Answers to Common Questions about
the Independent Catholic Movement

Wait a minute! I’ve never seen anything like this before! Are you telling me that there’s more than one Catholic Church?

No. There is only one Catholic Church, but there are a fair number of Catholic denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is only one of those denominations, albeit overwhelmingly the largest of them all. The Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch is affiliated with the others which, while genuinely Catholic, are not under the control or governance of Rome. As a group, these denominations are referred to as the “independent movement” within greater Catholicism.


But I thought a “denomination” was a separate religion.

A denomination is an organization—that is a group of fallible human beings—who gather in worship, pool funds, construct church buildings, file for nonprofit status, operate ministries, hold rummage sales and do all the other things people associate with the word “church”. Many---actually nearly all---Catholic denominations believe the same tenets of faith, which were laid down in complete form prior to the year 1000. But each denomination is separately organized and managed. So there’s unity in faith, but diversity in    practice and governance. (It’s important not to confuse matters of faith with matters of church practice and governance!)


The Pope runs the Roman Catholic Church. Who runs these others?

Each denomination is run by its own bishops. The Pope is a bishop who has been elected by his fellow bishops to be, in effect, the Roman Catholic Church’s CEO. There are variations among other Catholic denominations, but each generally has a governing council of bishop, and that council elects a bishop from among themselves to act as the denominations presiding bishop. The Presiding Bishop of the Catholic Church of Antioch is the Most Rev. Mark Elliott Newman, OC, D.D.


Don’t bishops have to be specially anointed somehow? I thought the Pope had to do it.

In the Roman Church, yes. However, every bishop, once consecrated, is invested with the fullness of the priesthood, which includes the power to consecrate new bishops. The process involves a “laying on of hands” in an unbroken sequence that extends back to the original twelve apostles, Christianity’s first bishops. This is referred to as apostolic succession.  A religion is considered apostolic when it can trace the consecrations of its bishops back to the original Church established by Christ Himself. The Church of Antioch can demonstrate this unbroken sequence and thus we rightfully consider ourselves a true apostolic church,


So somewhere in the past those lines of succession broke from those of the original Catholic Church?

Catholic history is much more complicated than most people realize—and the Roman Catholic Church sees no benefit in emphasizing all of the various complications. The greater Catholic Church has split a fair number of times, generally over matters of discipline and governance, much more rarely over matters of faith. The two largest splits—usually called schisms—are those with the Eastern Orthodox in 1054 and with the Anglican Communion in 1534. Both the Orthodox and the Anglicans can properly be called Catholics, even though the Roman Church does so with some hesitation. And there have been a couple of instances down through history where Rome has given a dioceses permission to elect its own bishops, for reasons that today sound quaint or obscure. Bishops independent of Rome have come about through both of these mechanisms.


I see; and because the big fuss over birth control originated with the Pope, the bishops of the independent movement don’t have to perpetuate it.

Right. Each denomination establishes its own code of canon law, and virtually every single one has ruled that contraception is a matter of conscience; a decision that a couple makes, ideally after some prayer and consultation with their parish priest. There is no prohibition against contraception in the Church of Antioch.


The same with married priests?

Exactly. The Roman Catholic Church is the only major religious group in all Christendom with a celibate clergy. The historical reasons for that might surprise you, though they’re complex to cover here. Mandatory celibacy has been a requirement of the Roman Catholic Church only since the year 1100 or so. For the first thousand years of Catholic history, priests, bishops and even popes were married. There’s nothing inherently wrong with celibacy, for those who feel called to it. But requiring celibacy of all ordained priests prevents many worthy individuals from serving Christ in the priesthood. The independent movement has long since treated celibacy as a special calling, not as a requirement. We feel that the Catholic denominations of the independent movement are much richer for it. In the Church of Antioch, celibacy is completely optional.


So divorce is OK too?

Divorce is never easy. Frequently, human beings marry too young, or without sufficient preparation or in the heat of a passion that masks a deeper problem. Most of the independent Catholic denominations take that into account and recognize that Christ’s message is of love and forgiveness. The majority of the independent Catholic denominations feels that divorce should not be an unscalable wall standing between two unhappy human beings and the sacraments that can begin to comfort and heal them. Most independent Catholic denominations offer special counseling to the divorced, both to welcome them back to Catholicism and to help them find, if they so choose, the wisdom to make marriage work for them again. The Church of Antioch welcomes divorced and/or remarried men and women into full participation in the life of the Church.


And what about women priests?

Although there is no consensus yet in the independent Catholic movement about women’s ordination, more and more independent denominations are granting women ordination, and are even consecrating them as bishops. The various contending threads of the debate are complex and can’t be explained in just a few words without being fair to one side or the other. Since its founding the Church of Antioch has been ordaining and consecrating women. Women share equally in the life and governance of the Church of Antioch.


And what about gays and lesbians? How does the independent movement view them?

Just like the issue of women’s ordination, there is no consensus yet in the independent Catholic movement about homosexuality and the role of gays and lesbians in the Church. Some independent Catholic denominations hold to the traditional view that homosexuality is inherently disordered, counseling abstinence from any same sex activity and refusing to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians to the priesthood. Other independent Catholic denominations take a more liberal position, viewing homosexuality as biological in origin and not inherently sinful or disordered. Some of these denominations will also ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians to the priesthood and will also sacramentally bless same-sex unions. The Church of Antioch welcomes gays and lesbians to full participation in the life of the Church, ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians to the priesthood and allowing its clergy to bless same-sex unions.


This is all very interesting. I haven’t been to church in years and I kind of miss it. Why haven’t I heard of the independent Catholic movement before?

It’s still small, and between World War II and 1990 or so it had lost critical mass and seemed in danger of extinction. The Internet has brought new life and energy to the movement, and new ways of letting people know that we exist. Most denominations of the independent Catholic movement have their own Websites, and many conduct list server lists and chat rooms. As yet, it hasn’t gotten a lot of national publicity, and as you might expect, the Roman Catholic Church has little or nothing to say about it.


(Adapted from What’s Going on Here?!?! Answers to Common Questions about the Independent Catholic Movement by Jeff Duntemann. Adapted and used with permission of the author.)