Carmel Henry Carfora

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The Most Reverend Carmel Henry Carfora
Archbishop and Primate
Carfora Crest.gif
Carfora in cope and miter with crozier (c. 1918)
In office1919-1958
PredecessorRudolph de Landas Berghes et de Rache
ConsecrationOctober 4, 1916
by Rudolph de Landas Berghes et de Rache or Joseph Rene Vilatte
Personal details
Born(1878-08-27)August 27, 1878
Naples, Italy
DiedJanuary 11, 1958(1958-01-11) (aged 79)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
DenominationOld Roman Catholic Church
Motto"For God and Humanity"
Coat of armsThe Most Reverend Carmel Henry Carfora's coat of arms
Ordination history of
Carmel Henry Carfora
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byRudolph de Landas Berghes
DateOctober 4, 1916
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Carmel Henry Carfora as principal consecrator
Francis Xavier ReschDecember 8, 1940
Richard Arthur MarchennaApril 16, 1941
Hubert A. RogersJuly 30, 1942
Earl Anglin JamesJune 17, 1945
Edwin Wallace HunterFebruary 11, 1924
Antonio Benigno Lopez y SierraOctober 17, 1926
José Macario López y ValdesOctober 17, 1926
Vincente Jose LinanJune 26, 1932

Carmel Henry Carfora[clarify] (August 27, 1878 – January 11, 1958), raised Roman Catholic in his native Naples, Italy, was a co-founder and leader of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church (NAORCC). Before leaving Roman Catholicism in favor of the Old Catholics in 1908 over a dispute with his ecclesiastical superiors, he had been ministering to Italian American immigrants, first in New York City, then in West Virginia, as a Capuchin Franciscan priest, having entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1895.

Carfora, along with a small group of parishioners, broke away from St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, in Youngstown, Ohio, and founded St. Rocco's Independent National Catholic Church on May 17, 1907,[citation needed] and later formed mission congregations which ministered to various ethnic immigrant groups whom he perceived as unable to gain adequate pastoral support from the Roman Catholic authorities. In June 1912 he incorporated his work as the National Catholic Diocese in North America, for a time under the episcopal oversight of Bishop Paolo Miraglia-Gulotti, leader of the Italian National Episcopal Church. Rudolph de Landas Berghes took up residence at St. Dunstan's Abbey, Waukegan, Illinois and raised Abbot William H. F. Brothers to the episcopacy on October 3, 1916. The following day he consecrated Carfora as a bishop of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church. St. Rocco's was disbanded until it was received into the Episcopal Church on June 15, 1918. In 1917 de Landas Berghes and Carfora united their jurisdictions, adopting the name "North American Old Roman Catholic Diocese" and established its headquarters in Chicago. When de Landas Berghes reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church in 1919, Carfora assumed the leadership of the group, which he renamed the "North American Old Roman Catholic Church".

Carfora taught a creed based on strict interpretation pre-Vatican I Roman Catholic theology and practice, with the exception of permitting a married priesthood.

The church grew over several decades under Carfora's leadership, ultimately reaching a peak membership reported[who?] as high as 50,000, consisting largely of ethnic parishes, each serving primarily first generation immigrants of a particular national origin. During his primacy, he consecrated at least thirty bishops to serve Polish, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Ukrainian, Mexican, and most successfully, West Indian populations in various parts of the United States where they were to be found in particular concentrations.

Carfora established several parishes in the United States and, being a volatile man, often embroiled himself in quarrels and squabbles concerning jurisdiction and church polity with his clergy. It seems that instead of taking the time and patience to work out difficulties, he would discover men with whom he thought he could work better and so would ordain or consecrate them bishops to supply clergy to his latest endeavors, often ignoring earlier efforts and the men he had ordained. Carfora was not averse to doing publicly that which tact would require be done privately and as a result the whole world would be a bemused spectator at what was essentially a "family affair". This gave rise to many speculations about his work and the Old Catholic Church here in the United States which no doubt contributed to many of the problems encountered by Old Catholicism in its efforts to establish itself in the new country.

Carfora, circa 1918

By the 1950s, several factors combined to threaten the continued viability of the church, including the assimilation of ethnic groups served by the church into the mainstream culture, a reduced interest among Americans in religion in general, and internal rivalries. For a time, plans were explored to merge with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but Carfora ultimately abandoned the idea. In 1952, thirty parishes defied his decision and became Ukrainian Orthodox.

In 1953, Carfora entered a Roman Catholic hospital in Galveston, Texas, where he was pressured by Roman Catholic authorities to renounce his work. His episcopal ring was stolen and, suffering from heart disease and asthma, he went into a seclusion that amounted to retirement, retaining leadership of the church in title only. Several of his bishops took this opportunity to establish their own churches, often taking congregations with them. Others simply ceased to thrive. When he died in Chicago in January 1958, without a clear successor or a process to authoritatively select one, only a vestige of the church he built remained. The Old Roman Catholic Church in North America is one of several ecclesiastical bodies considering itself to be among the modern day successors to Carfora's establishment.

According to his death certificate, Carfora died on January 18, 1958. The cause of his death was cancer of the pancreas. He was buried in the Irving Park Cemetery in Chicago on January 21, 1958. His grave stone was defaced many times.

The North American Old Roman Catholic Church split after Carfora's death into four bodies, among them are the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, the North American Old Roman Catholic Church (Utrecht Succession) (Archdiocese of California), the Archdiocese of the Old Catholic Church of America, and the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anson, Peter. Bishops at Large. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.
  • Carfora, Carmel Henry. "Historical and Doctrinal Sketch of the Old Roman Catholic Church". Chicago, IL: North American Old Roman Catholic Church, 1950.
  • Melton, J. Gordon. Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders. Garland Reference Library of Social Science, vol. 212. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.
  • Pruter, Karl, and J. Gordon Melton. The Old Catholic Sourcebook. New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1983.
  • Trela, Jonathan. A History of the North American Old Roman Church. Scranton, PA: The Author, 1979.


  • "Carmel Henry Carfora", in Religious Leaders of America, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 1999. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2006.
Preceded by
Rudolph de Landas Berghes
Archbishop & Primate, North American Old Roman Catholic Church
Succeeded by