Liberal Catholic Church International
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The Liberal Catholic Church International (LCCI) is a Christian church with headquarters based in Casa Grande (near Phoenix), Arizona, USA]]. The Church traces its founding to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles and sees the Bishops of the Church as the successors of the Apostles. While it derives its apostolic succession from the Old Catholic Church, the LCCI is today not in full communion with either the Utrecht Union, or the Roman Catholic Church, and differs with them theologically in several important respects.
The Church maintains a high level of intellectual liberty for its members in such matters as the interpretation of creeds, as well as freedom of conscience. From 1956 to 1994, due to its emphasis of Freedom of Belief, no definitive statement of "Official Teachings" of the Church existed. In response to the many inquiries of persons interested knowing more about the Church, the General Episcopal Synod saw fit in 1994 to assemble a list of teachings that they felt reflected the character of the LCCI. It should be understood, however, that these statements are teachings, but not required beliefs. The Church's stance on freedom of thought has not been abandoned. A selection from this list follows:
- The Church recognizes the historic seven sacraments, which are: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Extreme Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders.
- The Church teaches the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
- The Church teaches that we are all immortal, both before and after physical death.
- The Church teaches that in the Holy Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine become linked, or polarized, on the Life of the Christ and become literal outposts of His Life and His Consciousness. And that the Holy Eucharist is designed to help those who physically take part, and to pour out a flood of spiritual power upon the surrounding world. (The Church has open communion.)
- The Church teaches that the Minor Orders (Cleric/Tonsure, Doorkeeper, Reader, Exorcist, Acolyte and Subdeacon) are intended primarily to assist the candidate in his own spiritual growth and life and that the Major Orders (Deacon, Priest, and Bishop) are intended primarily to assist the Christian Community. (Clergy are allowed to marry.)
- The Church teaches that the Holy Bible, the Creeds, and the Traditions of the Church are the means by which the teachings of Christ have been handed down to His followers. They are fundamental, true, and sufficient as a basis for right understanding and right conduct.
- The Church teaches that all Christian worship is valid, of whatever kind, so long as it is earnest and true.
- The Church teaches that everyone shall "one day reach His Feet, however far they stray." We teach that the "dead" pass to a life of higher service, where there is available to them the "felicity of [the] . . . Presence, evermore . . . ." What we shall experience "at His Feet" is conscious life in Christ.
The Liberal Catholic Church International is governed by the "General Episcopal Synod" of all Bishops. The Synod meets formally about every three years and it elects a Presiding Bishop from among their ranks as the church's titular head. The General Episcopal Synod also elects Priests to the Episcopacy, with the approval of the parishes of their respective provinces. The current Presiding Bishop is the Most Reverend Bennett D. D. Burke.
Each province is governed by a Regionary Bishop who, in turn, may have one or more Bishops functioning as auxiliaries. For the most part these clergy are not financially compensated and hold secular jobs.
Laypersons in the Church come from diverse backgrounds and from all spiritual paths. Due to the open nature of the Church, no layperson is required to accept any of the more "formal" beliefs of the Church, and are allowed to accept or reject them as they please.
Training for the clergy varies from diocese to diocese, but generally postulants take distance study courses from the Archbishop Charles W. Finn Theological Seminary, which offers three tracks of study: one for Holy Orders, one for lay theologian, and another for personal enrichment.
The Church uses its own liturgy, today known as the Liberal Rite. This liturgy was mostly composed by Bishop Wedgwood, with Bishop Leadbeater assisting on the Collects, and selecting the Psalms, canticles, and weekly epistle and gospel readings. The rite focuses more on the glorification of God, rather than the depravity of man.
Both the ordained and the laity may enter the religious life as friars or sisters. A candidate takes vows confirming their desire to follow the order's common rule.
Currently there are two religious orders in the church, including the Apostolic Society of St. Brigid of Kildare (SSB), and the Order of St. John the Apostle (OSJA).
The Church traces its apostolic succession to Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew. Mathew was consecrated bishop on 28 April 1908, by Utrecht Archbishop Gerhardus Gul, assisted by the Old Catholic bishops of Deventer and Berne, in St. Gertrude's Old Catholic Cathedral, Utrecht. Only two years later, Mathew declared his autonomy from the Union of Utrecht, with which he had experienced tension from the beginning. It was only a short time later that Bishop Mathew found himself at odds with his own clergy in Great Britain and ultimately walked away to seek union with the Roman Catholic Church.
The founding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church was James I. Wedgwood of the Wedgwood China family, formerly a Cleric in the Church of England (Anglican). Wedgwood grew dissatisfied with the Church, and discovered the Theosophical Society, which had a stronger appeal to his sense of life and justice. When Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew sought to ordain those clergy who were dissatisfied with the Church of England, Wedgwood was one who joined the new Old Catholic Church of England. Archbishop Mathew knew of Wedgwood's membership in the Theosophical Society, as well as that of other clergy in the Old Catholic Church of England, and originally promised that this would not be a problem, but later retracted that promise and asked all clergy to resign from the Theosophical Society. Not willing to do so, Father Wedgwood and most of the Old Catholic Church in England found themselves without a Bishop as they withdrew from Archbishop Mathew's leadership.
One of the men who Archbishop Mathew had consecrated to the Episcopate, Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby, offered to consecrate and elevate one of the withdrawn clergy to the Episcopate so that they would not be without a Bishop. Father Wedgwood was selected and elevated to the Episcopate on February 13, 1916. The Church was eventually reorganized and renamed The Liberal Catholic Church. Archbishop Wedgwood then consecrated another former Anglican Priest, Charles W. Leadbeater, later that same year, with Bishop Leadbeater going on to become the 2nd Presiding Bishop of the Church in later years.
The LCCI arose from the 1941 schism of the Liberal Catholic Church in the United States, which surrounded the controversy involving American Regionary Bishop Charles Hampton, who wished to keep adherence to Theosophical tenets optional for all clergy, in accordance with the wishes of the church's first two Presiding Bishops, James I. Wedgwood and Charles W. Leadbeater.
During the controversy of the 1940s, 3rd Presiding Bishop Frank W. Pigott, who embraced a more Theosophical vision for the church's future, suspended Bishop Hampton and all the clergy under him who refused to endorse his Episcopal replacement. Bishop Pigott also ordered the confiscation of church property at the Regionary headquarters in California. The American Synod saw this as a breach of canon law and a violation of the laws of California under which the church had been incorporated in America.
The majority of clergy in America, who had supported Bishop Hampton, broke with Bishop Pigott and continued as the Liberal Catholic Church, with Bishop Ray M. Wardall becoming the 4th Presiding Bishop in 1943. The Church eventually won the right in a court of law to use the name The Liberal Catholic Church (while being called the Liberal Catholic Church International in the rest of the world), although the litigation was settled after Bishop Hampton's death.
In 1955, Edward M Matthews became the 5th Presiding Bishop, followed by Francis Erwin in 1962. The 7th Presiding Bishop was William H. Daw in 1970, followed by Joseph Neth in 1974. The 9th Presiding Bishop was Dean E. Bekken in 1989, followed by Charles W. Finn, James P. Roberts, and Jason Sanderson. Bennett D. D. Burke was raised to the office of Presiding Bishop in February 2016.