The J.S.M. Ward Society is featured in “The Square” magazine

The J.S.M. Ward Society, a constituent society of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and a research centre of the University, has provided the cover feature of the June edition of The Square, the independent quarterly magazine for Freemasons. In his article, Warren D. Pilkington gives an introduction to the nature and aims of the Society and discusses both Ward’s life and his considerable involvement in Freemasonry.

The editor of The Square is Dr Mike Kearsley, who is a Professorial Fellow of the University.

Death of Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan

The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Archbishop William Manseau and the Eulogy was given by Bishop Pedro Bravo-Guzman. Archbishops Spataro and Lorentzen represented the Apostolic Episcopal Church and the San Luigi Orders.

MEMORY ETERNAL! MEMORY ETERNAL! MEMORY ETERNAL!

Book review

The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion by Julie Byrne
Columbia University Press, New York, 2016. ISBN 9780231166768
Reviewed by Dr John Kersey (Prince-Abbot of San Luigi, etc.)

This book, despite the comprehensive title, is in fact a study of one particular denomination in the firmament of independent Catholicism, the Church of Antioch founded by Patriarch Herman Adrian Spruit. Those who want an honest, affectionate and illuminating account of that church, whose liberal embrace has given birth to a host of esoteric and modernist daughter churches up and down the United States, will find it here. Regarding its theology, which diverges substantially from our own while nevertheless maintaining certain important points of contact, it can certainly be said that it has always embraced the widest of viewpoints; regarding the mainstay of the book, Archbishop Richard Gundrey, formerly head of the Church of Antioch, we can only say that in our contact with him some years ago he was courtesy itself and gave every assistance in understanding what his church stood for and how it saw its mission.

This, then, is a book that is generally about interesting, good people whose interpretation of Christ’s mission, though it may not meet our definition of orthodoxy, nevertheless should give all of us pause to reexamine our own convictions and understand that where others see a different path to their experience of God, there can be much to gain from appreciating their perspective even when we do not share it. It is the story of a church that ultimately, at the end of this book, suffers a deeply damaging and, it seems at the time of writing, enduring split when a presiding bishop is elected who is out of sympathy with the prevailing currents of the church as it has been constituted in the past, resulting in the majority of the clergy leaving the church.

Here we recall the lesson expressed simply by Mar Georgius, who like myself had learned it from experience: without dogmatic agreement there can be no meaningful unity. There can be a temporary form of unity around a charismatic leader, but that unity will not outlast the leader in question. The only unity that counts; the only unity that will endure, is a steadfast witness to the Christian Faith. It is precisely because the Church of Antioch conceived its theology so widely that there was no unity of vision to call upon when personal conflicts and divergent views divided the community, and without that vision, its people suffered greatly, even if they did not entirely perish. Liberalism cannot be conceived purely as open-mindedness, for open minds can all too easily become empty heads. It must be a precisely articulated statement of positive values to which individuals can subscribe, and of signal importance is that such a vision must be sufficiently distinctive so that its followers do not simply find that there is little to choose between their communion and another.

Dr Byrne, who is Mgr. Thomas J. Hartman Chair in Catholic Studies at Hofstra University, a Roman Catholic institution, has worked assiduously to create a work worthy of its subjects. Her writing is intelligent and clear, and it is to her credit that it not merely stands scrutiny as an academic text, referenced with comprehensive footnotes, but is very readable for the generalist who wishes to approach the subject from the perspective of the interested layperson without necessarily engaging with the labyrinthine intricacies of the independent movement.

