Affirmations of the validity of the Episcopate of Prince-Abbot Joseph III

The Vilatte Declaration by the Order of Antioch corrects a number of common errors concerning Prince-Abbot Joseph III. This page cites affirmations of the validity of his Episcopate from a number of the canonical churches. While such affirmations are welcome as a means of ecumenical recognition, it should be made clear that the Order of Antioch is not dependent upon such statements, being an autocephalous entity.

Relationship with the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

The Order of Antioch recognizes the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (also known as the Indian Orthodox Church) as its parent body, that church having been responsible for the episcopal consecration of Prince-Abbot Joseph III as Metropolitan of the Old Catholics in the United States in 1892. A relationship of friendly contact and dialogue exists between members of the Church and the Order.

Paulose Mar Athanasios, Bishop of The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church has written to Archbishop Professor Bertil Persson, consecrator of the present Prince-Abbot, in a letter of 16 February 1987 (no. 63/1987) as follows:

“Mar Joseph Rene Vilate of U.S.A. was consecrated at Colombo of Ceylone in 1892 by Mar Paulose Athanasius, Mar Julius and Mar Geevarghese Gregoriose as authorized by H.H. The Patriarch of Antioch. Mar Julius was duly consecrated Bishop. This is the position of our Syrian Orthodox Church.”

Copies of the 1987 letter and of a further confirmatory letter can be read here.

From the Roman Catholic Church

“The validity of Monsignor Vilatte’s episcopal acts as well as those of Archbishop Alvarez, have been decided by Rome. Two Priests ordained by the latter, reverted to Romanism, and were put in charge of missions, and allowed to say Mass, without reordination. One Priest ordained by Archbishop Vilatte likewise reverted to Rome. He went to the ‘Eternal City’. His Ordination after being thoroughly sifted by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, was pronounced valid, and the Priest allowed to say Mass on Papal Altars”.

Revd. Bro. William Harding, OSB, “The Genesis of Old Catholicism in America”, Buffalo, 1898, pp. 14-15
[Bro. William was Grand Prior of the Order of the Crown of Thorns from 1895 onwards.]

In 1899, the Revd. Bro. David Fleming, Counsellor of the Holy Office, and Definitor Generalis Ordinis Minorum declared that:

“The Holy Office believes that the ordinations of the Jansenists, of the Russians, of the Greeks, and of the Jacobites, are valid.”

A Papal newspaper of Rome also recognized the validity of the Priesthood and the Episcopate of the Prince-Abbot. We do not accept their statement that Archbishop Alvarez was in schism, but nevertheless we quote them thus:

“Ordained Priest by Herzog, the Old Catholic Bishop of Berne, and Consecrated Bishop by Alvarez, the schismatical Portuguese Bishop of Ceylon, Monsignor Vilatte was at the head of 50,000 Old Catholics, of whom the greater part were Poles.”

“La Vera Roma”, 12 February 1899

We reproduce in full the statement of Bonaventura, Cardinal Cerretti, published in the “Bayerischer Kurier” no. 189, of 11 July 1925:

“The Apostolic Nunciature in Paris sends us the following information, numbered 5,900, dated July 6th 1925.

‘In answer to your letter of July 1st c.m. I hasten to inform you that according to irrefutable documents, which may be published if necessary, the following becomes apparent:

Mgr. Vilatte received the Minor Orders and the Order of Subdeacon on June 5th, 1885, the Order of Deacon on June 6th of the same year, and on the following day, i.e. June 7th, 1885, the Ordination to the Priesthood. All these Ordinations were conferred on him by Mgr. Herzog (Old Catholic Bishop) in the Old Catholic Church at Berne. This is proved by documents bearing the seal and signature of Mgr. Herzog.

Concerning his Episcopal Consecration, it took place on May 29th, 1892. Mgr. Vilatte was consecrated by three Jacobite bishops in the Cathedral of Archbishop Alvarez (Julius First), i.e. in the Church of Our Lady of Good Death in Colombo (Ceylon). Mgr. Vilatte is likewise in possession of the consecration deed in question bearing the signature of the three above-named bishops and of the American Consul who was present at the ceremony.

So much for explanation, and should you deem it appropriate, for your use – I gladly take the opportunity of transmitting to you the expression of my sincere esteem, with which I remain,

(Signed) +B. Cerretti, Archbishop of Corinthia, Apostolic Nuncio.'”

Francis Janssens, Abbot General of Curia Generalis S. Ordo Cisterciensis, Abbot at the Abbaye Sainte Marie Du Pont-Colbert when Vilatte died, says the following in a letter of 21 May 1933 (preserved in the archives of St Ephrem’s Institute):

“Cardinal Cerretti… gave him absolution from excommunication. Cardinal Merry del Val, Secretary of the Holy Office, had many times said to me, that he was convinced that Msgr Vilatte was a Priest and a Bishop, but he would not keep it in consideration. We  always called him Monsignor. He had the habit of a Bishop but not the cross”.

Cardinal John Mercati, librarian archivist at The Vatican, responded to a question of Mgr. Irenée d’Eschevannes in a letter of 21 July 1952 (translated from the French):

“Dear Seigneur, you have asked me for certain information on Mgr. François Xavier Alvarez et sur Mgr. René Vilatte, also on Mgr. Paulo Miraglia Gulotti. All three have been consecrated validly.”

