Ecumenical Catholic Communion

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The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC) is an American independent Catholic church. Its members understand themselves as following the Catholic tradition without being in communion with the Bishop of Rome. The ECC is a confederation of independent communities based in the United States and Europe.[1] The membership of the ECC is about 10,000,[2] including seven bishops,[2][3][4] and more than 50 communities across 20 states [2] In 2009, the Ecumenical Anglican Church (EAC), an independent church joined the ECC.[5] The ECC is a member of the National Council of Churches (NCC).[6]

The Ecumenical Catholic Communion differs from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox practice in many ways such as allowing married individuals in the episcopacy, the ordination of women, and allowing marriage after divorce[7][8] (although Orthodoxy does permit divorced people to remarry under certain circumstances).


The Ecumenical Catholic Communion professes that its roots are to be found in the Old Catholic Church and counts the Declaration of Utrecht among its foundational sources[1] although it is not in communion with the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht.

Peter Hickman[edit]

Peter Elder Hickman, founding bishop of the ECC and presiding bishop until 2015, has been key to the evolution of the communion. Originally ordained for the American Baptists, Hickman was drawn to the liturgical elements of the Roman tradition but had difficulties with some elements of the structure and disciplines of Catholicism.[9][10] Hickman found a compromise between Roman Catholic sacramental practice and the authority of Rome in an Old Catholic Church community in East Los Angeles.[10] After being ordained a priest in the Old Catholic Church, Hickman saw the potential to start a new community and founded St. Matthew's Church in Orange County at the end of 1985.[11]

Church expansion[edit]

Over time, the community of St. Matthew's grew in number and changed locations, worshipping in mortuary and wedding chapels, before being able to acquire its own building. A number of former Roman Catholic priests joined St. Matthew's Church and new communities began to be established.[10] In 1995, the St. Matthew's community decided to seek episcopal ordination for Hickman. To this end, he was put forward as a candidate for the episcopacy to the bishops of the Ecumenical Communion of Catholic and Apostolic Churches.[11] In May 1996, Hickman was ordained a bishop by three independent Old Catholic bishops[10] (i.e. not in communion with Utrecht) and, as a result, was considered to be in the apostolic succession.[12] The ECC was formally established as a national ecclesial organization on September 19, 2003.[11]

A number of communities sought affiliation with the St. Matthew's community and then, after 2003, membership of the ECC. The new communities required ordained leadership and this has resulted in a number of ordinations of both women and men.[11] In 1997, Patricia McElroy became the first woman to be ordained a deacon by Bishop Hickman.[11] In 2000, Hickman ordained Kathy McCarthy to the priesthood, the first such ordination for the ECC.[11] In the following year, the high-profile ordination of Mary Ramerman was considered controversial by the Roman Catholic hierarchy but was supported by some who advocate the ordination of women in the Catholic tradition.[13]

2011 brought the expansion of the ECC to Europe. The Community of the Good Shepherd, rooted in Belgium and currently also existent in the Netherlands and Poland, joined the ECC, and also a parish in Vienna, Austria. Now nine communities and missions in Europe are part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.[14] In 2018 Denise Donato was ordained as the first female bishop in the ECC.[15]

Francis Krebs[edit]

Francis Krebs (born December 12, 1946) became the new presiding bishop of the ECC. Krebs was nominated for presiding bishop[16] and then elected to that post at the 2014 synod of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion in Denver, Colorado.[17] He took office on September 18, 2015, replacing Bishop Peter Elder Hickman, the founding bishop and presiding bishop from 2003 to 2015. His commissioning was held at Eden Theological Seminary on September 18, 2015.[17] With his election, the Office of Presiding Bishop moved to St. Louis, MO.[18]

Krebs had grown up as a Roman Catholic, receiving his bachelor's degree from Cardinal Glennon College and continued his seminary training at Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.[19] He was ordained into the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1972.[18] Krebs served as a Roman Catholic priest for 18 years as a parish pastor at St. Ann, Pius the Fifth and Sts. Peter & Paul.[17] He left ministry in the Roman Catholic Church in 1990. He worked for a St. Louis-based behavioral health firm as a management consultant. During this time, Krebs met and married his partner. As a married gay man, he could not return to the Roman Catholic priesthood, but Krebs desired to return to priestly ministry.[18] Krebs was appointed by then presiding bishop, Peter E. Hickman, as vicar of the midwest region from 2008 to 2010. In October 2010, Krebs was elected as President of the House of Pastors in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion and served in that position until 2013.


