A recent news story caught my eye, starting as it did with the pejorative term, schismatic, and going downhill in accuracy and completeness from there. In doing so, it did Pope Francis a grave disservice by presenting for the world to see yet another example of how the Roman denomination has sub groups within it that He can’t or won’t supervise and manage.

The story as written by Catholic News Agency.com (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-reaches-out-to-schismatic-old-catholic-church-28251 ) is biased, inflammatory, and, in the end, most hurtful to the one man they have sworn to obey and follow: Francis. Back to the confessional with you folks…pride, lying, and gluttony for hits on Facebook are still sins, no matter what denomination you belong to.

While there are many excellent books about the history of the unique type of Catholic life that developed in the Netherlands in the early centuries of Christianization, for now even the very simplistic wikipedia entry will suffice to highlight the truth:

“The term Old Catholic Church originated with groups which separated from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines, primarily concerned with papal authority. These churches are not in full communion with the Holy See of Rome, but their Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches is in full communion with the Anglican Communion[1] and a member of the World Council of Churches.[2]

Four disputes set the stage for an independent Bishopric of Utrecht: the Concordat of Worms, the First Lateran Council and Fourth Lateran Council, and the concession of Pope Leo X. In the 12th century, there occurred the Investiture Controversy where the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope fought over who could appoint Bishops. In 1122, the Concordat of Worms[7] was signed, making peace. The Emperor renounced the right to invest ecclesiastics with ring and crosier, the symbols of their spiritual power, and guaranteed election by the canons of cathedral or abbey and free consecration. The Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II ended the feud by granting one another peace. The Concordat was confirmed by the First Council of the Lateran[8] in 1123.

The Fourth Lateran Council[9] in 1215 re-enforced the right of all Cathedral Chapters to elect their bishops. Philip of Burgundy, 57th Bishop of Utrecht (1517–1524), through a family connection with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, secured a significant concession from Pope Leo X, granting internal autonomy in both church and temporal affairs for himself and his successors without interference from outside their jurisdictional region. This greatly promoted the independence of the See of Utrecht, so that no clergy or laity from Utrecht would ever be tried by a Roman tribunal.

The Vaticanite Catholic Churches cannot have it both ways. Either they decide, once and for all, that if a previous Pope decided something, it cannot be changed – or they must concede that it can. This means that if they are going to insist that because JPII said “No female priests” and stick to it, then they have to abide by the decision made by Pope Leo X that the Old Catholic Churches that descended from Utrecht are NOT schismatics at all, and are in fact completely separate from the Vatican governance system.

This is a completely different situation, and one much more ancient, than the one that exists between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. It is also distinct from the situation that exists between the Vaticanite Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Catholic Churches.

It is important to remember here that the Zurich Nota of 1968 includes the following “when on the part of the Roman Catholics it was established with reference to the Old Catholic churches that “they possess true sacraments, above all – by virtue of apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist. Likewise a very close communion exists between the Old Catholic churches and the Roman Catholic church in matters of faith” (ZN 2).

Also, as in The Church And Eccesial Communion – Report of the International Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue Commission, section 29, we would do well to remember “In regard to the position of the pope as the bearer of a universal primacy, the constantly recurring expression primus inter pares makes it clear that the primacy must work within the sphere of synodality and collegiality of the local churches and their bishops; more precisely, it is seen in the light of a local church theology, or of the “patriarchal constitution” of the ancient Church, so that the pope in fact exercises the primacy as the first among the patriarchs.

In other words:

James, Brother of the Lord (The FIRST bishop – anywhere, as he was the leader of the Jewish Jesus followers in Jerusalem) did not have the right to just arbitrarily tell Paul to force new gentile converts to get circumcised. He had to gather the members of the Jerusalem group of Jesus followers, and hold what became known as the very first Council – the First Council of Jerusalem. Even then, he did not have the authority to just tell Paul that eating non-kosher food was ok.

Not only did it take the entire assembly, but they also had to wait for a sign of the Holy Spirit in action pointing them in the direction they were supposed to go. In that case, Peter got the job.

“About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. Acts 11, 9:16, NRSVCE via Biblegateway.com

The Pope/Roman Bishop of Rome/Pontifus Maximus has NEVER had the power or the authority to speak for ALL Catholics, and never will. It is entirely fine for the Vaticanite Chruches to CHOOSE to have a belief/dogma that when the Pope/Roman Bishop of Rome/Pontifus Maximus speaks to them from the Chair of Peter on matters of faith or morals that He is infallible. It is entirely fine for those Vaticanite Catholics to hold a belief that they, as serfs under the king/Caesar, must render unto him complete obedience to whatever he decides to say. This is a cherished thing among some of the Romans, and among some of the other Catholic denominations that have CHOSEN to be led by the Vaticanite system.

But from the earliest days, and from the first council, no one human was in charge. The only head of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church is Jesus Christ and the ENTIRE body of the Church, from the highest Pope to the most lowly, most poor, newly baptized baby girl.

Pope Francis was right in saying that Old Catholics (both the Utrechtian ones in Europe, who he directly a spoke to here, and the non-Utrechtian ones in Europe and around the world can and should continue “to persevere in substantive theological dialogue” and to continue to pray and work together towards a deeper conversion in Christ. He is absolutely correct in saying “the Churches ought to work to address the spiritual crises and needs of the world, particularly in Europe.”