The problematic aspects of this book are not in its discussion of the contemporary Church of Antioch but in its chapters on historical matters that deal with the smaller independent churches. Here, it is impossible not to become acutely aware of the problems facing the modern scholar on such matters. The source material that is widely available gives an incomplete and far from impartial record of events. Indeed, its very preservation and destruction reflects agendas of support and suppression that in turn originate in personal and denominational rivalries generations deep. It is only by immersing oneself in a world of handwritten documentation and private publications so ephemeral that their rarity is now legion that one can gain any true picture. It may be reflected that this is an academic area where veracity and value are not to be judged simply by the ability of an author to attract a mainstream publisher and issue books for profit. The world of closed private archives and elusive long out-of-print pamphlets is certainly not for everyone, and it can at times seem as if its entry criteria (not limited to extreme persistence and deep pockets) are far removed from the lofty aims of dispassionate historical scholarship. But this is the nature of the beast, and those who would seriously engage with this subject must come to terms with it accordingly. To do otherwise is to cut the individuals concerned out of their own story.

Some scholars in this field have endeavoured to bring at least some of this material to a wider public so that it can aid in the search for truth; this is why, for example, several comprehensive examinations of the life of Archbishop Vilatte (by Archbishop Philippe de Coster and myself) have been released in open source full text through the internet publisher Scribd.

Moreover, the choice of sources in itself speaks of a selectivity of outlook that can result in bias, however unintentional. If the desire is to speak of the Church of Antioch, it must be acceptable to choose primarily sources from within that church and of its same liberal persuasion, unless the author wants to perform the dubious academic contortion of “writing against the subject” (which has been offered as a justification for traducing the independent churches before now). If the desire is to speak of Archbishop Vilatte and others of his ilk, it is as well to bear in mind that they were by no means liberal figures in their theology and neither can the same be said for the majority of their proper, jurisdictional successors. If contemporary scholarship seems to serve aspects of the liberal, progressive independent churches well, the same cannot be said of their conservative counterparts, which are justifiably unhappy at being indiscriminatingly lumped together with that which represents the antithesis of what they stand for, not merely in theology but in their concept of the church and of order and hierarchy within it. Indeed, conservative independents have always found few friends among mainstream scholars and, like their counterparts in Anglo-Catholicism, have acquired a marginal identity because of this. From these margins have come such figures as the late Bishop Karl Pruter, whose Old Catholic Sourcebook remains, though out of date and long out of print, the only reasonably reliable survey of the American independent churches and their histories. It is unfortunate that it does not figure greatly in the footnotes of this book.

Vilatte would certainly not have recognized or approved of the theology and approach of the Church of Antioch. That does not necessarily make that theology and approach wrong and Vilatte right, but it does mean that claims to the Vilatte legacy by prelates who in reality represent little of his beliefs and have inherited none of his jurisdictional authority are problematic.

Some of the errors are egregious, because they misrepresent the nature of clergy or organizations to the point where they are made to stand for something they in fact opposed. Page 158 tells us that “By 1955, independent bishop Hugh de Willmott Newman [Mar Georgius] in England was consecrating women as deacons”. The late Mar Georgius, who published a comprehensive work outlining with reference to all the significant theological arguments exactly why women could not be ordained to the major orders, would surely turn in his grave at this sentence. It would also be news to him that one could consecrate anybody to the diaconate rather than simply ordaining them, but the record shows that he certainly did not ordain women to any major order. What he did do was to set several women aside to the ancient office of Deaconess, which is a lay order quite different from the male diaconate. Unfortunately, Byrne here takes the work of Bishop Lewis Keizer “The Wandering Bishops: Apostles of a New Spirituality” on trust in supplying this information.

A far more serious problem is Byrne’s reliance on the now-discredited book of Serge Theriault concerning Vilatte, which contains numerous false statements and even false documents designed to support Theriault’s tendentious claims to jurisdiction and descent. Theriault was excommunicated by this church as a result of his behaviour. He has made much of claiming a lineal descent from Archbishop Vilatte, even though he is not even licitly in Archbishop Vilatte’s apostolic succession, but his denomination is purely and simply a work of modern reconstruction even by the open evidence of its own documents, and has no continuous traceable jurisdiction from the nineteenth-century origins he claims. Rather, Vilatte’s original jurisdiction was decreed in 1946 by Mar Georgius as Catholicos of the West to be inherent in the Ancient Christian Fellowship of the late Mar David (Maxey), and thus it passed into the Apostolic Episcopal Church upon the formal union of that church with the ACF in 1948.

