Death of Archbishop Hector Roa y Gonzalez

Archbishop Hector Roa y Gonzalez with Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan of the OCR and the San Luigi Orders at St Lucy’s Cathedral, New York.

Yesterday, the funeral Solemn Mass for Archbishop Hector Alejandro Roa y Gonzalez, OCR, was held at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral, New York. The principal celebrant was Archbishop Louis Elias Milazzo, OCR, Primate of the Old Roman Catholic Church, with concelebrants Archbishop Francis C. Spataro, OCR, OA, GCCT, Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and Bailli and Official Representative for the State of New York of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, and Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan, OCR, OA, GCCT, Universal Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion and Grand Prior of the San Luigi Orders for the United States. Bishop John Theodore Mascoll OCR, OA, of the African Orthodox Church on Long Island and the Order of Antioch, was also present. The Mass was well attended, and following the Parastas the women of the Rosary Society stood watch with the body of Archbishop Roa and recited the Holy Rosary.

Archbishop Roa was born on 2 February 1935 in Puerto Rico. As a young man, he was a recruiter for the United States Navy. Inspired by the Polish National Catholic Church, he saw the potential for a similar Spanish-speaking body in Puerto Rico. On 8 December 1958 he founded the Puerto Rican National Catholic Church, professing the Old Catholic faith according to the 1889 Declaration of Utrecht, and built up an enthusiastic lay following. He entered into negotiations with the P.N.C.C. to seek affiliation in 1959, but these broke down in 1960 when the P.N.C.C. withdrew rather than risk compromise to the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico.

After this, Roa began negotiations with the Patriarchal Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church to see if they would receive his community. These discussions were fruitful and in late 1961 union was achieved, under which the Puerto Rican church was permitted to use a revised version of the Tridentine Rite. In 1962 it was incorporated as La Santa Iglesia Catolica Apostolica Orthodoxa de Puerto Rico, Inc. After due preparation, Roa was ordained to the priesthood on 26 November 1964 by Exarch Ioann (John) Wendland of the Russian Orthodox Church at New York City.

As is often the case with such situations, an expectation developed among the hierarchy that after a short period of adjustment, Roa’s mission should be absorbed fully into the mother church. The Russian Orthodox ritual was soon translated into Spanish and Roa’s parishes were required to use it instead of the Tridentine Rite, and other changes of a similar nature followed. Roa led the protests against “Russification” but when Exarch Wendland was replaced, he lost his leading supporter in the hierarchy. By 1968, Roa felt that his church had lost its Hispanic identity and heritage. If he wished to preserve it, there was no option, as he saw it, but to separate from the Russian Orthodox Church, and consequently Roa, together with a substantial minority of the clergy and layfolk, re-established the Western Rite Vicariate as an independent body. During this period, having lost the church’s property to the Russian Orthodox Church, they were compelled to extend their missionary efforts to other Spanish-speaking areas beyond Puerto Rico, and concentrated on the Dominican Republic, the United States, and Brazil.

In the 1970s, Roa came into contact with Archbishop Luis Silva y Vieria of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, who had been a close associate of Archbishop Salomao Ferraz. Ferraz had been consecrated within the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church but had then reconciled with Rome and was an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Sao Paulo as well as participating in some of the sessions of Vatican II.

Roa united his mission with that of Silva and on 7 July 1977 was consecrated bishop by him, although he was permitted only to undertake a restricted range of episcopal duties. In 1979, the Silva and Roa missions adopted the overall name United Old Catholic Episcopate with Roa designating his jurisdiction as the United Hispanic Old Catholic Episcopate in the Americas. Unfortunately, the use of the term “Old Catholic” led to great confusion, as the U.O.C.E. accepted the First Vatican Council and was thus not Old Catholic in the correct sense of the term. This situation swiftly led to a further change of name to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – Saint Pius X.

The church also formally accepted Vatican II but generally maintained pre-Vatican II doctrine and practice. It used the Tridentine Rite, of which Roa said that it was “more elaborate, reasonable and well received by the Spanish people, than the Roman, or Anglican, liturgies” but also permitted the use of the Mass of Paul VI. It allowed men to marry before they received the priesthood, but encouraged celibacy for all clergy and required of its bishops that they should be celibate. Many of its priests served in the Roman Catholic Church before Vatican II.

In 1987, Silva resigned from the Confraternity, renounced his episcopate, went to Portugal, and reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church as a layman. This act caused doubts to be raised as to the validity of the episcopal orders that Roa had received from him, and consequently on 2 October 1988, at the Church of Our Lady of Aparecida, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Roa was consecrated subconditionally by Archbishop Manoel Ceia Laranjeira of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – Saint Pius X, assisted by bishops Osvaldo de Abreu Mello and Luis Ferreira de Lima. He also became a clergy member of the Order of Corporate Reunion.

In the wake of these changes, Roa’s church adopted the designation United Hispanic – Brasilian Traditional Catholic Episcopate in the Americas. In addition, Roa continued to serve the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – Saint Pius X, as its Apostolic Administrator. These churches continued to undertake missionary work among both English and Spanish speakers. The headquarters is located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the number of adherents in the Caribbean, Central America and North America, was cited in 1983 as 21,000 souls. In 1992, according to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, the Confraternity reported 32,432 members in the Western hemisphere. In the United States it was served by Archbishop Roa and 14 priests. There were 27 priests and members of religious orders serving overseas in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Spain.