The Catholicate of the West views marriage as one of the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and as the Divinely ordained setting for procreation and the family. It takes the definitions of St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, supp. Q.42) as its basis for the understanding of marriage as a sacrament. It recognizes that marriage can only be entered into by a couple of the opposite sex. It further holds that, with certain rare medical exceptions, the gender of a person is that which was determined at birth.
The clergy of the Catholicate of the West may, like ministers of other Christian churches, celebrate marriage according to the established rites of the Church provided they comply with the legal requirements of the country in question. Because the laws of some countries have adopted a definition of marriage that is opposed to the traditional sacramental understanding held by the Catholicate of the West, the Catholicate recognizes that there may be some circumstances in which a couple, after having taken appropriate legal advice, may wish to marry sacramentally (in what is sometimes referred to as a covenant or common-law marriage) but not to register the marriage, in which case it will be recognized according to the canon law of the Church but not according to the laws of the country concerned. The Catholicate of the West recognizes sacramental marriage irrespective of whether the marriage has been legally registered or not.
Divorce and remarriage
The Catholicate of the West maintains a marital tribunal that has the power to annul a marriage that has been found by the tribunal to be invalid. The decisions of the tribunal are made within the canon law of the Church solely and do not have any impact upon secular laws. Where a marriage has been annulled, the parties are themselves responsible for instigating divorce proceedings (which are entirely separate from the process of annulment) should they wish the dissolution of their marriage to be recognized by the law of their country.
Divorced persons can only remarry, according to the religious rite, by dispensation; but in order to do justice, the Catholicate has an ecclesiastical tribunal to consider applications for dispensations in such cases, and any divorced baptized person, or baptized person whose previous marriage has been annulled, may apply to the Catholicate for dispensation. If dispensation is freely granted by the tribunal the divorced person or person whose previous marriage has been annulled may marry again with the benediction of the Catholicate, as though never married before, and one of the clergy may officiate.
The clergy consists of men in the major orders of deacon, priest and bishop. The clergy may marry either before or after ordination. The clergy includes both major bishops and chorepiscopi. A chorepiscopus holds the full Apostolic Succession (and may thus ordain or consecrate validly) but has restricted faculties, whereby he can act only in concert with a major bishop, or on the commission of such a bishop. This office is comparable to that of an auxiliary bishop in other churches. Senior priests may be appointed to the office of archpresbyter and senior deacons to the office of archdeacon.
Women may be set aside to the ancient order of deaconess and the office of messenger but are not ordained to the major orders as a matter of practice. The Catholicate does not take an official position on the validity or otherwise of the ordination of women, but holds that it is incompatible with its aim of ecumenical reunion among traditionalist Christians, and must therefore await the decision of a future Ecumenical Council of the reunited Body of Christ. The Catholicate does not, however, exclude from intercommunion those churches that have decided to ordain women.
The Catholicate is both sacerdotal and evangelical, and provides for the ordination of men as lay readers and preachers, teachers and evangelists, as well as to the major orders. The apostolic constitutions are accepted as a guide in principles and tradition.
All the clergy of the Catholicate are non-stipendiary and receive no emolument from central funds. They are expected to support themselves via secular employment. They are not “part-time”; their vocation is a full-time calling that expresses itself in whatever situation they are found in.
Candidates for ordination are generally selected from the laity of the missions of the Catholicate. There is no upper limit of age. Care is taken in the selection of candidates, who must meet specific educational prerequisites and satisfy the authorities in respect of their suitability for the ministry in the particular charism and conditions offered by the Catholicate. Candidates should in the first instance discuss their plans with their priest, who will refer suitable enquirers to the appropriate authorities.
Confession and the use of Ikons
The church encourages the practice of auricular confession (penance) and regards the seal of the confessional as absolute.
In accordance with its heritage in Orthodoxy, the church permits and encourages the use of Ikons in places of worship and in the home of members, and fully approves of their veneration. An Ikon is not merely a painting, but a sacred representation of its subject, such that to kiss or venerate it is to show love to those whom it depicts.
The Catholicate of the West is opposed to the legal availability of abortion for other than genuine medical reasons. In accordance with its origin in Divine creation, the Catholicate holds that all human life is sacred and that the Divine spark is present in all people.
The Catholicate considers that human life begins at conception. It notes that in many countries, it is legally acceptable to kill unborn children, not from medical necessity, but as a result of the desire or the convenience of the mother. The Catholicate unequivocally condemns the availability of abortion on this basis.
The Catholicate notes that the arguments put forward in favour of abortion frequently rest upon the dehumanization of the unborn child, and claims that diminish the reality that the unborn child is fully human and sentient from the moment of conception and ignore its rights. Except in cases where medical intervention is genuinely necessary, the murder of the unborn is as entirely unacceptable as the murder of any other innocent person, and is prohibited by the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue.
Our societies are judged by the way they treat the most vulnerable. There are none more vulnerable than the unborn.
Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
The Tridentine Mass is the normative means of Eucharistic worship, although other rites may be authorized for use where particular pastoral circumstances commend them. The vernacular is preferred, but Latin is also permitted. The following are also specifically permitted:
- The Glastonbury Rite, the Liturgy of Mar Julius of Iona, and all other Liturgies that have previously been authorized for use at any time by the Catholicate of the West.
