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Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands

See the article on Ultrajectinism for a more detailed description of historical and theological events.
Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands
Classification Catholic
Theology Ultrajectine
Governance Episcopal
Leader Joris Vercammen,
Metropolitan of Utrecht
Associations International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference
Region Netherlands
Headquarters Utrecht
Branched from Roman Catholic Church
Members 5,173[1]
Other name(s) Ancient Catholic Church
Church of Utrecht
Dutch Roman Catholic Church of the Old Episcopal Order

The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (Dutch: Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland) is the mother church of the Old Catholic Churches. It is sometimes called the Ancient Catholic Church, the Church of Utrecht (Ultrajectine Church) or the Dutch Roman Catholic Church of the Old Episcopal Order. In the past, Roman Catholic, especially Jesuit, critics tended to call it the "Jansenist Church of Holland".


  • Early history 1
  • Reformation and Jansenism 2
    • Vatican I 2.1
  • Doctrine 3
  • Old Catholic Archbishops of Utrecht 4
  • Footnotes 5
  • External links 6

Early history

St. Willibrord evangelised the Northern parts of the Netherlands (above the Rhine), bringing Catholicism to the country, in the 7th century. The southern parts of the now so called Benelux were already evangelised from the 4th century, beginning with St. Servatius, bishop of Maastricht (†384). Willibrord had been consecrated by Pope Sergius I in 696 in Rome. In 1145 Pope Eugene III granted the cathedral chapter of Utrecht the right to elect bishops, after such had been requested by the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and Bishop Heribert of Utrecht. The Fourth Lateran Council confirmed this in 1215. Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Debitum Pastoralis in 1520 giving extraordinary powers to Philip of Burgundy, 57th Bishop of Utrecht, essentially removing the ability of any external authority to "in the first instance, have his cause evoked to any external tribunal, not even under pretense of any apostolic letters whatever; and that all such proceedings should be, ipso facto, null and void".

Reformation and Jansenism

Forced into hiding as a result of the Protestant Reformation, the diocesan structures of the Roman Catholic Church of the Netherlands were dissolved. The popes appointed apostolic vicars at Utrecht. Eventually, the church obtained a comfortable enough status with the local authorities so as to allow it to practice Catholicism as long as this did not take place in public or semi-public buildings and areas. However, conflicts arose between Jesuit missionaries sent from Rome and the local clergy. This was augmented by an influx of Jansenist priests from France and Belgium. The Jesuits accused the Apostolic Vicar, Petrus Codde, of favouring Jansenism. Pope Innocent XII appointed a commission of cardinals who started an investigation of Codde, ending in exoneration. In 1700 Archbishop Codde was summoned to Rome and brought before a second commission appointed by Pope Clement XI. When he refused to sign the anti-Jansenist formula of Pope Alexander VII, Clement XI suspended Codde in 1701 and appointed a successor, Gerard Potcamp, as Apostolic Vicar. This decision was not popular among the Dutch clergy, who demanded the return of Codde, and the refusal to accept his successor by a large part of the clergy. Codde returned to Utrecht in June 1703 and formally resigned — protesting the circumstances — in a pastoral letter of March 19, 1704. He died on December 18, 1710.

Lacking an archbishop in partibus infidelium, the Dutch Church was able to arrange for an Irish bishop, Luke Fagan, Bishop of Meath (later Archbishop of Dublin), to ordain priests for the see of Utrecht. The canonical matters arising from the supposed Roman violations of Debitum Pastoralis led to the case being brought before the Pontifical Roman Catholic University of Leuven (Southern Brabant) in May 1717, which found in favour of Utrecht, but was unable to resolve the matter with Rome; this led to a de facto autonomous Catholic church in the Netherlands. Finally in 1723 dissatisfied Dutch clergy elected Cornelius van Steenoven as Archbishop of Utrecht. He was consecrated (without a papal mandate) by Dominique Marie Varlet, who was visiting the Netherlands and who had been appointed by the pope as Coadjutor Bishop of Babylon and consecrated in Paris on 19 February 1719 by Jacques de Goyon Matignon, Bishop Emeritus of Condom. Varlet also agreed to confirm children and to support the Dutch clergy, as he was sympathetic to their position. Both consecrator and consecrated incurred the penalty of suspension for illicit episcopal consecration, and that of excommunication for claiming a diocesan see of jurisdiction without the permission of the Roman Pontiff. Bishop Varlet was later reconciled to Rome, even though he subsequently consecrated four bishops for the independent Ultrajectine church, which would become known as "Old Catholic" after 1853. Van Steenoven after his consecration autonomously, and from the Roman view point illegitimately, appointed bishops to the vacant Dutch sees of Deventer, Haarlem and Groningen.

