph Demmel, Regional Bishop of Germany.
Bishop Matthew had been ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Eyre at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, on June 24, 1877. He had received Doctor of Divinity degree from Pope Pius IX.
Archbishop Matthew consecrated to the sacred Episcopacy: Prince de Landas Berghes de Rache, Duc de St. Winock on June 29, 1913, in London England. An Austrian citizen, Bishop De Landas journeyed to the United States when World War I commenced. It was through this Austrian nobleman that apostolic succession was carried to the North American Continent. Before he retired to an Augustinian monastery at Villanova, Pennsylvania, the Prince Bishop consecrated several bishops.
On October 3, 1916, at St. Dunstan’s Abby Chapel, in Waukegan Illinois, the Austrian Prince Bishop consecrated to the sacred Episcopate, Abbot William Henry Brothers.
Then, assisted by Bishop Brothers, Bishop de Landas consecrated to the sacred Episcopate: Carmel Henry Carfora, a priest of the Old Roman Catholic Church, who was consecrated as an Archbishop for Canada on October 4, 1916. This consecration took place at St. Dunan’s Abby in Waukegan, Il. The Most Reverend Carfora, who later became the Archbishop of the North American Old Catholic Church, had been originally consecrated in the Jacobite succession in 1912 by Paola Miraglia-Gulotti. This Episcopal consecration was received at Piacenza, Italy on May 6, 1900, at the hands of Timotheus Vilatte.
Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora consecrated to the sacred episcopate: Jose Macario Lopez Valdes on October 17, 1926, as a bishop for the new Iglesia Ortodoxa Catolica Apostolica Mexicana. Lopez consecrated to the sacred episcopate Alberto Luis Rodriguez y Durand: on March 27, 1930. He assumed office as Bishop Ordinary of Los Angeles for what was then the International Old Catholic Church of America. He consecrated to the sacred episcopate: Emile F. Rodriguez y Fairfield on March 12, 1955.
Bishop Rodriguez y Fairfield consecrated to the episcopate Patrick Joseph Callahan (not related to Archbishop Michael Callahan) on April 17, 1984.
Bishop Callahan consecrated to the sacred episcopate Howard D. Van Orden on October 14, 1984. He then consecrated to the sacred episcopate Mar Kepa (Petros), Eric Tan Ong Veloso on October 30, 1988.
This brings up to a more contemporary time when Bishop Veloso consecrated to the sacred episcopate: James (Mar+Yacob), Juan L. Baladad on January 6, 1991 (d.5/7/17). This consecration was assisted by +Jürgen Bless, +Richard Bridges, +Thomas Silva, +Donald Jolly, and Daniel McArthy as co-consecrators. Juan was originally consecrated as a “Bishop Abbot” by the Most Reverend Paul Schultz.
The Most Reverend Baladad was the founding (presiding) Archbishop of the Catholic Church in America. His history includes Episcopal ties with the Philippine Independent Catholic Church and the Mexican National Catholic Church (thorough Archbishops Emil F. Rodriguez and Paul Schultz) and was the successor to Archbishop Jürgen Bless and the Inter-American Old Catholic Church. We get our ties to the Order of Corporate Reunion, and subsequent lines of succession via Archbishops Rodriguez and Schultz.
Bishop Callahan related that “I’ve had what I consider to be a rare opportunity to be introduced to several men in my apostolic lineage: Jürgen Bless, Patrick Callahan, Paul Shultz, Howard VanOrden, and Eric Ong Veloso.
Through the mystery of faith, apostolic succession links all bishops in time and space. Virtually every bishop has hands laid on him by three other bishops, casting an exponentially large net of spiritual connectivity — reaching virtually every continent, nations, and peoples. God is truly not a respecter of persons, nor does he prefer any particular cultural identity, and neither do we. The Church of God is neither white, black or any shade in-between. The USA has been called the great melting pot due to its cultural diversity, yet for true diversity we must turn to God, and His Church.
Nearly thirty years ago Bishop Callahan was a student in a small, independent church seminary. The Church in which this seminary was attached was beginning its journey into modern, politically correct errors. After completing their course of studies, He left and found another Old Catholic Jurisdiction, which accepted his training, and subsequently was ordained into the priesthood.
This new Church Jurisdiction was known at the time as the Inter-American Old Catholic Church. Their presiding bishop and primate was the Most Reverend Jürgen Bless. Callahan served under Archbishop Bless, as the Associate Pastor of Saint Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Huntington Beach California for several years.
