That Apostolic Old Catholic Church of whatever

As far as I can tell, just by reading the story that ran in the newspaper that lands in my front yard, the nonprofit Emmaus Center that works with the homeless in nearby Glen Burnie is a small, but vigorous ministry that does wonderful work. A lengthy Baltimore Sun story noted that the center operates on a miniscule annual budget of $50,000 -- which is why it operates with an unpaid staff of seven.

Between 25 and 50 people visit on a typical day. There's prayer at 8 a.m. and a Bible study at 11 a.m. Right now, the ministry is preparing for its annual Thanksgiving dinner, which will be held at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in nearby Linthicum (which is just around the corner from my own parish, Holy Cross Orthodox Church).

It's all pretty standard stuff and there's nothing wrong with that.

Nevertheless, what's intriguing to me is that the story seems totally uninterested in some rather basic information, such as the answer to this question: What church is behind this ministry?

As it turns out, this an especially interesting question if one considers the heavily Catholic history of Maryland.

Readers are simply told that the leaders of the Emmaus Center are the Rev. Ed Jansen and his wife, Trish Gaffney. And then there is this:

Four years ago, the couple, both ordained ministers in the Apostolic Catholic Church, were living in Stuart, Fla., where Jansen had worked as a pastoral counselor for more than 20 years, and Gaffney as a social worker.

One day, for no reason he can remember, Jansen asked his wife, a Severna Park native, what she would do if he were to die.

"I'd move back home," she said, meaning to Anne Arundel County.

"If that's what you consider home, what are we waiting for?" he said.

They closed up their affairs, left the state they loved and headed north.

Their original plan was to set up a private counseling service with a sideline: helping those who lived on the streets. But when they opened their doors in May 2008, so many homeless people showed up for help that "it just overwhelmed us," says Jansen, who is known at Emmaus as Father Ed.

For starters, if they are both ordained priests, wouldn't that be the Rev. Ed Jansen and his wife, the Rev. Trish Gaffney? This question leads to another interesting question: What, pray tell, is the "Apostolic Catholic Church? However, an online search for that mysterious name raises more questions than it answers.

There is, after all, the very controversial Apostolic Catholic Church that is based in the Philippines, which also claims to have parishes and networks around the world. There are critics who consider this pseudo-Catholic body to be both a cult, in both the doctrinal and sociological senses of that world.

This is not to be confused, however, with the Catholic Apostolic Church that has its roots in England. I had never even heard of that one.

This, in turn, is not to be confused with the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA), which apparently is a tiny network of self-proclaimed Catholic parishes that, according to its website, "welcomes all, regardless of race, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, political beliefs or economic status."

That's a possibility, in this case.

However, it seems likely that the Sun team was dealing with yet another body that uses the name Apostolic Catholic Church, one that proclaims itself the "church of second chances and new beginnings." It's website notes:

In our present incarnation the Apostolic Catholic Church was formed by several priests and ministers from various main line denominations who had served in the third world. They sought to recreate the vibrant radical servant churches they experienced in the mission field. The special charism of the church is service to the poor and marginalizes. We are radically committed to social and economic justice. Most of our communities are in inner city or rural areas.

The problem with that option, however, is that doing a simple online search for the Emmaus Center in Glen Burnie -- a step that I would assume was taken by the editorial team -- leads directly to the homepage of the St. Michael Old Catholic Church (

Oh my. And who are the so-called Old Catholics? Anyone who goes through that door is in for a dizzying and confusing trip into a matrix of historical claims to apostolic succession, as well as claims to priestly orders that are often pathetic and confusing at the same time. I have covered "Old Catholic" leaders who were totally sincere. Others seemed, at best, to be running mail-order ordination services.

Does this automatically mean that the work the Emmaus Center does is invalid or questionable? No way. The information contained in this Sun article is, at times, quite moving and powerful.

The point I am trying to make is essentially journalistic in nature.

At some point in this very lengthy report, the Sun team needed ask some basic question and then offer basic information about the church body that supports and, more importantly, supervises this ministry. In short, who are these people? What is the Apostolic Catholic Church? How big is it? What is it? What's the difference between the Apostolic Catholic Church and whatever Old Catholic body serves as the authority for the St. Michael Old Catholic Church? Precisely how many schisms away from Rome is this body? And how does this small and somewhat mysterious ministry relate to those operated by more conventional church bodies (such as the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland)?

Just asking.

IMAGE: An image of Jesus on the Emmaus Road

Please respect our Commenting Policy