- The Divine Liturgy of St Gregory, originally developed by our intercommunion partners the Society of Clerks Secular of St Basil, being a vernacular form of the Tridentine Mass, designed for Western Orthodox use.
- The vernacular translation of the Tridentine Mass by Archbishops Arnold Harris Mathew and Gerard Gul of the Old Catholic Churches.
- The Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church
- The English Missal
- The Liturgy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church
- The Wadle Mass and the Liturgy of the American Catholic Church
- Services of Love and Blessing of the Ancient Catholic Church
- The Rite of Sarum
The ancient, historic divine liturgies of St. James, St. Mark, St. Clement, St. Gregory, St. Thaddaeus, and St. John are all authorized for use in the Catholicate.
The Book of Common Prayer (1662 up to the 1928 edition) is authorized with specific conditions. In 1905, under the guidance of Archbishop Tikhon Bellavin (later Patriarch of Moscow), the Holy Synod in St. Petersburg approved the use of the Anglican Liturgy for Western Rite Orthodox Christians. Today this usage is called the Rite of St. Tikhon and is in use among many Orthodox Western Rite Jurisdictions. This Rite is approved unconditionally for use in the Catholicate. The Book of Common Prayer may otherwise be used on the strict understanding that its interpretation should be in accordance with a Catholic understanding of the Faith rather than those aspects of Protestantism that are at variance with such an understanding. The best way to ensure this is by using the materials based on the Book of Common Prayer that have been prepared for use within the Anglican Ordinariates of the Roman Catholic Church.
Information for Roman Catholics
If you are a member of the Roman Catholic Church, here is what you need to know about attending one of our missions. Firstly, we do not proselytize. We have no desire for Roman Catholics to cease attending their own churches and we will not advise them to do so. However, in some cases, a person may be prevented from a full submission to the Holy See for a variety of spiritual or doctrinal reasons. Where this is the case, our missions are capable of ministering to your spiritual needs and can offer, usually in a relatively small and intimate group, the means to rediscover the Catholic Faith.
All clergy of the Catholicate of the West derive their Holy Orders in unbroken succession from Rome via bishops of the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches and from the Eastern Orthodox Churches. These Holy Orders are considered valid according to a traditional understanding of the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. The majority of our clergy have never been members of the Roman Catholic Church and so are not subject to its penalties such as excommunication. Nor are we schismatic according to the Roman definition of that term; by contrast, we have never refused to submit to any just command of the Pope and we are very happy to share in fellowship with Roman Catholics. The sacraments within our rite are fully valid according to a traditional Roman understanding. The continued use of the word “Catholic” in the name “Catholic Apostolic Church (Catholicate of the West)” stands as testament to the way we regard our community.
If you are prevented from a full submission to the Holy See and wish simply to attend Mass, make your confession or receive the anointing of the sick at one of our missions, you can do so without contravening the Canons of the Roman Catholic Church. Canon 844(2) of the current Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law states, “Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”
It is only usually necessary to undertake a formal act of defection from the Roman Catholic Church if you are a Roman Catholic who is seeking Holy Orders outside that Church. We accept such candidates in very limited circumstances, the most obvious being priests who wish to marry while still continuing their priestly ministry.
Our teaching is exactly that which the Catholic Church has practiced through the majority of her history. Great emphasis is placed upon ensuring that the correct matter, form and intent (in the understanding of those terms by the Church) are preserved when the Sacraments are confected.
What are our main points of difference with the Roman Catholic Church?
The document that defines our position to its fullest extent is the 1889 Declaration of Utrecht, which can be read here.
- We reject both the First and the Second Vatican Councils, and differ on such other doctrinal points as are detailed in the Declaration of Utrecht. Regarding the pronouncements of the Holy See after 1870, we accept them only insofar as they are in conformity with the faith and practice of the undivided church of the first thousand years after Christ.
- We celebrate the Mass according to traditional and established Catholic and Orthodox rites, as well as using certain Orthodox and Anglican rites that have been recognized as valid by the Holy See. Although the Mass is usually offered in the vernacular it can be offered in Latin where this is deemed pastorally appropriate. We are liturgical traditionalists, and reject modern innovation in these matters.
- We permit our clergy to marry, either before or after their ordination, because this was the practice of the undivided Church.
- Our Bishops hold the supreme jurisdictional authority for that portion of Christ’s flock entrusted to their care, rather than conceding that authority to the Pope as has been the practice of the Roman Catholic Church since the First Vatican Council. “The bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church” (St. Cyprian, Letter 66 (69), 8 to Florentius Pupianus, c. AD 254)
- We are an integral and historic part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We do not originate in schism, and have at no point sought deliberately to separate ourselves from the Holy See. Our Faith is that of the undivided Church – that which is truly Catholic – without modern errors or additions.
- We regard the primacy of the Pope to be one of honour rather than one of jurisdiction, in line with the Orthodox position prior to 1054. We continue to hold the Pope in respect and prayer, and to pray that the Holy See will repent of its errors and return to an orthodox Catholic faith and practice, thus permitting our eventual reunion.