The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC)
"We are People of God baptized in Christ and professing our faith in a living Catholic tradition. We are men and women, lay and ordained, joining together as a “communion of communities” in response to the messianic call of the Spirit to:
If you are looking for a new liturgical and spiritual home, committed to the unconditional love and compassion of God, we welcome you to come and share in the goodness of the Lord. For a list of the ECC communities in the United States, please click here and you will be directed to our national website.
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC)
The ECC traces it’s roots to the Catholic traditions of the Conciliarists(*) of the middle ages, who held that the highest authority within the church resides in the church councils in which the leaders of the entire church join together to determine and affirm its teaching and governance. This, in fact, is the most ancient tradition of Christianity, and is evident in numerous passages in the new testament, most notably in the book, Acts of the Apostles.
While it is commonly believed that the pope has been regarded as infallible, and exercising universal jurisdiction, since the early days of the apostles, in fact infallibility and universal jurisdiction were not instituted within the Roman church until 1870, at the First Vatican Council. At that time, the pope declared his authority to be higher than all church councils. The Roman church pronounced the pope (and subsequent popes) as infallible. Many catholic Christians, including laity, priests and bishops, refused to accept this new teaching. They gathered in protest in Utrecht, formed the Union of Utrecth, and became known as Old Catholics (i.e., "old" as they held to "old" practices about church authority and rejected the "new" dogma and practice of papal infallibility). The “old catholic” movement spread through Europe and eventually to America.
In 2003, a group of Catholic communities, inheritors of this old catholic tradition, entered into communion, drafted a constitution and formed the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC). The ECC has grown rapidly, and currently has faith communities throughout North America and Europe. The ECC practices the original understanding of church which existed universally for the first 1000+ years of christianity, and still exists in the eastern orthodox tradition. In this understanding of catholicism, each local faith community (i.e., diocese) is led by its bishop and pastoral councils. The people of each local faith community participate in the life of the church by electing their bishop and taking an active role in the ministry of the community. The pope, who has traditionally been the bishop of the community of Rome, is regarded as an important spiritual leader, but does not (in the view of the ECC) exercise infallible authority, or universal jurisdiction, over other local churches.
Each local church (diocese) upholds the autonomy of its own life and governance. Approval from Rome (or some similar centralized authority) is not required in the decision making processes of each local church. Rev. Bjorn Marcussen, a theologian, has expressed it as follows: "The fullness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church resides in the local church, understood as the local diocese. The local church does not need a 'super structure' or a 'super bishop' to complete anything, for nothing is missing in its catholicity and apostolicity. The local church is the church in one specific place under one specific bishop."
(*)Conciliarism was a reform movement in the 14th-, 15th- and 16th-century Catholic Church which held that supreme authority in the Church resided with an Ecumenical council, apart from, or even against, the pope.
Rev. Jim Farris, an ECC priest, has written a more detailed account of the history the Conciliarists, and the roots of the Old Catholic tradition. This is contained in the document, Unity and Peace: The Foundations and Vision of the Constitution of The Ecumenical Catholic Communion, pages 5-19. If you are interested in reading this, click here.
History of the Independent Catholic (Old Catholic) Church
Until the year 1054 AD, the Church was where it should be; a body of Christians committed to the person and teaching of Jesus, the Christ. Through the testimony of the apostles who were the eye witnesses of His life, death, and resurrection, His teachings have been passed along to succeeding generations. By continuing in this apostolic tradition, the Church expanded to touch every corner of the world.
Prior to what is called "The Great Schism" in 1054 AD, the local bishops made decisions regarding local practices. Periodically, synods (a convocation of bishops) gathered to discuss larger issues of beliefs and disciplines. As the Church grew in size and acceptance, Ecumenical Councils were convened to make decisions regarding faith and morals as they affected the whole Church. These councils were presided over by the five patriarchs of the Church, bishops representing the cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Rome. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Patriarch of Rome asserted that he and his successors were divinely entrusted with supreme authority over the entire Christian world as the spiritual heirs of St. Peter; the first Bishop of Rome to whom Christ gave the "keys to the kingdom of heaven." Because of this, the Eastern Churches (known as the Orthodox Churches) and the Western Church (known as the Roman Catholic Church) mutually declared each other in schism (disunion); each church excommunicating the other.
The beginnings of the Independent Catholic (Old Catholic) movement actually began in the 7th century with the evangelization of the area of Europe known as the Netherlands. Historically, the majority of Independent Catholic (Old Catholic) churches can trace their origins to the Catholic Church of the Netherlands. Utrecht would eventually became the archiepiscopal See. Responding to a petition sent in 1145 AD, Pope Eugene II granted the Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht the right to elect successors to the See in times of vacancy. This act was confirmed by the Forth Lateran Council in 1215 AD. In 1520 AD, the autonomous nature of the Church in the Netherlands was reaffirmed by Pope Leo X when he issued the papal bull "Debitum Pastoralis." The granting of this unique privilege, unlike anywhere else in the Roman Catholic Church, allowed the Archbishop of Utrecht to consecrate bishops without permission or approval from the Pope; a common practice of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches.
After the First Vatican Council in 1870 AD, to which the bishops of the Netherlands Church were refused admittance, disagreement arose from Catholics, especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Holland, over the issues of papal infallibility and universal Episcopate of the Bishop of Rome. The dissenting groups believed that the Church in General Council, not the Pope acting alone, should make decisions in matters of faith and morals. This led to the Declaration of Utrecht, formulated by the Old Catholic Bishops of the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, and Holland, assembled at Utrecht on September 24, 1889. These independent communities became known as Old Catholic because they desired to retain the beliefs and practices of the universal catholic Church that existed during the apostolic era prior to the Great Schism of 1054 AD.
From this, many other Old Catholic communities joined with the Archbishop of Utrecht to form the Utrecht Union of Churches. Independent (Old Catholic) churches expanded rapidly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Holland. New parishes were established in Poland, France, and throughout the world. Independent (Old Catholic) Churches thrived in the United States and eventually evolved from a centralized administration and structure, to the local and regional model that follows the traditions of the early Christian Church; small communities meeting in homes to share the Word and join together in the Eucharistic celebration.
Note: There is an 11 video presentation available on YouTube on the Old Catholic/Independent Catholic movement. This series of videos was produced as part of "Independent Catholicism & the American Catholic Church in the U.S.," a three-week course presented by the Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias, Pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas. While some of the videos deal specifically with the history of the American Catholic Church in the United States (ACCUS), the remainder offer a detailed outline of independent catholic history. Click here to view the video series.