From the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches

From the Calendar of the Old Catholics of Switzerland, Holland, Germany, etc. Vide Altkatholischer Volks-Kalender, Berlag von Emit Commemener Baden-Baden, 1898, p. 65 (translated):

“In North America lives Archbishop Vilatte of the Old Catholics with several ecclesiastics at Duval (Wisconsin). From this point they visit the different parts of the mission. The Church at Buffalo is of especial importance; three thousand families, mostly Poles, belong to it. These have built a second Church, costing 190,000 Marks, and the erection of a third is contemplated.

Persecution has broken out against our fellow believers at Ceylon. Archbishop Alvarez was arrested on the occasion of his visit to the Church in Goa because he was wearing the Pontifical robe.”

Likewise the episcopate of both the Prince-Abbot and of Archbishop Alvarez is recognized by the Old Catholics of Switzerland as is shown by the following translated document:

“National Catholic Church Executive Commission of the Superior Council.

Republic and Canton of Geneva, Geneva, August 28th, 1900.

The Vice-President of the Executive Commission of the Superior Council of the National Catholic Church (Old Catholic) of Geneva, Certifies that

Monsieur Eduard Bovard is, to his knowledge, a man, moral, pious, zealous for the Christian cause, and gifted according to his judgement, with qualities requisite to make a good Pastor and a good Missionary.

Monsieur Bovard was Ordained Priest by Bishop Vilatte, who himself received Sacerdotal Ordination from Bishop Herzog, Bishop of the Old Catholics in Switzerland, and Episcopal Consecration at the hands of Bishop Alvarez, of Colombo (Island of Ceylon), Jacobite Bishop. Monsieur Bovard is actually under the jurisdiction of Bishop Vilatte in America and belongs to a Church which calls itself Catholic and Independent.

The undersigned attests that he knows Monsieur Bovard, and that he would be worthy, in his eyes, to work, as he ardently desires, in the Field of the Lord.

Alphonse Chrétien, Doctor of Theology
16, Rue de Villereuse, Geneva, Switzerland”

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate

On 30 November 1921, the Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV Metaxakis received Patriarch Alexander (George Alexander McGuire) of the African Orthodox Church, who had been consecrated by the Prince-Abbot. The Ecumenical Patriarch enquired as to the origin of the Episcopate of the AOC, and receiving reply, pronounced it to be valid.

From the Russian Orthodox Church

“The Negro Churchman” of April 1923, pp 1-2, reports that Archbishop Alexander (Alexandr Alexandrovich Nemolovskij, 1876-1960) of the Russian Orthodox Church has recognized the episcopal orders of the Prince-Abbot.

The Revd. Ingram N. W. Irvine, Canon of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral (15 E. 97th St.), New York, writes in a letter of 1915 to the Prince-Abbot:

“…I well remember 1906 A.D., when you and the Russian Archbishop Tikhon, the Very Reverend Dean A. A. Hotovalsky and I met in the Russian Archepiscopal palace in New York City. That was a most solemn and sacred moment. You then and there reiterated your Orthodox principles, which were one and the same as held by the Russian Church and all other portions of the Holy Orthodox Church. As far as dogmas were concerned, you were one with us of the Eastern Church then, and from our present attitude, you are the same faithful son of Orthodoxy today. The document which you signed on that occasion is still extant. There is, of course, no question as to the validity of your holy orders and the regularity of your episcopate…”

From the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria

Rueben Sebbanja Ssedimba Makasa (1899-1982) (who was nicknamed Spartas), was a Ugandan who was ordained priest in 1932 by Patriarch Daniel William Alexander (1883-1969) of The African Orthodox Church of South Africa. Patriarch Daniel was consecrated on 11 September 1927 by Patriarch Alexander (George Alexander McGuire). He was in 1972 accepted for consecration without reordination/ordination by Patriarch Nicholaos VI of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Together with his fellow priest Obadiah Basajjakitalo he built up a community in Uganda and Kenya numbering about 20,000 faithful which was known as the Ugandan African Orthodox Church. This was accepted into full communion with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

From the Armenian Apostolic Church

The Armenian Archbishop Seropian wrote, “Remain well assured that the writer and the Armenian population in the US are and ever will be the very faithful friends of His Grace the Lord Archbishop Vilatte and of his Old Catholic people.” Mgr. Vilatte’s successor in the American Catholic Church (and founder of the Order of Antioch) Archbishop Frederick Lloyd met with the Armenian Patriarch during a visit to Jerusalem in 1923 and met the Armenian Archbishop of India, who in turn presented Lloyd with an introduction to the Armenian Bishop of Chicago. In 1928, during his visit to England, Lloyd officiated in the Armenian Church of St Sarkis, London; his bishop in London, (St.) Churchill Sibley, did so on numerous occasions until this collaboration was ended by the malicious intervention of the Anglicans.

From the Anglican-Episcopalian Church

In the Episcopal Church, the Right Revd. Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-96), Bishop of Western New York, wrote to Fr. William Harding concerning Mgr. Vilatte:

“I praise you in showing fidelity to your pastor, Mons. Vilatte, and I honor and love the Old Catholics. It would not be polite for me to interfere with a brother bishop’s affairs, and the “Churchman” never publishes articles of this kind from other papers. I am glad to read the articles and to see ‘the other side’. Tho, I wish Christians and Catholics might never forget self-respect, in dealing with one another…Whatever the House of Bishops may say to the contrary, no Roman prelate in the United States has an Episcopate as valid as yours.”

From the Syrian Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Antioch)

In conversation with Archbishop Professor Bertil Persson (consecrator of the present Prince-Abbot), H.H. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas has confirmed his acceptance of the consecration of Mgr. Vilatte under special provisions by Patriarch Ignatius Peter III/IV.

The Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, H.H. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, in conversation with Archbishop Professor Bertil Persson.