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Old-Catholic churches

Old-Catholics are a group of national churches which at various times separated from Rome. The term "Old-Catholic" was adopted to mean original Catholicism. Old-Catholic Christians are composed of three sections: (1) the Church of Utrecht which originated in 1724 when its chapter maintained its ancient right to elect the Archbishop of Utrecht, against opposition from Rome; (2) the German, Austrian and Swiss Old-Catholic churches which refused to accept the dogmas of the infallibility and the universal ordinary jurisdiction of the pope, as defined by the Vatican Council of 1870; (3) smaller groups of Slav origin. National church movements among the Poles in the USA (1987) and the Croats (1924) have resulted in the establishment of the National Polish Church in America and in Poland, and of the Old-Catholic Church of Croatia. Unfortunately the Polish National Church of America and Canada left the Union of Utrecht in 2003. Their bishops could not agree with the majority in the International Bishops' Conference which was in favour of the opening of the apostolic ministry to women. The Philippine Independent Church established sacramental communion with Old-Catholics in 1965.

The doctrinal basis of the Old-Catholic churches is the Declaration of Utrecht (1889). The Old-Catholics recognize the same seven ecumenical councils as the Eastern Orthodox churches, and those doctrines accepted by the church before the Great Schism of 1054. They admit seven sacraments and recognize apostolic succession. They also believe in the real presence in the eucharist, but deny transubstantiation, forbid private masses, and permit the reception of the eucharist under one or both elements. The Old-Catholic churches have an episcopal-synodal structure. Bishops, as well as the rest of the clergy, are permitted to marry. All services are in the vernacular. Since 1996 the threefold apostolic ministry is open to women. From the start, Anglicans have been close to Old-Catholics. They participated in an international conference of theologians, convened at Bonn by Old-Catholics in 1874, to discuss the reunion of churches outside Rome. Old-Catholics recognized Anglican ordinations in 1925. Since 1931 they have been in full communion with the Church of England first and later on with all the churches of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a permanent representative with the International Old-Catholic Bishops' Conference.

Old-Catholic-Orthodox dialogues have taken place since 1931. An agreement on all-important theological and ecclesiological issues was reached in 1987. A joint commission with the Ecumenical Patriarchate looks after the implementation of that agreement within the churches. Since the second Vatican Council the Old-Catholic churches have been in conversation with the Roman Catholic Church. Both on the national and the international level various initiatives were taken in order to discuss the main ecclesiological issues on which the two catholic ecclesiastical families have different views.