Page 142 repeats the frequent error that “the inheritor of [Richard Duc de] Palatine’s church was Stephan Hoeller.” While Bishop Hoeller was certainly closely associated with Palatine for a time and received his Holy Orders from him, the two came to separate their work definitively some years before Palatine’s death in 1978, at which point Hoeller became independent. At Palatine’s death, his church, and the Sovereign Imperium of the Mysteries of which it was a part, was inherited by the Council of Three comprising, inter alia, the late John Martyn Baxter, who was Palatine’s life partner and closest associate, and the late George Boyer, who would subsequently receive episcopal status in the Apostolic Episcopal Church. It should be noted that an examination of the published and unpublished teachings of Palatine, preserved in our archives, shows them to be significantly different from those promoted by Dr Hoeller’s church.

Pages 112-113 suggest that it was Archbishop Vilatte who “revived…the Order of the Crown of Thorns”. It was the Patriarch of Antioch who was the revived Order’s chartering authority in 1891, though certainly at least partly at Vilatte’s prompting, but the Patriarch had previously received a petition in respect of the Order in 1880, over a decade before Vilatte came to his attention, from the Revd. Gaston Jean Fercken, and it was Fercken whom he appointed the Order’s Grand Master in preference to Vilatte, who only succeeded to that office on Fercken’s resignation a year later. What is particularly unfortunate, and could easily have been corrected by a simple reference to the website of the Order which contains copious historical materials, is Byrne’s assertion that the Order “harboured esoteric theology or incorporated Freemasonry”. This is another Theriault fantasy built upon fictitious documents, notably a Masonic text claimed by Theriault to be from the original prospectus of the Order but in fact completely absent from it (that prospectus has been published online in full by us). The theology of the Order from its foundation to today has always been entirely orthodox, and while freemasons may become members, the Order has never been Masonic in character and has never had any formal connection with any Masonic fraternity. Nor has it ever had any connection with Theriault, who has never been a member of the Order of the Crown of Thorns and simply usurped its name for his own ends by founding a schismatic body in the late 1990s.

The claim that Vilatte “permanently linked independent Catholicism to western esotericism” (p. 111) is also somewhat wide of the mark. By the time he met Vilatte, Joanny Bricaud was far more orthodox in his theology than he was esoteric. That is not to say that he had altogether ceased to engage with esoteric theology, but he certainly earned a rebuke from Vilatte when he sought to introduce anything to him that departed from traditional Catholicism. Vilatte was never an esotericist. He was orthodox throughout his life. His friendship with Bricaud was above all exactly that; a friendship between two men with common interests and in Bricaud’s case, a vital mission for ensuring the continuation of Vilatte’s work. Vilatte did not consecrate Bricaud, and he himself did nothing to encourage his esotericism or that of anyone else.

P. 111 also suggests that “relics of Vilatte occasionally surface for sale on eBay”. Such a statement cannot entirely be contradicted, of course, but it seems on the face of it most unlikely. The Vilatte archive was preserved with enormous care and attention during his final years in France, and at great cost to those doing the preserving. No items were separated from it until very recently when part of that archive came to its current home in the United Kingdom under my charge. The current archivists regard the continued preservation of these artefacts as a sacred trust. In this country, the Vilatte relics are owned by a charitable trust of which I am a trustee, and wherever possible are maintained in active liturgical use. Their terms of ownership do not permit them to be sold, and any person who is offered Vilatte relics for sale would be very well advised to establish beyond reasonable doubt that they are authentic before parting with any money.

