A History of the Old Roman Catholic Church
Originally written by: Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora, DD, August 15, 1950
Edited and Referenced by: Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph Thomas, PhD
The history of Old Roman Catholicism is the history of the One, Holy, Catholic, and
Apostolic Church founded by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Church emerged into public
work on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem and is built upon the Apostolic labors and the sufferings
of the glorious Apostles and Martyrs. Despite formidable opposition, the Church spread rapidly in
the first century and functioned under four autonomous Patriarchates: in the East at Alexandria,
Antioch, and Jerusalem, and in the West at Rome, whence it reached out the far-flung confines of
the whole empire.
The Church in the second century united and rightly organized the primitive and
struggling institutions of the post-Apostolic era. The Church successfully repelled the intrusion
of the schismatic irregulars and laid the foundations for that world structure of ecclesiastical
order and organization which grew and unfolded in the Patristic Age. In 312 AD, when the
Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity in the Edict of Milan and persecution ceased, the
Church was able to work openly and freely, and, because of the preeminence of Rome at that time
as the great city of the West, the Pope acquired considerable temporal power in addition to his
spiritual authority. (1) The union of Church and state that followed Constantine’s conversion led
to many changes within the Church. The bishops were not always elected by the faithful over
whom they were to exercise jurisdiction, and the archiepiscopal and patriarchal sees were often
filled by the favorites of ruling secular princes, not by choice of the area councils of the Church.
This corruption of basic Church order and function began in the fourth century. Conflict over
ecclesiastical order and regularity was later to have far-reaching effects on the church in the
In the Ecumenical Era [i.e. prior to the schism between East and West in 1054 AD] the five
patriarchal sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome were regarded as
co-ordinate and of equal status in the Church, but the Roman Patriarch, because of his succession
to the See of Peter and the historic position of the See and the City of Rome in the development of
Christianity, was accorded the further title, “Primus inter Pares”-“First among equals,” and a
precedence of dignity. As a benevolent father, the Roman Patriarch became known as “Papas” or
“Pope,” and he was looked up to as the guardian of the orthodox Faith.
The Roman Curia began to encroach upon the rights and privileges of the other patriarchates
(national churches). The defenders of Apostolic order asserted their rights to continue to choose
their own bishops and to rule their local affairs under universally accepted customs that could be
changed only by the decision of a General Council of the whole Church. The Council of
Constance (1414-1418), as did other councils, defended the rights of autonomous national
churches and affirmed that it had “its authority immediately from Christ; and that all men, of
every rank and condition, including the Pope himself, [was] bound to obey it in matters
concerning the Faith, the abolition of schism, and the reformation of the Church of God in its
head and its members.”
The Old Roman Catholic Church, while affirming its historical continuity with the Apostolic
Church of the first century, and possessing a line of Holy Orders held in common with the
Undivided Church of the early centuries, traces its Apostolic Succession in more recent centuries
through the ancient See of Utrecht in Holland. Saint Willibrord, the “Apostle to the Netherlands,”
was consecrated bishop by Pope Sergius I in A.D. 696, at Rome.(2) Upon his return to the
Netherlands, he founded the See of Utrecht. One of his successors in that See was the great Saint
Boniface, the “Apostle of Germany.”(3) The church of Utrecht also provided a worthy occupant for
the See of Peter in 1522 in the person of Adrian VI. Moreover, two of the abler exponents of the
religious life, Geerte Groote, who founded the Brothers of the Common Life,(4) and Thomas a
Kempis, who is credited with writing The Imitation of Christ, were from the Dutch Church.(5)
For reasons that were for the most part political and reactionary, the Jesuits began to invade
the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Utrecht in 1592; and, although they were more than once
rebuked therefore by the Pope and ordered to submit themselves to the Archbishop’s authority,
their machinations against him and the See of Utrecht continued unabated.(6) This had been an all
too common tendency of the Jesuits over the centuries in many different sees throughout the
world and for which they have been more than once rebuffed and/or suppressed by the Pope and
ordered out of certain countries by the respective civil authorities.
In 1691, the Jesuits falsely accused Archbishop Peter Codde, the occupant of the See of
Utrecht, of favoring the so-called “Jansenist Heresy.”(7) (We say “so-called,” because, while the
propositions condemned by Pope Innocent X are indeed erroneous and inconsistent with the true
Faith, they are not clearly to be found in the works of Cornelius Jansen.) Numerous archbishops,
bishops, and other clergy, along with faculty members of the prestigious universities at Rheims,
Sobornne, Nantes, and Louvain rejected the documents which denounced Jansen - all a matter of
record. The issue was not the correctness of the propositions, but whether or not these were in
fact contained in Jansen’s writings.
Archbishop Codde refused to accept the formulary of condemnation, not because he favored
the heretical propositions, but because he did not believe them to be espoused by Jansen.(8) His
unwillingness to unjustly condemn the works of the deceased bishop resulted in Archbishop
Codde’s suspension in 1699.(9) Nor was Archbishop Codde permitted any defense in these
accusations.(10) The beloved Archbishop, Peter Codde, died December 18, 1710 in his sixty-second
year of life and the twenty-second of his episcopate.(11) The saga initiated by the Jesuits created a
breach that has never healed, although, among others, Pope Clement XIV was favorably disposed
toward the grievously wronged church in Utrecht.
