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Rhode Island Old Catholicism

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It is a mission church in the tradition of the Old Catholic Church founded in America by Fr. Charles Chiniquy and Bishop Joseph Rene Vilatte of the American Catholic Church (No longer in existence). This community is not in union with the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, or the Union of Utrecht. The community strives after union with the Union of Utrecht, through the help of the Episcopal Church.

Old Catholicism in the United States[edit]

Fr. Charles Chiniquy who inspired Joseph René Vilatte to minister to the community in Wisconsin

In the area of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Joseph René Vilatte began working with Catholics of Belgian ancestry and with the knowledge and blessing of the Union of Utrecht and under the full jurisdiction of the local Episcopal Bishop of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Bishop John Henry Hobart Brown.[1] Vilatte was ordained a deacon on 6 June 1885 and priest on 7 June 1885 by the Most Rev. Eduard Herzog, bishop of the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland. Vilatte's work provided the only sacramental presence in that particular part of rural Wisconsin (under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Bishop of Fond du Lac). Vilatte received a stipend from the Episcopal Church as well as aid to help build the Old Catholic Church in America under Bishop Brown.

In time, Vilatte asked the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht to be ordained a bishop so that he might confirm, but his petition was not granted because of Utrecht's desire for unity with the Episcopal Church and the political turmoil with the new bishop, Charles Chapman Grafton. Vilatte sought opportunities for consecration in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. He was made a bishop in Ceylon, India on 28 May 1892 under the jurisdiction of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. Vilatte's consecration was in the line of St. Peter, the founder of the Church of Antioch.

In 1908 the Archbishop of Utrecht, Gerardus Gul, consecrated Father Arnold Harris Mathew, a former Roman Catholic priest, as Regionary Bishop for England.[2] His mission was to establish a community for Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In 1913, Bishop Mathew claimed to have secured permission from the continental Old Catholic bishops for his consecration of Rudolph Edward de Landen Berghes as a bishop to work among the Scots.

St. Louis de France Cathedral of Green Bay, Wisconsin, 1895

Bishop de Berghes was frequently called "the Prince". He was of noble birth but had never claimed the title for himself. The title of "Prince" was rightfully that of his older brother who had died. When Bishop de Berghes became eligible to inherit he was in a religious community and could not accept the title. At the beginning of World War I, Bishop de Berghes went to the United States at the suggestion of the Anglican Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Mathew later declared his autonomy from the Union of Utrecht, finding it too "protestant oriented".[3]

Mathew sent missionaries to the United States, including the theosophist Bishop J. I. Wedgwood (1892–1950) and Bishop Rudolph de Landas Berghes et de Rache (1873–1920).[4] De Berghes arrived in the United States on 7 November 1914, hoping to unite the various independent Old Catholic jurisdictions under Archbishop Mathew.[5] Bishop de Berghes, in spite of his isolation, was able to plant the seed of Old Catholicism in the Americas. He consecrated a former Capuchin Franciscan priest as bishop: Carmel Henry Carfora.[6] From this the Old Catholic Church in the United States evolved into local and regional self-governing dioceses and provinces along the design of St. Ignatius of Antioch - a network of communities.

Old Catholicism in the Rhode Island area[edit]

In 1917, the first Old Catholic parish was built by Bishop Franciszek Hodur of the Polish National Catholic Church which was a member of the Union of Utrecht until 2003. Parishes were also constructed in Woonsocket and in the neighboring, Fall River, Massachusetts. Bishop Vilatte of the American Catholic Church was a colleague of his Polish counterparts and visited the communities in Rhode Island and Fall River. Many of these churches are still active today.

Blessed Virgin Polish National Catholic Church, first Polish church in Fall River, Mass., 1898

In the April 1928 issue of the American Catholic Church newsletter, The Antiochean, Dr. Casmir Durand, is consecrated Bishop of the French-speaking churches and successor of Joseph Rene Vilatte. In May, Henri Perdriau of Rhode Island gave him his support and invited the Franco-Americans to join the church. He published under Bishop Durand's Imprimatur, and with his collaboration, the brochure called Fiat Lux- Le bon sens et la logique (common sense and logic). It was written after Rome had excommunicated the 56 leaders of a movement that was opposing the Roman Catholic Bishop W. Hickey of Providence, under the auspices of the newspaper La Sentinelle of Woonsocket, where Perdriau was a journalist. Bishop Hickey was forcing the French-speaking parishes of his diocese to fund English schools only, through compulsory taxes. Perdriau was also the master of Guido Nincheri who produced the famous stained glass and frescos found in St. Ann's Church in Woonsocket. Members of this new parish came from St. Ann's Church and Precious Blood Church.[7]

Bishop Durand wrote his essay, The Old Catholic Church while he was in Woonsocket, to establish a Franco-American parish. He celebrated the inaugural Mass in the Polish National Catholic Churchon Sunday, August 26, 1928 with 65 people in attendance.

The Woonsocket parish was short lived. Eventually in 1929, the excommunicated protesters were readmitted to communion to the Roman Catholic Church and the Franco- American parish faded away.

  • First Polish Church of the Blessed Virgin Founded in 1898 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Earliest pastor on record was Fr. Marijan Guzek. Part of the Polish National Catholic Church. Church no longer exists.[8]
  • Holy Cross Catholic Church Founded in 1917 in Central Falls, Rhode Island for the Polish Speaking immigrants. Still a member of the Polish National Catholic Church.
  • The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church Founded in 1919 in Fall River, Massachusetts by Pastor René Louis Zawistowski for the Polish Speaking immigrants. No longer in existence.[9]
  • Blessed Trinity Polish National Catholic Church Founded in 1919 in Fall River, Rhode Island by Pastor René Louis Zawistowski for the Polish Speaking immigrants. The location has moved but the parish remains and is part of the Polish National Catholic Church.[10]
  • Our Savior Polish National Catholic Church The new building was dedicated in 1965 but the origin of the community is not known. Located in North Smithfield, Rhode Island it is part of the Polish National Catholic Church.
  • Holy Cross Catholic Church Founded in 1981 by Bishop Ray Laliberte in Central Falls, Rhode Island, in 2001, relocated to Rehoboth, Massachusetts.[11]
  • St. Jude the Apostle National Catholic Church Founded in 1999 by Bishop Robert Gubala. Part of the Catholic Apostolic National Church which perhaps has union with the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church. Parish appears to be inactive.
  • St. Patrick Catholic Church Founded in 2000 by Fr. Roger Durand in Cranston, Rhode Island and members of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church(ICCEC), Diocese of the North East.
  • Chapel of the Holy Spirit Founded in 2009 by the Little Brothers of Jesus Caritas in Providence, Rhode Island as part of the Old Catholic tradition. The parish is a member of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches but no other affiliations. The parish closed in 2019.
  • St. Joseph Cupertino Parish Founded in 2009 by Fr. Scott Kershaw in Fall River, MA.[12]
  • St. Therese Old Catholic Church Founded in 2010 by Fr. David Martin at the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence, Rhode Island.


"By maintaining and professing faithfully the doctrine of Jesus Christ, by refusing to admit those errors which by the fault of men have crept into the Catholic Church, by laying aside the abuses in ecclesiastical matters, together with the worldly tendencies of the hierarchy, we believe that we shall be able to combat efficaciously the great evils of our day, which are unbelief and indifference in matters of religion." Declaration of Utrecht, 1889 Article 8

Vilatte's community church model[edit]

"I visited the various families and urged them to ignore their doctrinal differences for the present and unite in one Community Church. I felt I could preach nothing but the Gospel of Grace; that neither Roman Catholicism nor Protestantism could satisfy the needs of these people but a Christian Catholic Church without any other qualification. A purified Church which would present the Gospel to them as did the Primitive Church, and exercise authority according to the spirit of free America." (Bishop Joseph Rene Vilatte, Autobiography, 1910)


The Mass of the parish church uses patristic, Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, and Vatican II liturgies. The John Paul II Mass is the most commonly used liturgy in the parish. It is similar to the current Roman Rite Mass except some parts are from the other two Masses. Eucharistic Prayer I combines the Roman Rite of 1985 with the Dutch Rite. The parish did not adapt to the 2011 changes within the Roman Catholic Church.


The Old Catholic Church holds that there are Seven Sacraments of the Church, at least two of which were commissioned by Christ in the Gospels. The Sacraments were instituted as a means of healing and uniting humanity once again to one another and to God. The scourge of humanity is sin, isolation, and despair, the answer is God's healing through grace. In that spirit we encourage all to receive the grace of healing and to be made whole again.


Following the Old Catholic and later Roman Catholic traditions, the vernacular is used during the liturgy with the exception of some Greek, Latin, and Spanish.

Old Catholics believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence, that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ at the consecration. Communion is distributed under both species. Frequently, the community leaves the pews to gather around the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. Only an ordained priest with apostolic succession is allowed to consecrate the Eucharist. All baptized Christians are invited to receive the Eucharist regardless of their current state of grace.


The parish regards a confession of sins to God, followed by the assignment of penance and absolution given by the priest, to be the way the congregation normally obtains forgiveness of sins. The sacrament may be administered in one of two ways: public or private. Adults may avail themselves of private confession if they so wish. The sacrament is always available but not required for the reception of Eucharist.

Birth control[edit]

The parish teaches that the use of birth control is a matter of personal judgment for husband and wife, rather than the responsibility of church authorities to instruct its members regarding specific times of procreation.


The Old Catholic Church holds that human life should be protected from the moment of conception. However, the question of politically how this goal is to be achieved is not determined by church law but by best practices. In the spirit of Catholicism, we hold a seamless garment on life issues from conception to natural death which includes issues of poverty and human dignity. The pro-life stance of the community is not a political stance, but a stance based on the belief of the intrinsic value which all people possess.