Most Dutch Catholics nevertheless continued to follow the pope and accepted his newly appointed apostolic vicars at Brussels as well as the later official Roman Catholic hierarchy established in 1853, when Catholicism was allowed in the public sphere again after two and a half centuries of secret and private religious worship.

Vatican I

After Pope Pius IX re-established a Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands in 1853, the breakaway Church of Utrecht adopted the name "Old Catholic Church" to distinguish itself from the newly created Roman hierarchy by its seniority in the Netherlands. In 1870 the First Vatican Council was convened, and the bishops of the Church of Utrecht were not invited because they were not seen as being in communion with the Holy See. At the First Vatican Council, papal primacy in jurisdiction and the dogma of papal infallibility were defined, to the objection of the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht and some communities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Several separate communities were formed at this time and sought apostolic succession from the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, thus leading to the formation of the Utrecht Union of Churches, and the final adoption of the name "Old Catholic" by these German speaking communities. The schism was thus able to continue.


Perhaps the most fundamental positions of the Old Catholic Church are its claim to apostolic succession and to being legally separate from the Roman Catholic Church.

The churches of the Union of Utrecht have been in communion with the Church of England since 1931. The Polish National Catholic Church was part of the Union and also in communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States. The PNCC left the Union of Utrecht and broke communion with the Episcopal Church over the issues of the ordination of women and openly gay clergy.

Old Catholics have celebrated Mass in the vernacular virtually since their foundation, even if not everywhere, doing so as early as the 18th century in Utrecht. They reject the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary as well as papal infallibility. Their practice of private confession has fallen into disuse in most areas. Since 1878 Old Catholic clergy have been allowed to marry at any time. It would also seem that, by the beginning of the 20th century, the Eucharistic fast had been abandoned, along with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the veneration of the saints: in his declaration of ecclesial independence of December 29, 1910 Arnold Harris Mathew wrote to the Old Catholics of Utrecht deploring the lack of these practices amongst Old Catholics on the European continent.[2]

The main bodies of the Old Catholics are theologically progressive. The Dutch Old Catholics since 1998 have allowed women to enter the priesthood and, for a long time, have allowed divorce. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some Roman Catholic priests who have been unable to accept certain Roman Catholic disciplines or doctrines have joined the Old Catholic Church, often in order to marry.

Whilst the vernacular was introduced at a very early stage, external rites remained very Catholic, and the prayers of the Mass still emphasized sacrificial intention. Although distinct from the Roman Catholic Church, since the 1960s most Old Catholics in communion with Utrecht have followed the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council which met periodically from 1962 to 1965.

Old Catholic Archbishops of Utrecht

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic prelate who holds the same title) is the leader of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, and chairman of its governing bodies. He is also ex officio the Primate (primus inter pares leader) of the entire Old Catholic Church. The current Archbishop is Joris Vercammen,[3] a former Roman Catholic, and a prominent churchman who serves on the central committee of the World Council of Churches.[4] Individual national or regional Old Catholic churches maintain a degree of autonomy, similar to the practice of the Anglican Communion, so that 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 'bishop in charge' (or similar title). All, however, recognise the Archbishop of Utrecht as Primate.


  1. ^ website
  2. ^ "Old Catholic Church History"
  3. ^ See directory entry here at official website of the Union.
  4. ^ See his biographical entry on the WCC official website central committee pages.

External links

  • websiteOud Katholieke Kerk van Nederland
  • Sources related to Jansenism and Old Catholicism
  • A History of the So-Called Jansenist Church of Holland; with a Sketch of Its Earlier Annals, And some Account of the Brothers of the Common Life, by John Mason Neale (1858)
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