We believe and maintain, as we have always done since 1699, that these irregular proceedings
against our predecessors, based as they were upon charges that were proved at the time to have
been groundless, were null and void, and that we have remained, and still are in fact, recognized
by the Roman Catholic Church as a “particular church” since we retain the historical unbroken
Apostolic Succession.(12) As decreed by the document issued by the Roman Catholic Church’s
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
“…[chapter] IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church…[paragraph number] 17. Therefore, there exists
a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of
Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in
perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the
closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular
Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even
though they lack full communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, since they do not accept the
[Roman] Catholic doctrine of the Primacy [of the Pope].” (13)
Dominique Marie Varlet, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ascalon, in partibus , and Coadjutor to
Bishop Pidou de St. Olon, of Babylon in Persia consecrated four Archbishops of Utrecht for the
Dutch Old Roman Catholic Church. Three of the four bishops consecrated by Bishop Varlet died
without perpetuating the Episcopate. The fourth, Peter John Meindaerts, was consecrated on
October 17, 1739 to fill the vacant See of Utrecht, without having asked for or obtained a papal bull
authorizing the consecration. Since the Church of Utrecht, while retaining in every detail the
worship and doctrine as formerly, became known as the Old Roman Catholic Church of Holland.
Old Roman Catholicism is the same Mystical Body of Christ as in the first Christian
centuries. There have been no essential changes. The decrees of the Second Council of Utrecht,
held under Archbishop Meindaerts beginning on September 13, 1763, are a monument of
orthodoxy and respect for the Holy See.(14) In a declaration made by Archbishop Van Os and his
two suffragans to the Papal Nuncio who visited Holland in 1823, they said: “We accept without
any exception whatever all the Articles of the Holy Catholic Faith. We will never hold nor teach,
now nor afterwards, any other opinion than those that have been decreed, determined, and
published by our Mother, Holy Church… We reject and condemn everything opposed to them,
especially all heresies, without exception, which the Church has rejected and condemned… We
have never made common cause with those who have broken the bond of unity.”(15)
Thus the Old Roman Catholic Church received and still preserves, not only true Apostolic
Succession, but the doctrines and rites of the Holy Church of Christ as passed down to us from
the Apostles. The Church is called “Old” because she rejected the innovations/machinations
thrust upon Archbishop Peter Codde by the Jesuits of the 17/18th century in Utrecht, Holland, and
who are directly responsible for having created the dissension between the aforementioned
Archbishop and the Patriarchal See of Rome.
This Communion is called “Roman” due to the line of her Apostolic Succession from the first
century until 1739 being held in common with the Roman Catholic Church and since she uses the
ancient Western expression of the Liturgy with great care and exactness as to the matter, form
and intention in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the administration of the
seven Holy Sacraments/Mysteries. The Church is “Catholic” because she is not confined to any
one nation or place or time, teaching the same Faith once delivered by her Divine Founder, Jesus
Christ to the Apostles.
The honest inquirer must be cautioned not to confuse our identity as Old Roman Catholics
with those in communion with the Union of Utrecht. Much which, in this age, calls itself Old
Catholic represents some compromise with Protestantism, or, in a wider digression, with the non-
Christian cult theosophy, bearing little resemblance to Orthodox Christianity. (In 1870, Dr. Ignaz
von Dollinger brought the Old Catholics into being to offer resistance to the dogma of Papal
Infallibility. In 1873, the Old Roman Catholic Church of Utrecht was, most unhappily, prevailed
upon to provide the Old Catholics with a bishop. In 1889, an amalgamation took place between
the Church of Utrecht and the Old Catholics of the Utrecht Union, also known as the Old
Catholics’ of the Continent. Thus the Church of Utrecht laid the foundation for her subsequent
fall into Modernism.) The Old Roman Catholic Church, through the 1910 Declaration of
Autonomy(16) is not in communion with such “churches.”
Before the great See of Utrecht abandoned her historic position, however, God in His Divine
Providence provided for the continuation of Old Roman Catholicism. Though Utrecht was
eventually to abandon true Catholicism, the Church was not to perish. Archbishop Gerard Gul of
Utrecht consecrated Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew of England to the Episcopate on April 28,
1908 at the Cathedral of St. Gertrude at Utrecht when Utrecht was truly orthodox.(17) At the time
of Archbishop Mathew’s consecration at Utrecht, the Church of Utrecht had made no serious
inroads against the Catholic Faith, nor had she yet departed in any way from Catholic tradition
By the end of 1910, however, the heterodox influence of the Old Catholics’ of the Continent
had proved to be too much. So great and far reaching were the changes which she was prevailed
upon to make in her formularies and doctrinal position that, on December 29, 1910, Archbishop
Mathew was forced to withdraw the Old Catholic Church in England from communion with
Utrecht in order to preserve its orthodoxy intact.(18) Therefore it comes about that the ancient and
glorious Church of Saint Willibrord and Saint Boniface has its continuation and perpetuation
through the present Old Roman Catholic Church, which is compelled, in defense of Orthodoxy, to
refuse to hold union with either Utrecht or the Old Catholics.