It was in this capacity that Callahan had the additional blessing and pleasure of working with the Most Reverend Juan Baladad. Bishop Baladad, who at that time was an Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Bless, became one of Callahan’s early mentors, as well as a partner in ministry for a time. Bishop Baladad later became the Coadjutor for Archbishop Bless, then succeeded him as primate upon Bless’s passing. Though Callahan would move on to another conservative Jurisdiction for over fifteen years, Archbishop Baladad and he remained friends.
Under Archbishop Bless, the mission and vision of the Inter-American Old Catholic Church were primarily centered around serving immigrant communities from Mexico and South America, though he also ministered to an aging German immigrant community.
Under Archbishop Baladad’s leadership, that focus continued but expanded a bit to include a growing community of Filipino immigrants as well. For a period, Baladad also blended his work with the Mexican National Catholic Church in the United States.
It wasn’t until 2015 that Callahan reconnected with his old friend, and discovered that Bishop Baladad was struggling with multiple health problems. After a period of assisting Juan in ministry for a season, he offered to consecrate Callahan as his Coadjutor and successor. It was at this time that Archbishop Baladad and Bishop Callahan began working on transitioning the Church to a more culturally diverse focus.
It was during this early stage that they began communications with Archbishop Bishop Raphael Fagbohun of the Old Catholic Apostolic Church Nigeria. Our early conversations led to an intercommunion agreement between the CCIA and the OCACN. It is fairly certain that neither Bishop Fagbohun nor Bishop Baladad never anticipated how God would grow this initial relationship agreement.
Shortly after Bishop Baladad’s passing, the CCIA, under now archbishop Callahan began developing relationships with other nations on the African continent. This led to the consecration of Banele Mente to the episcopate for churches in South Africa for the Reformed Ethiopian Catholic Church of Southern Africa. This particular development was probably the true starting point for building a dialog on creating a new, international church jurisdiction.
The vision that Bishop Baladad and Callahan had for the Catholic Church in America was, as the name indicates, was a national vision. Moving forward, it was never their intention to plant mini CCIAs around the world. Understanding that intrinsic limitation Callahan began engaging Bishops Fagbohun and Mente with the idea of starting something new. With their encouragement, they began laying out the groundwork for what emerged in January of 2019, as the International Catholic Confederation.
These three bishops were joined by another bishop in Great Britain, the Most Reverend John Payne, who we’ve developed a relationship with via the Order of Corporate Reunion.
One thing Callahan is big on reminding people of these days is that “if we don’t learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it. One cogent lesson we must grapple with is that the Old Catholic founders failed by not remaining true to their initial principles.
By embracing modernism beginning around the 1970s they lost their way. What did they forget? The number one founding principle of the Union of Utrecht (the original Old Catholics) was a commitment to hold to what has always and everywhere been believed by the Church. In the words of St. Vincent of Lerins, this was the essence of the catholic faith — fidelity to the historic deposit of faith. In that understanding, the Union of Utrecht pledged to remain faithful to the principles of faith developed in the first thousand years of Church history.
Though we are new in origin, our roots are grounded in antiquity. As a confederation of Churches, we are dedicated to maintaining a western-style of Catholic orthodoxy. Our historicity may be found in our fidelity to the teachings of Christ, his Apostles, and the canons of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils. As a particular church, we actively embrace the ancient four marks as stated in the Creed, we are proud, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
We are “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…”
This Stock Phrase typically is used to describe something that is immensely puzzling to figure out or extraordinarily complex to fully understand, often relying on hyperbole and, occasionally, sarcasm. As s such, Callahan routinely uses the above quote, taken in part from a statement made by Sir Winston Churchill in making comparisons to churches in the conservative, “Old Catholic tradition.”
Churches in the conservative “Old Catholic Tradition” such as the Catholic Church in America, the International Catholic Confederation, and others) don’t fit in the neat, tidy, theological boxes that many have constructed for themselves. We are not strictly Orthodox, as those churches are generally identified with an “Eastern” form of Catholicism. Neither do we identify with Protestantism and their distinctive theology. We’re particularly problematic to Roman Catholics who firmly believe that theirs is the only, one, true, Church.
Bishop Callahan related that “I’ve been told by Christians and Catholics alike that we don’t belong.” For many protestant Christians, our salvation is as questionable as the Roman Catholics. For many Roman Catholics, we are simply a different flavor of protestors.
So which is it? Are we Christian, Catholic, or both? The answer boils down to your definition of terms. In defining these terms we must attempt to do so using non-sectarian terms — not always easy to do.
In the most basic sense, to be a Christian is to become a follower of Jesus who is known as the Christ, or Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The earliest followers of Jesus were called his “disciples.”
