Union of Utrecht (Old Catholic)

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For the union of the northern provinces of the Netherlands, see Union of Utrecht.
Union of Utrecht
Classification Catholic
Theology Ultrajectine
Governance Episcopal
Leader Archbishop Joris Vercammen, Metropolitan of Utrecht
Region Europe
Headquarters Utrecht, Netherlands
Origin 1889
Branched from Roman Catholic Church
Members 67,314
Official website utrechter-union.org
  Full members of the Union
  Dependent jurisdictions
  Former dependent jurisdictions

The Union of Utrecht is a federation of Old Catholic churches, not in communion with Rome, that seceded from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of Papal infallibility. The Declaration of Utrecht solidified this movement in 1889. The Union of Utrecht is in full communion with the Anglican Communion, in accordance with the Bonn Agreement of 1931, and with the Philippine Independent Church.

Theology and practices[edit]

The Old Catholic churches reject the doctrine of papal infallibility; thus they reject the dogmatic status of the teachings promulgated in the Roman Catholic Church by such means, namely the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary. While Old Catholics affirm the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, they do not emphasize transubstantiation as the sole dogmatic explanation for this presence. Old Catholics generally refrain from using the filioque and deum de deo[citation needed] clauses in the Nicene Creed and also reject a dogmatic understanding of Purgatory; however, they generally do recognize a purification by Christ's grace after death and include prayers for the dead in their liturgy and devotions. They maintain some basic Roman Catholic practices such as baptism by infusion (pouring of water) or the use of unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Additionally, they have many aspects in common with the Orthodox and Anglican churches and Eastern-rite Catholicism, such as optional clerical celibacy.

The Old Catholic churches tend to maintain a more liberal theological anthropology than the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, many churches of the union ordain women to the priesthood. Angela Berlis was the first woman priest in the union, ordained in 1996. In addition, the churches of the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland offer the blessing of same-sex unions. The individual's primacy of conscience in ethical matters is stressed. Private confession is not mandatory, though it is practiced, and decisions regarding the use of artificial contraception are individual and discretionary.


Individual member churches maintain a degree of autonomy, similar to the practice of the Anglican Communion. Each diocese of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht has a diocesan bishop, and countries with more than one diocese have a bishop who is appointed as "bishop in charge" or a similar title. The Primate (primus inter pares leader) of the entire Old Catholic Church is the Archbishop of Utrecht (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic prelate who holds the same title). The current archbishop is Joris Vercammen,[1] a former Roman Catholic and a prominent churchman who serves on the central committee of the World Council of Churches.[2]


The mother church, the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, was established in the 18th century as a result of tensions between the local Catholic hierarchy and the Roman Curia. The other churches, such as the Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany, and the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland, followed suit after the First Vatican Council, which defined the dogma of papal infallibility.[citation needed]

The Polish National Catholic Church in North America resigned from the union in 2004 over the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex unions. The Anglican (Episcopalian) Churches in North America, however, are in full communion with the Union as part of the Anglican Communion.

On June 21, 2011, the bishop of the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland, in agreement with the International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference, decided that the Union of Utrecht would end its mission in Italy "due to the problematic internal situation". The parishes were "offered a model that guarantees their continued pastoral care."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See directory entry here at official website of the Union.
  2. ^ See his biographical entry on the WCC official website central committee pages.
  3. ^ International Old Catholic Bishops Conference (IBC) withdraws from the parishes in Italy

External links[edit]