The Apostolic Succession was conferred upon Prince de Landas Berghes St. Winok et de
Rache by Archbishop Arnold Harris Matthew on June 29, 1912 in his chapel at London, England.
It was Archbishop De Landas Berghes who was sent to America to establish the Old Roman
Catholic Church in the United States. On October 4, 1916, Archbishop De Landas Berghes, in his
domestic chapel at Waukegan, Illinois, consecrated Carmel Henry Carfora, as Perpetual Coadjutor
with Right to Succession. Bishop Carfora was elected Archbishop of the United States and Canada
on October 12, 1919 and Primate of all Old Roman Catholic Churches on March 19, 1923. The
Apostolic Succession of the Old Roman Catholic Bishops in the United States, Canada and Mexico
was derived from Archbishop Carmel H. Carfora.
The historical practice of the Old Roman Catholic Church originates in the
autonomous nature granted to Utrecht several centuries ago. “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” This
ancient maxim of the Church, commonly translated, “the law of prayer is the law of belief,” serves
as our motto as we continue to preserve the authentic Orthodox Christian Faith, expressed in a
fully Catholic heritage and culture.
Although the Old Roman Catholic Church does not depend on the recognition of the
Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly affirmed its recognition of
the Old Roman Catholic Church. See Addis and Arnold’s Roman Catholic Dictionary, which says
of this Communion, “They have retained valid orders…We have been unable to discover any trace
of heresy in these books,” [i.e. those books officially ordered for use in the Old Roman Catholic
Church.] A Catholic Dictionary, by Donald Attwater, bearing the imprimatur of the late Patrick
Cardinal Hayes of New York, states of the Old Roman Catholic Church: “Their orders and
sacraments are valid.” Referring to the Old Roman Catholic Church in America, specifically
Father Conrad Algermissen’s Christian Denominations, published in 1948, and bearing the
imprimatur of the late John Cardinal Glennon of St. Louis (p. 363) says: “The North American
Old Roman Catholic Church [has] received valid episcopal consecration.”
In fact, as far back as 1928, The Far East (January 1928, p.16), a publication of the
Roman Catholic Columban Fathers of St. Columban’s, Nebraska, answered an inquiry concerning
the validity of the orders conferred in the Old Roman Catholic Church. The article mentions our
late Archbishop Carfora (from whom many present Old Roman Catholic bishops derive their
orders) favorably and states, “these orders are valid.”
The Old Roman Catholic Church is integral to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church of Jesus Christ, having provable and unbroken succession of Orders from, and teaching
the full Faith of the undivided Universal Church. She adheres to the forms and formulae
established by the early Church Fathers, in order to preserve for succeeding generations the
deposit of Faith received from Our Lord and His Apostles.
The Old Roman Catholic Church continues to provide for her Faithful, who wish to maintain
the ancient doctrine and worship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Holy Mass
Indeed the doctrinal position of the Old Roman Catholic Church has often been
unknown or misunderstood by many who are not of this Communion. There have been those
who have deliberately distorted our theological and canonical position - for reasons known only to
themselves. To correct any misinterpretation of what we Old Roman Catholics believe, the Old
Roman Catholic Church reaffirms that it holds and teaches the Orthodox Faith, especially as
regards the first seven Ecumenical Councils. We maintain and teach the Orthodox Faith without
The Old Roman Catholic Church maintains the historical conciliar nature of the
Church of Christ. Although we are not in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, we
acknowledge him as the historical Patriarch of the West, the Successor of the Apostolic See of the
Church of Rome.
1. Fr. John Laux, M.A., Church History, (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1945. Republished: Rockford: Tan Books And
Publishers, 1989) 77, 92.
2. C. B. Moss, The Old Catholic Movement, (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005) 90.
3. Ibid. 90-91.
4. J. M. Neale, A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland, (Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005) 78-80.
5. Ibid. 75, 98.
6. Moss, 37-40, 42-44.
7. Ibid, 106.
8. Ibid. 35, 48, 106.
9. Ibid. 106.
10. Ibid. 107.
11. Neale, 229.
12. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dominus Jesus, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000.
13. Ibid. ch. 4, par. 17.
14. Neale. 295.
15. Ibid. 351-352.
16. Mathew, Archbishop Arnold Harris, Declaration of Autonomy, as quoted in Credo. (New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2005) 473-
17. Moss, 300.
18. Ibid. 304.
Denzinger, Henry, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, translated by Roy J. Deferrari. St.
Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1957.
M.A., Fr. John, Church History. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1945.
Republished: Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, 1989.
Mathew, Archbishop Arnold Harris, Declaration of Autonomy, as quoted in Credo, New
York: iUniverse, Inc., 2005.
Moss, C. B. The Old Catholic Movement. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2005.
Neale, J. M. A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland. Berkeley:
Apocryphile Press, 2005.
Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph, Dominus Jesus. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ,
August 6, 2000.