The word disciple brings us much closer to understanding what it should mean to be a Christian. Disciples are not merely followers, but dedicated believers or dedicated students. In ancient times, the goal was not simply to learn from their teacher or master. Rather, these students sought to master their master’s teachings so well that their words would be virtually indistinguishable from the one who’s feet that they sat. In essence, it was the goal of the true disciples of Christ to become “Christ-like.” We find the term Christian first used in the book of Acts (11:26) in Antioch, for those disciples of Christ, sitting at the feet of Saint Paul. Beyond simply being followers, the term Christian also came to insinuate a certain authenticity.
The first use of the term “Catholic Church,” in common usage, “universal church,” was by the church father, Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (circa 110 AD). Ignatius of Antioch is also attributed to the earliest recorded use of the term “Christianity” (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) in 100 A.D.
The word Catholic (usually written with uppercase C in English; derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “universal”) comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning “on the whole”, “according to the whole” or “in general”, and is a combination of the Greek words κατά meaning “about” and ὅλοςmeaning “whole”. The first use of “Catholic” was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (circa 110 AD). In the context of Christian ecclesiology, it has a rich history and several usages.
The 5th-century monk St. Vincent of Lerins described the Catholic Faith in these terms: “Id Teneamus, quod Ubique, Quod Semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere proprieque catholicum.” [Let us hold to what has been believed everywhere, always, by all; for this is truly and properly catholic.] For St. Vincent, the essence of Catholicism was to be found in conformity to the apostolic teachings and traditions of the ancient church, which had been transmitted and believed by all generations of the Church.
So the first part of the riddle is why aren’t the churches of orthodoxy called “Catholic”? It’s quite simple really, they are not part of the “Latin” tradition of the Church. The Orthodox churches still profess the ancient “Four Marks” of the ancient Church as outlined in the Nicene Creed — “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” They simply opted for different adjectives to describe their practice of faith, one that distinguished them from the modern innovations promulgated by their Latin speaking counterparts.
For St. Vincent, the concept of the term in his usage revolves around the ancient faith of the “whole” undivided Church — every individual parish church, diocese, and patriarchy holding to the same tenets of faith, not just at one point in time, but throughout the history of the Church.
Without connecting the dots and linking the term to the ancient Church, the definition gets diluted. As such, many Protestant denominations that continue to hold to the ancient Nicene Creed substitute the word Christian for Catholic, emphasizing that they no longer truly hold to the tenets of the ancient faith. In a similar line of reasoning, liberal so-called Catholic Churches are abandoning traditional Church teachings, substituting them with modern, politically correct ideals, yet still insists that they are truly Catholic. For many who self-identify as Catholic, there is a huge cognitive and moral dissonance in their understanding of Catholic theology.
When a group no longer follows the teachings handed down to the church from the Apostles and their disciples, they have lost their catholicity. The question Callahan often raises is, “ how much of the ancient faith can you abandon and still claim to be an authentic disciple of Christ? Conversely, the question can be mirrored, how much can be added to the deposit of faith and still have your church considered to be truly Catholic?
Catholicism routinely makes reference to the “mystery of faith.” In truth, we worship a transcendent God who is much more than our finite, earthbound minds can intellectually grasp in entirety. Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again, this is the ancient mystery that has been believed; taken on faith for over 2,000 years. Jesus told Thomas, “because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
I can understand how Old Catholic Traditions may be enigmatic to many. Protestants have abandoned so many ancient apostolic teachings that some wonder if they may even rightly be classified as Christian. While at the same time, The Roman Magisterium has added so many dogmatic articles of faith that some doubt their catholicity.
Rather than striving to start something new, the founders of the International Catholic Confederation have committed to returning to the basics. “The authentic Catholic Church was founded by greater men than any of us,” especially myself, Callahan stated. The Apostles and Fathers of the Church sacrificed their lives for what they believed in. The Church of the first millennium put in a great deal of time and effort defining Christian orthodoxy. In general, neither Protestantism nor Romanism protest against the teachings of the first thousand years. So, the real mystery becomes, why not, for unit sake, aren’t more Christians returning to these ancient principles.
In determining to return to the teachings of antiquity, we are boldly saying NO to modernism, which is in our view is the resurgence of all ancient heresy. Additionally, we are repudiating both Protestant theology which rejects apostolic tradition, and we also reject changes to the practice of faith imposed by Rome post, Great Schism, in 1054ad. In particular, we reject the requirements for salvation dogmatically decreed at the First Vatican Council as “new innovations” which were never previously part of the ancient, historic deposit of Faith.