We are told on page 122 that “when the African Orthodox Church branched to South Africa, its bishop, Daniel Alexander, communicated with Vilatte, who invited him to join the Order of the Crown of Thorns.” This is not the case. The invitation to Alexander to join the order was extended not by Vilatte, but by his successor as Grand Master of the Order, Prince-Abbot Edmond I de San Luigi (F.J.E. Barwell-Walker) in a letter of 10 March 1938, the original of which is preserved in the archive of the African Orthodox Church at the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. Vilatte was well into his retirement among the Roman Catholics at the point of Alexander’s consecration in September 1927. We are not aware of any evidence that the two men were ever in contact.

Page 351 note 89 confuses the contemporary denomination called the Mexican National Catholic Church under Archbishop John Parnell with the original MNCC, a body founded by Archbishop Carfora which was in communion with our church and whose last bishop, the late Emile Rodriguez y Fairfield, was personally well-known to a number of our clergy. There is no connection whatsoever between these two bodies, nor is such a connection now claimed on Archbishop Parnell’s website.

Page 359 note 40: possibly pace J. Gordon Melton, Mar Georgius did not “found the Catholicate of the West”. The details of the foundation of the Catholicate are to be found elsewhere on this website. The practice of multiple consecrations meant something very different to Mar Georgius compared to what it meant to Spruit, as witnessed by their respective writings.

Death of Archbishop Irl A. Gladfelter

The death has been announced of Irl A. Gladfelter, founder and first Metropolitan Archbishop of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church until his resignation from that church in 2011, upon which he reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church.

Irl Allen Gladfelter was born in 1944 and graduated with the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery “with distinction” from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry and was a career officer in the Dental Corps of the United States Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel after serving more than 20 years on active duty. He graduated (with honors) from the United States Army Command and General Staff College. His military decorations included the Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star, the Korea Defense Service Medal, the Army Overseas Service Ribbon, and the Army Service Ribbon. Gladfelter also held a commission as a Kentucky colonel.

Gladfelter received the diaconate and priesthood at the hands of Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan, OCR, and was consecrated bishop on 10 January 2004 at St Peter and Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Astoria, New York. Archbishop Brennan was the principal consecrator assisted by the Primate of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro, and AEC Archbishop Paget E.J. Mack. This consecration canonically established the standing of the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church in the historic Apostolic Succession. Within that church, an Augustinian Order was established in which Gladfelter served. He was an active and enthusiastic member of the Order of Corporate Reunion, writing a useful summary of the nature and position of the Order.

The Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church had been founded in 1997 as an outgrowth of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and was headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was one of the churches to form the movement of High Church Lutheranism, looking throughout towards unity with Rome and with other traditionally minded Anglo-Catholics. Viewing Lutherans to be in a state of temporary involuntary schism from Rome, the ALCC taught that Lutheranism was a development of the Catholic Church, and was only Protestant inasmuch as its adherents adopted the teachings of Calvin and Zwingli. As such, it accepted the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and the Small Catechism of Luther insofar as these were not in conflict with Catholic teaching. It did not accept the Formula of Concord. Like the Apostolic Episcopal Church, the ALCC accepted the seven Ecumenical Councils and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Anglicanism, interpreting these according to the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman. It further accepted the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, papal primacy and papal infallibility. After June 2008, ALCC clergy were required to sign a version of the Roman Catholic mandatum, which affirmed that they would not teach anything contrary to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

On 15 May 2009, the ALCC submitted a formal petition to the Vatican to enter the Roman Catholic Church as a unified body, leaving the form of such entry to be decided in future negotiations. This petition remains with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time of writing. Subsequent developments in the wake of Anglicanorum coetibus meant that the ALCC was invited to enter into discussions with the American Ordinariate with a view to reception within that body. Having subsequently undergone a change of name, the ALCC is today known as the Augustana Catholic Church.

Although he continued to be listed as Metropolitan Archbishop Emeritus of the ALCC, Gladfelter decided to pursue the path of personal reunion with Rome and retired from his offices in order to reconcile. He did not exercise his Holy Orders in that church and spent his retirement years among the laity.

Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!

Charity medals in memory of Bishop Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki

The Primate has authorized the issue of two charity medals in memory of the late Bishop Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki. The Most Revd. Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki (1920-2009) served as Assistant Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church in Great Britain both as deputy to the late Archbishop-Count George Boyer and as bishop with special responsibilities for the Polish-speaking peoples. He was consecrated for the Apostolic Episcopal Church on 27 May 1983.

Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki is best-known in his capacity as the head of one of the two entities that maintained rival claims to be the Polish government-in-exile between 1971 and the fall of communism in 1990. He was Prince Grand Master of the Order of St Stanislas.

The Charity Medals are issued in gold (for outstanding merit) and silver. The silver medal is available for a donation of PLN 120 which includes an individually-named certificate signed by the Primate. For each medal, a donation will be made to support activity centres for children from poor families in Wrocław, Poland.

If you would like to receive the silver charity medal, please write to Dr Norbert Wójtowicz who is co-ordinating the project and can receive your donation. He can be reached at keeperofthelaws@wp.pl

The ribbon is based on the colours used for the arms of Bishop Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki. The reverse of the medal bears the arms of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Death of Patriarch Yuri I

Patriarch Yuri I (centre) with Archbishop Spataro of the AEC and Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan of the Order of Corporate Reunion at St Lucy’s Cathedral

The death has been announced of Patriarch Yuri I, Apostolic Administrator of All American World Patriarchates and Patriarch of the Byelorussian Orthodox National Church in Exile. He had been suffering from cancer for some years and passed away yesterday aged 82.

The episcopate of Emigidiusz Jerzy Ryzy was intimately connected with that of his late brother, Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski (1925-78). Uladyslau Ryzy-Ryski was a Byelorussian priest who during the 1960s came into contact with Patriarch Wolodymyr (Walter Myron Propheta) (1912-72) of the American Orthodox Catholic Church. The AOCC, which was incorporated in 1965, was an attempt to build an indigenous American Orthodoxy inspired by the earlier example of Archbishop Aftimios Ofiesh (1880-1966), being non-ethnically and non-nationally established and welcoming all who sought Orthodoxy. Patriarch Wolodymyr based his church upon a steadfast witness to the seven Ecumenical Councils but allowed his bishops a free choice of liturgical and other matters provided these were in accordance with an Orthodox understanding.

On Christmas Day 1965, Metropolitan Peter Zhurawetzky (who was recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch) then-acting Archbishop of Miensk and all Byelorussia of the Apostolic Synod of “SUBOZHNIA” and Patriarch of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America elevated to the rank of Archbishop and consecrated Ryzy-Ryski, to be the Apostolic Administrator of the Byelorussian Orthodox Catholic Church of St Apostle Andrew in both the Eastern and Western Rite. Ryzy-Ryski also served as Chancellor to the Holy Orthodox Catholic Patriarchate of America.

In 1967, without leaving Patriarch Wolodymyr’s jurisdiction, Ryzy-Ryski began a new mission, the American World Patriarchates, and became known as Patriarch Uladyslau I. This loosely-structured mission sought to create an international hierarchy of bishops. It was formally separated from the jurisdiction of Patriarch Wolodymyr when, just before his death in 1972, Patriarch Wolodymyr excommunicated Patriarch Uladyslau.

The work of Patriarch Uladyslau was organized from the Bronx in New York, where he established a Cathedral of Learning and the People’s University of the Americas. This offered courses in English as a second language and the humanities for immigrants (particularly Spanish-speakers) at affordable fees, and became extremely popular. Meanwhile, the American World Patriarchates expanded with the appointment of patriarchs for Puerto Rico, Colombia, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, El Salvador, Nigeria, the West Indies, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and the Ukraine.

Patriarch Yuri, like his brother, had spent his entire adult life in exile. In Poland, where he lived in the city of Ustka, he trained and worked as an engineer for over a decade. He came to the United States in 1976 and began training for ordination the following year. His rapid advancement was in recognition of the responsibilities that his brother’s illness would soon require him to assume.

