Established in 1874 at the impetus of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Venice, the Order of Corporate Reunion was initially intended as a means whereby Rome’s objections to the validity of the Holy Orders of the Church of England could be overcome through the practice of subconditional ordination or consecration of Anglican clergy. Following its promulgation in 1877, the Order did not gain the support of the Church of England hierarchy, and despite some notable Anglican adherents, it fell into obscurity soon afterwards.
The question of Anglican validity was brought into sharper focus by the Papal Bull Apostolicæ curæ (1896) which pronounced Anglican orders to be null and void. An encyclical by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Sæpius officio (1897) replied in detail and found Rome’s conclusions to be in error. Notwithstanding this defence, there were numerous clergy of the High Church party within the Church of England who found the position unsatisfactory and believed Rome rather than their own hierarchs.
In 1912, a revival of the Order of Corporate Reunion was promoted by the British Old Catholic archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919), and the Order occupied the greater part of the latter years of Mathew’s ministry, being connected with Mathew’s plans for a Uniate British church that also drew strongly on nineteenth-century ecumenism. Mathew and some of the bishops in his succession were extremely active in conditionally validating the Holy Orders of Anglican clergy, and thereby came into conflict with the hierarchy of the Church of England which strongly opposed the practice. Of necessity, the work of the OCR during and after this period was largely clandestine.
The Order of Corporate Reunion came into contact with the Apostolic Episcopal Church in 1933 when its Provincial for the United States of America, Archbishop Ignatius (William Albert Nichols) (1877-1947) consecrated the founder of the AEC, Archbishop Arthur W. Brooks (1888-1948) and appointed him Rector Provincial of the State of New York for the OCR. Whether this consecration imparted the lineal succession of the OCR cannot be known for certain, though this has been the subject of speculation. On 17 November 1946, Brooks was appointed by Nichols as his successor as Prelate of the OCR. These offices then passed to his successor Archbishop Wallace David de Ortega Maxey (1902-92) and have been attached to the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church ever since.
The complex claims that surround the Order today include various assertions of secret consecrations and that this or that prelate was a member of the Order. We can only judge such claims on the basis of the evidence that supports them. We do not base our representation of the OCR upon anything other than the authority that has existed within our church since 1933. No other claimant to the OCR can show a comparable continuous relationship between the OCR and their jurisdiction. Indeed, the past AEC and OCR Primate Dr Bertil Persson has written that the Apostolic Episcopal Church is “the only concrete result of the vision of a uniate church, once created by abbé Portal and Lord Halifax, and that has its ideological root in The Order of Corporate Reunion.” [Bertil Persson, The Order of Corporate Reunion, St Ephrem’s Institute, Solna, Sweden, 2000, p. 30.]
Since the death of the late Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan, the Apostolic Episcopal Church has maintained its representation of the OCR independently, and has no relationship with any other entity or prelate claiming the OCR heritage. An official statement on the reasons for this position has been issued: