Independent Catholic churches

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The Independent Catholic churches are churches which have broken away from the Roman Catholic Church while retaining most of its liturgy, traditions and theology. By contrast, the Protestant churches also broke away, but they rejected a great deal of its traditions in the process.

It is important to distinguish these groups from the Eastern Catholic churches which--while they follow Eastern rather than Roman traditions--do so as part of the Roman Catholic Church; from groups such as Anglo-Catholics who remain part of the Anglican Churches but see Anglicanism as closer to Catholicism than Protestantism; and from a similar movement among the Lutheran churches known as Evangelical Catholicism. It also is important to keep separate the original sense of catholic (such as in the Nicene creed), meaning universal, and the concept of all Christian churches being deemed to be part of the universal, i.e. catholic, church.

There is no single Independent Catholic church. There are many such churches, with completely contrary beliefs to each other. Several of these hold the belief that they are the true Roman Catholic Church, and that the mainstream Roman Catholic Church has fallen into heresy or apostasy. We can group them into a few categories:

  • the Old Catholic Church was founded in 1870 by those who rejected the declaration of Papal Infallibility by the First Vatican Council. Other than that, they accepted the bulk of traditional Catholic teachings. They became attached to the See of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which had split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1700s (partially over the issue of Jansenism). In more recent decades, the Old Catholic "Union of Utrecht" has moved in an increasingly liberal direction, accepting married priests, women priests, and increasingly accepting homosexuality.
  • the Liberal Catholic Churches started when some members of the Old Catholic Church, especially in the English-speaking world, developed an interest in theosophy and the occult. They retain many of the outer practices of the Old Catholic Church, but have augmented Catholic theology with theosophy. They have splintered into a number of competing churches. Most of them share the social liberalism which has developed in the Old Catholic Church.
  • Traditionalist Catholic groups, which rejected the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council exist along a spectrum. At one end, some exist definitely within the framework of the generally-recognized Roman Catholic Church; at other end, others have in effect established entirely separate churches. There are several positions in between with ambiguous relations to the mainstream Roman Catholic Church. In more detail:
    • There are those who prefer the old liturgy, but do so in full obedience to the Catholic hierarchy (e.g. the Sacerdotal Society of St. John Marie Vianney)
    • There are those who believe the current church hierarchy is in error, and refuse to be obedient to it. At the same time, they accept in principle the validity of the current church hierarchy and hope to be reconciled to it (Society of St. Pius X)
    • There are those who believe the Popes since Vatican II have been antipopes, and the office of Pope is currently vacant. This view exists in a few variants:
      • sedevacantists assert that the current Pope is really an antipope, and the office of Pope is vacant.
      • sedeprivationists believe that the Popes since Vatican II have not been full Popes, but only 'potential Popes' or 'half Popes.' They believe that Benedict XVI is a heretic and as such cannot really be Pope; but that if he was to recant his heresy, he would automatically become Pope the moment he did so.
      • the Society of St. Pius V does not believe that the question of whether the Holy See is vacant or not has been definitely settled, but they believe that genuine doubts exist as to whether the recent Popes have actually been popes.
    • conclavists believe, like the sedevacantists, that the Papacy is vacant; but they go one step further and elect their own Pope. There are many different conclavist groups, each with its own Pope. The Roman Catholic Church considers all these to be antipopes.
  • Mystical Catholic churches refers to churches which center around alleged revelations from the Saints, Jesus, or most commonly, the Virgin Mary. These revelations lead them to reject the mainstream Roman Catholic Church as heretical and to found their own churches. This is often combined with a belief in sedevacantism or conclavism, but other sedevacantists and conclavists claim to be faithfully following church tradition rather than new revelations. The most well-known groups in this category are the Palmarian Catholic Church in Spain and the Mariavite churches in Poland.
  • Nationalist Catholic churches. Another entity is the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States. It did not break away over any particular doctrinal issue, but as a result of ethnic conflict. Polish immigrants to the United States felt neglected by the predominantly Italian hierarchy in the United States. In the late nineteenth century the Polish National Catholic Church was founded. It was the largest member of the Union of Utrecht until recently when it severed its ties in opposition to the Union's approval of women priests.
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