The constitution of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion affirms faith in elements common to other adherents of the Catholic tradition.[1]

These elements include:

Additionally, the ECC affirms The Declaration of Utrecht (1889)[20] of the Old Catholic Church which rejected papal jurisdiction and papal infallibility, although the ECC does not completely reject the place of the Bishop of Rome, regarding him as first-among-equals, as was the case during the first millennium.[21] However, reconciliation with the Holy See would be impossible without reform in key areas of disagreement.

The ECC also have their own "Distinctive Foundational Teachings of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion",[22] which are seen as an application of Gospel teaching to a contemporary context:

  • Invitation to the Sacramental Life: The ECC is open to Christians from other denominations participating in the sacramental life of the communion. In contrast, those Catholics in communion with the Bishop of Rome preclude Christians belonging to ecclesiastical communities from participating in sacraments such as the Eucharist.
  • Invitation to Co-equal Ministry: While affirming the value of ministry of people whether they are lay or ordained, single or celibate people, the ECC allows the ordination of men and women who are married.
  • Invitation to Intimate Commitment: While acknowledging the trauma of divorce, the ECC allows the marriage of people who have been divorced without the process of obtaining an annulment.
  • Invitation to follow Conscience: Members of the ECC are encouraged to be guided by their consciences when making ethical decisions concerning issues such as artificial birth control.[21]


The Ecumenical Catholic Communion has a synodal model of governance. The synod of the communion consists of, "the Presiding Bishop in collaboration with the House of Laity, the House of Pastors, and the Episcopal Council."[1] When the synod is not in session, the governance of the communion is carried by the Leadership Council, except where authority is reserved to the Presiding Bishop, the Episcopal Council, the House of Laity or the House of Pastors. The Leadership Council, "is a group comprised of the Presiding Bishop and an equal number of representatives from each of the House of Laity and House of Pastors, who shall normally be the elected officers of those Houses."[1]

Ecumenical Anglican Church[edit]

Bishop Hickman was the only bishop of the communion until late 2009, when the Ecumenical Anglican Church (EAC) joined the ECC.[5] At that stage, Bishop Richard Hollingsworth of the Ecumenical Anglican Church also joined the communion, but relinquished juridical authority within the ECC. Should another diocese be established, Bishop Hollingsworth would be eligible for election to this role.[5]

ECC Episcopal Council[edit]

The episcopal council is a legislative, administrative and judicial body of the ECC synodal structure that is composed of all active bishops of the Communion, and serves as the highest court of appeal and court of review for the entire communion. The presiding bishop serves as the president of the council. The bishops of the ECC serve in specific functions in their own diocesan structures or in a particular region of the communion, as well as serving collegially in the episcopal council.


  • Francis Krebs, ECC Presiding Bishop
  • Peter Hickman, ECC Presiding Bishop (2003-2015), retired
  • Rick Hollingsworth, Suffragan Bishop for the Anglican Rite ECC Communities
  • Raphael Adams, ofr,[clarification needed] Diocesan Bishop for Mid-America Region
  • Armando Leyva, Bishop for the Diocese of California and ECC Hispanic Communities
  • Tom Altepeter, Suffragan Bishop for the ECC Pacific NorthWest Region
  • Denise Donato, auxiliary bishop[24]

Catholicity and apostolic authority[edit]

One of the most significant theological questions raised by the existence of the ECC is its claim of catholicity. For some, the term "Catholic" may only be used by those in communion with the Church of Rome. Others find it unhelpful to use the term "Roman Catholic" to distinguish the churches or dioceses in full communion with the Pope as they believe this neglects those Eastern and Coptic Catholics who are in communion with the See of Peter, since such dioceses and churches can have their own liturgical and theological patrimony and self-government that are not Roman in nature.[25] Other Christian churches take very seriously their claim to catholicity as they recite the words of the Nicene Creed and affirm belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” even though these groups may not have the word "Catholic" as part of their name.[26]

For individuals, the question of Catholic identity may be very personal. There are many people who deeply identify themselves as Catholic, but do not accept the rulings of the papacy when it comes to matters of homosexuality and women's participation. Churches such as the ECC have played a role in the lives of some people who come from this experience.[27][28]

The Roman Catholic Church itself recognizes that there are churches not in communion with Rome which possess apostolic succession and thus valid sacraments.[29] However, when referring to apostolic succession, a distinction can be drawn between a minimalist understanding and a broader understanding of the term. A minimalist understanding highlights that bishops can trace their own ordination back to the Apostles, whilst a broader understanding speaks of handing on the faith of the Apostles.[30] What remains then are questions about how the apostolic faith is to be interpreted in contemporary contexts.

Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been a number of schisms brought about by various circumstances. These have included the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity, the Protestant Reformation and the English Reformation. Other events have involved the Catholic Church in communion with the Pope and Old Catholics or as in the case its relations with the Society of St. Pius X. The ecumenical movement has been an attempt to reconcile some of these divisions. These attempts at reconciliation are further complicated by divergent approaches to questions such as the ordination of women.

From one perspective, the catholicity of a church may be seen as dependent on that church having sacraments celebrated by a validly ordained priest. Some groups celebrate sacraments which the Holy See considers to be valid but illicit; examples would be the Old Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church and well as the Society of St. Pius X.[31] With the ECC, what is being considered is an entity that is not considered to be in communion with either the Holy See or the Old Catholics of Utrecht. There is also the additional question of the ordination of women, which the papacy does not consider to be possible.[32] The schisms that have occurred in the history of Christianity have sometimes been attributed to disputes about what has been a valid exercise of papal authority. While it is clear that papal authority has evolved over time, some argue that not all of these developments have gained the necessary assent from all Christians and are thus questionable.[33] In the final analysis, the issues of catholicity and authority are complex and judgements made are based on varying positions within numerous Christian traditions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e [1]
  2. ^ a b c "An Independent "Catholic" Church Is Moving its Headquarters to St. Louis". The River Front Times. 2015-09-08. Retrieved 2015-09-09.
  3. ^ "ECC Episcopal Council". 2011-09-22. Retrieved 2013-12-27.
  4. ^ Published 7:30 a.m. ET Feb. 11, 2018 (2017-05-16). "Ecumenical Catholic Communion ordains its first woman bishop". Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ "Eden to Host Commissioning Ceremony for the Reverend Frank Krebs". Eden Theological Seminary. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  7. ^ Draper, Electa (September 19, 2009). "Answering priesthood's call". Denver Post.
  8. ^ Wegrzyn, Magdalena (2009-09-25). "Light of Christ ordains pair of female priests". The Longmont Times-Call. Retrieved 2010-01-24.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ "Ecumenical Catholic Communion Report to CORPUS Board" (PDF). 21 September 2003. Retrieved 2013-12-27.
  10. ^ a b c d Farrell, M. J. (1999, April 23). Old Catholics seek identity at the margins. National Catholic Reporter, p.5.
  11. ^ a b c d e f [2] Archived December 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Apostolic succession
  13. ^ Patterson, M. (2007, December 7). Breakaway parish ordains woman priest. National Catholic Reporter, p. 11.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Published 7:30 a.m. ET Feb. 11, 2018 (2017-05-16). "Ecumenical Catholic Communion ordains its first woman bishop". Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  16. ^ Puchalski, Tomasz (January 9, 2014). "Two nominees for the position of next Presiding Bishop". Ecumenical Catholic Communion Europe. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  17. ^ a b c "Eden to Host Commissioning Ceremony for the Reverend Frank Krebs". Eden Theological Seminary. Retrieved September 12, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c Phillips, Nicholas. "An Independent "Catholic" Church Is Moving its Headquarters to St. Louis". River Front Times. River Front Times. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  19. ^ Krebs, Francis. "CURRICULUM VITAE" (PDF). Ecumenical Catholic Communion. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  20. ^ "The Declaration of Utrecht (1889)". Archived from the original on 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2009-11-30. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  21. ^ a b [3]
  22. ^ Distinctive Foundational Teachings of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion Archived 2009-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ ECC website: Episcopal Council page
  24. ^ Published 7:30 a.m. ET Feb. 11, 2018 (2017-05-16). "Ecumenical Catholic Communion ordains its first woman bishop". Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  25. ^ McBrien, R. (1994). Catholicism. New York: HarperCollins. p. 5.
  26. ^ "Catholicity of the Church: "Sobornost"". Orthodox Research Institute. Retrieved 2013-12-27.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2009-11-29. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. ^ "Dominus Iesus". Holy See. Archived from the original on 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2013-12-27. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  30. ^ McBrien, R. (1994). Catholicism. New York: HarperCollins. p. 613.
  31. ^ "The Old Catholic Movement". 2006-02-07. Retrieved 2013-12-27.
  32. ^ "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II, 22 May 1994 - Apostolic Letter". Holy See. Archived from the original on 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2013-12-27. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  33. ^ McBrien, R. (1994). Catholicism. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 751–776.

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