There is much that the Vatican can learn from the Old Catholic Church, most especially such basics as how to run their checkbook without having full of money from the mafia’s drugs, prostitution, and other illegal activities. The Vatican led denominations could gain immeasurable gain from simply having the Vatican Accountants spend a couple years being taught by the ones in Utrecht. So too, could the Vatican led churches learn from the Old Catholics of Utrecht and elsewhere how to develop a clergy system that breaks the centuries old stain on Pauline Catholicism of pedophilia. Before you rush out to crucify me, remember: if there were limericks being composed in Ireland in the 1700 warning mothers not to let their altar boy sons get TOO attached to the local priest, then there are a whole lot of us Catholics in a whole lot of denominations that have pedophilia by heterosexual male clergy somewhere in our family tree. It is a problem we all have to be aware of and make sure we change within each and every denomination. The Utrechtian Old Catholic Churches have had a fairly admirable record of developing a culture where there is no barrier to a child speaking up in the rare instance of a clergy person committing abuse. Having Vatican staff spend a few years with Union of Utrecht staff would be a good thing.

The theological differences are much larger in the rear-view-mirror that pervades and distorts inter-denomination Catholic thought than they are in reality. Female clergy is a denominational decision, period. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Universal Church. Who gets ordained is not what is important – it is what fruit that ordination brings that matters. Considering that the Old Catholics have parishes that are 400+ families strong in some areas, a history that is unique and as old or older than many Vaticanite denominations, and that the one See of Utrecht has given birth to hundreds of denominations of Catholic Churches that are actively bringing forth the Kingdom of God and growing is proof enough that GOD is quite satisfied with what he has wrought by taking some parts of the Roman Catholic Church, some parts of the Anglicans, Orthodox, and Celtics, and created an entirely new family of Catholics.

Paul Tillich, in “A History of Christian Thought” wrote “Reality precedes thought; it is equally true, however, that thought shapes reality. They are interdependent; one cannot be abstracted from the other. We should remember this when we come to the discussions on the trinity and christology.” It might do us good to remember that this is just as true when it comes to denominational relations.

Catholics are one Church – Catholic, Holy, Apostolic, Universal. One of the older brother’s top guy has decided that he wants to see if he and one of the younger siblings can work together to help the masses of people in Europe who are hungry for Christ. By all means he should be encouraged in doing this. He also wants to continue to have long conversations with the younger sibling about what each of them believe, and how it compares to his same-age Orthodox brother and the far more ancient brothers, the Thomas Christians, Eithopian Catholics, Gnostic Catholics, and Coptic Catholics.

Pope Francis is correct that Europe needs Catholicism – and Jesus. He is right that if you are the one standing in front of the elephant, holding the trunk, it can seem mighty confusing to discover that the blind guy next to you is holding an ear. That does not however mean that the Older Brother holding the trunk gets to declare the entire elephant is in fact a snake. Thought and reality are interdependent. The more Rome studies with Utrechtian Old Catholics, with Greek Orthodox theologians like John Zizioulas, and most importantly with the members of its own denomination, the sooner the Vaticanites will be able to heal and pull themselves up out of the various tar pits they so willingly walked into and got stuck in.

The Utrechtian Old Catholics, by the way, are human too, and already are stuck in a national “one country – one church” model which is inconsistent with the multicultural areas of the world like the United States. They too have suffered the loss of members, although they have not had the hemorrhaging that the Romans have simply because they have not had the pedophilia, septic tank dead bodies, or mafia infested banking issues that Rome has had. ALL the Utrechtian and Vaticanite bishops could use some lessons from St. Francis in getting out from the desks, rolling up their sleeves, and just getting out there among the millions of souls who don’t have a clue that the Jesus they hear about in a Kanye West hip hop son is an actual, real dude!

The next Ecumenical Catholic Council needs to have a place at the table for ALL Catholics, and that includes the Romans and the other Vaticanites. It also includes the Utrechtians, the orthodox, the Anglicans, the Independents, the Celtics, and all the rest of the Catholics. The next Ecumenical Catholic Council needs to have a place at the table not just for bishops, but for laity, not just for the men but for the women and those with no gender. It must be just like the small groups of Jesus followers that were the early Church long before some offspring of a Roman Emperor decided to give the title “Pontifus Maximus” to the Roman Bishop of Rome.

I wish your denominations well as they try to solve the problems they face – most especially the fact they are at this moment killing other Catholics in the fields of the Ukraine – and I agree that spending time with a stable, healthy, less corrupted brother would do you Vaticanites a world of good. As for the Utrechtians, not every part of the world is going to be able to fit the old European cross-the-border, change your church model. In fact in areas like the United States, there have been brutal wars over the whole idea of NOT EVER doing that, so listen to how the Vaticanites have created diversity within the destination. Some of it is worthwhile. Everyone else….Francis wasn’t talking to you! Get back in the water! Go feed some hungry, shelter some homeless, and get that Communion out there where they people need it!

Vaticanites, I pray that Jesus keeps your Bishop, Francis alive long enough to help you all understand that you are one of the oldest Catholic Churches, but not the only one God loves. Utrechtians, be patient…it has been a long time since your older brother went to school. Everyone else, keep these two in your prayers, as they need them to help save the lost sheep in Europe.