Old Catholics vs. the pope

Since I'm always complaining at all of those awful stories with headlines such as "Catholics To Ordain First Female Priest," I knew I had to highlight a story that does a good job of explaining how a group can have the word "Catholic" in its name but not be under the Bishop of Rome. It comes from a professional whose work seems to get raves from many people inside and outside journalism -- Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune. It's possible that being based in a city such as that has helped her be careful about doctrinal distinctions and respectful of different views.

In any case, here's how the story begins:

Archbishop Michael Seneco, of Washington, D.C., is a gay man who plans to marry his longtime partner in September.

Bishop Jim Morgan, of Ogden, is also gay and has been with the man he considers his husband for 30 years.

In this faith, the bishops’ marital relations haven’t caused a ripple among the clergy or the laity. No protests. No outraged believers. No furious voting.

You see, both priests practice a little-known brand of Catholicism, with elements most Catholics wouldn’t recognize. It’s called the North American Old Catholic Church and, according to its website, it preaches openness, tolerance and interfaith dialogue as "an essential way to build a more holistic and loving world in accordance with the Gospels."

The hook for this story is that the Old Catholics are holding their annual meeting in Ogden and Fletcher Stack goes from there to show what Old Catholics believe, in their own words.

And it's a beautifully nice and respectful story that manages to be that without being disingenuous about whether they're formally a part of the Catholic Church under the papacy:

North American Old Catholics, members say, "are redefining what it means to be a universal catholic church in a modern world needing prophetic voices."

In this incarnation of Catholicism, priests and nuns may marry whomever they wish, every baptized person (including divorced members) is welcome to take communion and women can be priests. Their faith statements read like a litany of progressive concerns — the environment, anti-torture, gay rights, women’s rights, nuclear disarmament, reproductive justice.

The Old Catholics oppose abortion but don’t believe their view should be codified in civil law. And there is no allegiance to Rome. Indeed, the movement started with the question of papal infallibility.

I do want to point out that when the dogma of papal infallibility was formally defined in 1870 under Pope Pius IX, many Catholics in good standing opposed that measure. Remember Lord Acton's statement "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."? He made that statement after traveling to Rome to argue against papal infallibility and losing.

The story provides a nice description of what led to the split, related to how the episcopate interacted with Rome. We learn that Old Catholics sent a priest to Milwaukee to launch the U.S. branch of the church in 1902. There's a really interesting tidbit about how that priest rebelled against his European leaders and how that led to a fragmented U.S. church -- until recently. We learn that the Old Catholics, now sort of reorganized, has fewer than 10,000 members in 21 states, mostly in small congregations.

There are more details on how they worship and a sidebar explaining their beliefs.

Just a nice story about an interesting group of people. And all without pretending that they report to the Vatican. She makes it look easy. But considering how many stories we see that follow the other template, I'm assuming it's not so easy.

Oh, I wanted to point out the headline, too. I thought it was handled well.

Utah’s ‘Old Catholics’ embrace new movements Faith sticks with liturgy, but opts for same-sex marriage, women priests.

It makes it clear we're talking about a separate group while also explaining just a bit about their worship and practice. Nicely done.

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