When Patriarch Uladyslau died on 1 March 1978 he was succeeded by his brother, who had been consecrated on February 19 that same year by Patriarch Uladyslau, Metropolitan Peter Zhurawetsky and other bishops, and who now became Patriarch Yuri I. On 29 May 1978, Metropolitan Zurawetzky elevated Patriarch Yuri to be Apostolic Administrator of the American World Patriarchates while still recognizing him to be a Bishop of his own Byelorussian jurisdiction.

Under Patriarch Yuri the American World Patriarchates continued its growth and mission. By 1997, the AWP could report 19,457 members, 17 congregations, and 54 priests in the United States; one congregation with three priests in Canada, and work affiliated with the AWP taking place in 17 additional countries.

A great wish of Patriarch Uladyslau was that he should re-establish Orthodoxy in his homeland of Byelorussia (Belarus). This was accomplished under Patriarch Yuri during the 1990s and at this point congregational numbers began to increase substantially. His first visit to his homeland since childhood took place in 1993, and thereafter he returned annually. As of 1993, there was one bishop there, six assisting priests in Minsk, Lida, and Siomki Goradok, and a lay membership of thirty-five thousand which was continuing to grow. However, this activity was opposed by the Belarusian regime, which suppressed many of the churches that had opened.

On January 28 2001, Patriarch Yuri was also raised to Archbishop of the Holy Orthodox Church, Archdiocese of the Atlantic, by bishops of the Uniate Western Orthodox Catholic Church, the Apostolic Episcopal Church, the African Orthodox Church, the Order of St Benedict the Moor, the Anglican Independent Communion and the Order of Corporate Reunion in St. John’s Episcopal American Catholic Church, New York City.

Patriarch Yuri continued to reside in New York and ran a Belarus Home Mission there as well as being active in Belarusian civic associations. The AWP entered intercommunion with the AEC and Patriarch Yuri was often an ecumenical guest at St Lucy’s Old Roman Catholic Cathedral where services of the Order of Corporate Reunion have been held over the years. He was held in great respect and affection by all as a source of wise spiritual counsel and sound teaching.

The wake and funeral will be at the memorial home in Ossining, likely on Friday night at 8 pm. The funeral, which will be according to the Western Rite, will be led by bishops who were friends and colleagues of Patriarch Yuri, followed by burial at the family plot on Saturday.

Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal! Memory Eternal!

Apostolic Episcopal Church bishops participate in consecration

On 23 May, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro (AEC Emeritus Primate), Archbishop Paget Mack of the AEC, and Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan of the Order of Corporate Reunion assisted Bishop Piers Vaughan in consecrating David Sheihan Hunter Lindez to the Sacred Episcopate for the Apostolic Church of the Golden and Rosy Cross. The ACGRC descends from the work of the late Archbishop George Boyer of the AEC and is under the Primacy of Bishop Michael Buckley (Tau Marcus) in the United Kingdom.

Old Catholic Church of Great Britain and related matters – statement of clarification

The Old Catholic Church of Great Britain has been held in personal union with the Apostolic Episcopal Church since 2015, with Dr Kersey serving as Primate of both churches. Recent material appearing on the website of ex-clergy of our jurisdiction have made it necessary to issue a statement of clarification which we trust will show the falsehood of their claims.

Dr Kersey writes: “As Primate and Archbishop of Elmham in the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain, I have noted the statements made in respect of the Benedictine Order of St Romuald, the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain and the late Archbishop Aelred Peter Coghlan Distin at http://holycrossbenedictines.weebly.com/journal—in-hoc-signo-vinces.html with interest. The article published there on these matters is familiar to me because it consists almost entirely of my own words, first published on the website of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, which have been reproduced without my permission and in violation of my copyright by Michael Skelly and by Alistair Bate, who is a former bishop of my jurisdiction. As a general rule, I am only too happy to see my words reproduced by others, with appropriate acknowledgement; however, to see my text plagiarised and used to support lies and distortions can hardly be expected to meet with my approval.