Marriage and divorce[edit]

The church believes that marriage is the sacrament which unites the married couple and gives them grace to be faithful to each other and to bring up their children in love and devotion to God. The Old Catholic Church permits divorced people to participate fully in the Mass and to receive the Eucharist. The parish follows the Eastern tradition in allowing for a remarriage after a first divorce without an annulment. A third marriage faces a great deal of scrutiny and a fourth is not permissible.

Priesthood and marriage[edit]

Since the early 1900s the Old Catholic Church has permitted its clergy to be married, and in practice encourages them to be so. They believe that a married priest will have a better understanding of the marital issues facing his parishioners. The Church also allows women to be ordained, following the tradition of the early church.


The parish largely agrees with the Roman Catholic Catechism on issues of sexuality but disagrees about the claims that the Church has consistently rejected homosexuality in all forms and that Scripture finds the sexual acts "gravely depraved." However, the parish affirms that morality and sexuality are deep-seated elements of Christianity and that relativism and subjective morality are rejected. The Old Catholic Church does not make an issue about sexuality, claiming that there are larger social issues on which Christians should be focusing.


As a primary document, the parish accepts fully the eight articles of the Declaration of Utrecht as well as the 1931 Bonn Agreement. The parish also embraces the authentic truths found within the Vatican II documents, with exception to the statements concerning the infallibility of the Pope and the temporal centrality of the diocese of Rome.


The Old Catholic Church does not accept the infallibility of Rome on matters of faith and morals. The church also rejects the principle of universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. However, the Old Catholic Church recognizes the primacy of the Pope as first among equals, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of St. Peter, and Patriarch of the West. The Papacy is intended to be a unifying force which unites Christians around the table of the .[clarification needed] The Old Catholic Church does not reject the as does, yet they do not pay total obedience as is expected by practicing Roman Catholics.


The parish is governed in accordance with its bylaws and parish council documents. Bishops and priests possess the authority to explain and teach the doctrinal position of the Church in matters of faith, morals and discipline. The legislative authority of the Church is vested in the parish council and the Parish Meeting. In financial and administrative matters, the parishioners possess administrative authority. The council members work in cooperation with the pastor.

Some of the parishes are members of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.


"We want to guard against Carforism. Our Church is clean and pure. Every man is a gentleman. [Every woman is a lady.] Every priest, a shepherd of souls. The Church is young and small but it is holy and without spot. The size of the church is less important than the nature and kind of clergy it possesses. We teach and believe all that ancient and historic Catholic Christendom teaches." Bishop Paul Francis Cope 1941

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic Catholicism : Latin, First Council of Constantinople
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  1. Moss, C.B. (2005). The Old Catholic Movement. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press. p. 291. ISBN 0976402599. Search this book on
  2. Queen, Andre J. (2003-07-01). Old Catholic: History, Ministry, Faith & Mission. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-28407-8. Retrieved 27 May 2014. Search this book on
  3. "Declaration of Autonomy". 1910-12-29. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 25 April 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  4. Keizer, Lewis. "The Wandering Bishops: Apostles of a New Spirituality" (PDF).
  5. Ward, Gary L.; Persson, Bertil; Bain, Alan (1990). Independent bishops: An International Directory. Apogee Books. ISBN 9781558883079. Retrieved 25 April 2010. Search this book on
  6. "Independent and Old Catholic Churches". Archived from the original on 29 September 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2010. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  7. Theriault, Serge A. (2010). The Old Catholic Church & other writings. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press. pp. 16–18. ISBN 9781937002169. Search this book on
  8. Lazarus, Fr. Jakob. "Seventy-fifth anniversary of Blessed Virgin Polish National Catholic Church, first Polish church in Fall River, Mass., 1898-1973". Book. PNCC. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  9. Lazarus, Fr. Jakob (1921). "Fall River Directory". Sampson & Murdock. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  10. "Blessed Trinity Church". PNCC. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  11. Laliberte, Bp. Raymond. "Holy Cross Catholic Church". Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  12. Kershaw, Fr. Scott. "St. Joseph Cupertino". Archived from the original on 28 May 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)


  • Mathew, Arnold Harris An Episcopal Odyssey. Reprint 2010. St. Gabriel Theological Press, 1915.
  • Theriault, Serge A. Msgr. Casmir F. Durand. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2010.
  • Theriault, Serge A. Msgr. Rene Vilatte. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2006.
  • Moss, C.B.. The Old Catholic Movement. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 1977.
  • Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church. Henry R.T. Brandreth. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1947.
  • Episcopi vagantes in church history. A.J. Macdonald. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1945.
  • History of the So-Called Jansenist Church in The Netherlands. John M. Neale. New York: AMS Press, 1958.
  • Old Catholic: History, Ministry, Faith & Mission. Andre J. Queen. iUniverse title, 2003.
  • The Old Catholic Church: A History and Chronology (The Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, No. 3). Karl Pruter. Highlandville, Missouri: St. Willibrord's Press, 1996.
  • The Old Catholic Sourcebook (Garland Reference Library of Social Science). Karl Pruter and J. Gordon Melton. New York: Garland Publishers, 1983.
  • The Old Catholic Churches and Anglican Orders. C.B. Moss. The Christian East, January, 1926.

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