The claims made in this article in respect of Michael Skelly are bizarre and false, and have clearly been made under the impression that our documentary archive on these matters is incomplete. On the contrary, among the considerable number of documents present here are documents that directly disprove the statements made by, or on behalf of, Michael Skelly, and that were issued both by my predecessor Archbishop Distin before witnesses and in some cases by Michael Skelly himself. We also possess a number of emails sent by Archbishop Distin that confirm the matters formalized in the documents. We find no evidence whatsoever that Archbishop Distin was “confused” or anything other than fully compos mentis at the time that he issued this documentation. By contrast, Michael Skelly wrote to me on 12 March 2007, “…may I ask you to bear the following in mind concerning myself? If I sometimes don’t answer any questions you ask me, it is not because I am being rude, but rather due to my poor memory. This is a result of a near fatal road traffic accident in 1997.”

Let us begin with the position of Michael Skelly. In 2007, Skelly shared with me a copy of his Instrument of Solemn Profession in the Benedictine Congregation of St Romuald. The document is dated 21 November 2001 and witnessed by Archbishop Distin. This is accompanied by his Certificate of Episcopal Consecration by Archbishop Distin. The document is dated 21 November 2001 and it appoints Skelly as Lord Bishop of All Fortrenn in the Benedictine Congregation of St Romuald within the Titular Archbishopric of Lindsey in Anglia. These documents are reproduced below and are clear and unambiguous in their contents:

These documents prove the falsehood of the following statements: “Further to a meeting held at Drumrack near Anstruther, Fife, on 1 May 1995 between Distin and Michael Skelly, on 5 May 1995 Distin appointed Dom Michael Skelly as his perpetual coadjutor with right of succession and consequently relinquished all jurisdiction of the Church and Order. On 1 June 1996, Distin Blessed and Enthroned Dom Michael Skelly O.S.B.(C.S.R.) as Bishop-Abbot for life at Distin’s Monastic Oratory of St. Fillan located at Aipple Yaird, Newburgh, Fife. Distin then became Bishop Abbot Emeritus.”

As of the dates mentioned above in 1995-96, Skelly had yet to enter into Solemn Profession in the Order, which he did not do until November 2001. Moreover, the evidence of the certificate above is that Skelly fully accepted the authority of Archbishop Distin on behalf of the Benedictine Order of St Romuald as of November 2001, and as is evident on the certificate of consecration, that Order was within the Titular Jurisdiction of Lindsey in Anglia – that is to say, subordinate to that jurisdiction. There is not a word of any appointment as co-adjutor or abbot on the certificate of consecration or indeed on any other document.

Also in our archive is a copy of the ordination certificate of a priest from 24 November 2001, undertaken by Skelly as the ordaining bishop and witnessed by Archbishop Distin. The jurisdictional authority cited by Skelly for this action is the “Gallican Diocese of Mercia” and he describes himself as “Gallican Bishop of All Fortrenn”.

The dissolution of the Benedictine Order of St Romuald was undertaken in two stages by Archbishop Distin. In the first, on 25 November 2004, he announced that it was disbanded due to lack of support.

It appears that a “second chance” was then given, but that this produced no more encouraging a response. On 25 January 2005 Archbishop Distin dismissed all the members of the Order individually via an Ad Clerum, since they had failed to renew their commitment to the Rule of St Benedict as he had requested. “Brother Michael” is included on the list of members to be dismissed.

From these documents it can be seen that firstly that the Benedictine Order of St Romuald was indeed dissolved by Archbishop Distin, and secondly that Skelly was among those who were formally dismissed from the Order by him.

Let us now address the libelling of my immediate predecessor Archbishop Phillip Kemp. The article states, in impertinent terms, “The late Bishop Phillip Kemp claimed to have re-founded the Order in 2007 as he also claimed to be Distin’s successor, which he certainly was not.”

Having known Archbishop Kemp personally, I am in a position to vouch for his character. Whatever the issues that may have befallen us over the years, I consider him to have maintained a high standard of personal integrity as befitted not only his office as a bishop but his rank as a Captain in the British Army and an officer for a large trades union. He and I discussed the position regarding Archbishop Distin in great detail on a number of occasions, and while this relationship was complex and at times strained, it was for the greater part one of affection and positive Christian endeavour, as attested by a number of the emails in my possession. It is nothing short of disgraceful that Alistair Bate and Michael Skelly, neither of whom to my knowledge ever met Archbishop Kemp, should attempt to malign his character in this manner, and such an action reveals much about them. If they had imagined that, being dead, Archbishop Kemp would have no-one to defend him, they are sorely mistaken.

Here is Archbishop Kemp’s certificate of consecration by Archbishop Distin for the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, dated 6 June 2004 and witnessed:

Here is Archbishop Kemp’s mandate of election as co-adjutor of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain, issued on the same day:

And here is the instrument of retirement of Archbishop Distin in favour of Archbishop Kemp, dated 13 September 2004, from which date Archbishop Kemp succeeded Archbishop Distin as Primate of the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain:

Since that jurisdiction included the titular archbishopric of Lindsey, it follows that it also included authority over the Benedictine Order of St Romuald. It had been agreed that Archbishop Distin would continue as Abbot of the Order after his retirement in September 2004, and his decision to dissolve it was therefore taken during the Primacy of his successor. Authority over the Order was then exercised when Archbishop Kemp revived it, renaming it the Benedictine Congregation of St Romuald and appointing the Rt. Revd. Dom Simon Scruton as its Abbot under the name Aelred Peter II on 19 August 2006. The use of that name and office by Michael Skelly or any other party would appear to be entirely without legitimacy or warrant. It should be noted that as of 15 August 2006, Archbishop Distin had been excommunicated from the jurisdiction.

Subsequently, Abbot Aelred Peter II retired on 30 August 2008 in favour of the present Abbot, Dom Thomas Hugh Bodkin OSB(csr) who serves today in that office under the name Hugh I.

The Benedictine Congregation of Saint Romuald was accepted into intercommunion with the Order of Antioch on 28 September 2014 at which point its Abbot, Hugh I, became a member of that Order. By this act the Congregation returned, albeit briefly, to a position of intercommunion with its parent body, the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain. In a ceremony before witnesses on 16 February, Abbot Hugh was formally incardinated into the Apostolic Episcopal Church. On 11 March, at the petition of Abbot Hugh, a full canonical release was issued to him and the Congregation ceased to be in intercommunion with us once more.

This information is more than sufficient to prove the falsehood of the claims made by Alistair Bate and Michael Skelly. In the case of Michael Skelly, who is a vulnerable and elderly man labouring under a serious neurological disability, some degree of leniency may be appropriate, not least in recognition of our previous extensive correspondence which was entirely amicable throughout. In the case of Alistair Bate, who knows exactly what he is doing, the same cannot be said to apply.

It is now over four years since Alistair Bate resigned from my jurisdiction rather than be subject to an inquiry into his conduct – an inquiry which, it should be recalled, was at an initial stage and had reached no conclusions at the point of his resignation. Almost immediately afterwards, he underwent re-consecration at the hands of a prelate not associated with our communion. Rather than embrace the freedom and independence he had apparently sought, he and those associated with him have on numerous occasions published provocative and inaccurate material online directed at my jurisdiction and at me personally. Moreover, in February 2013 I was the recipient of a crude threat of violence directed towards me by Bate’s partner, Bruno Pedrini. It should not be imagined that the decision on my part to exercise restraint in not making a public response to these items or reporting them to the relevant authorities will not be revisited in the light of present and future events.”