Independent Roman Catholicism?

Guest Writer V4 N1 2016

I’ve heard it said a zillion times: Impossible! No such thing! Can’t be! A contradiction in terms! You’re delusional!

I am a cradle Roman Catholic. My childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood was filled with active and enthusiastic Roman Catholicism both on my part and that of my family. For 10 years, I worked as a full-time, salaried, dedicated layman in a variety of parish positions in the archdiocese of Detroit and the diocese of Grand Rapids, MI. But, in 1980, I found myself in a spiritual desert where I languished for 22 years. Contemporary Roman Catholicism no longer fed my soul. I had become drained and all of my spiritual energy had dissipated. So, I fell into a spiritual hole that was dark, dreary, and empty. I was disappointed and done; and I mean done, done, done with the church. No Mass, no private devotion, no spiritual direction…I was finished!

In 2002, I was abruptly awakened to the need to fill the hole in my soul. There was no particular person or event that brought me to this point. It just happened!
Because my cousin was an ordained independent Catholic priest, I had that memory which led me to do some internet research on independent Catholicism. I was really encouraged and my Spirit began to gain some hope that this could be the answer for me.

Many of the jurisdictions that I found seemed much too conservative or traditional for me but eventually I found the United Catholic Church and Archbishop Robert Bowman. He took me under his wing and gave me the support and encouragement I needed. He ordained me to the diaconate in June of 2002 and to the priesthood a year later. He was my mentor and friend until his death in August 2013.

Well, I have to say that my experiences in the independent Catholic movement have been rocky. There have been a lot of ups and downs. It has not been the panacea that I had expected and hoped for. It has been, however, the means by which I have gained much clarity about who I am as a religious and spiritual person.

I started out thinking I was still Roman Catholic though independent. Well, this was unacceptable with my independent Catholic colleagues. Eventually, I became worn down defending myself so I took on the label of Old Catholic as this was the tradition claimed by my United Catholic Church. After several years though, it became obvious to me that that label didn’t fit for a variety of reasons. I couldn’t get away from the reality that I am ROMAN Catholic but with some exceptions. The more I proclaimed this reality the less acceptable I became to my independent Catholic brothers and sisters. It simply didn’t compute in their minds that such a thing was possible. As I searched online from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, I discovered how many independent Catholics actually shunned any connection with Rome. Their disavowal of the Vatican was firm.

When I finally surveyed those independent Catholic jurisdictions which I believed had a direct and undisputed historical link to Rome via apostolic succession, I identified Old Catholics, the Polish National Catholic Church, the Brazilian / Mexican / Phillipine national churches, and Orthodoxy. I eventually concluded that none of these fit me as well as the Roman church. The Roman church was always the standard by which all others were compared. So, the light finally went on…hey Jerry, you are an independent ROMAN Catholic.

It feels right and suits me to a T. Good for me but totally baffling and unacceptable to everyone else and I mean everyone!

This is my best effort, so far, to explain myself:

Even though the Roman Catholic institution views me as an excommunicant, they cannot take away my faith. They can take away the label but I can create a new one. I can and do distinguish myself with the designation INDEPENDENT Roman Catholic.

If you think about it, this kind of designation is common and acceptable in other mainline denominations. There are independent Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Orthodox, etc jurisdictions. So, why not Roman Catholic?

Additionally, the de facto reality is that there are obviously millions of Roman Catholic folks sitting in their Roman Catholic pews within their Roman Catholic parishes every Saturday or Sunday who take exception to the doctrine and/or practices of the Vatican. Independent-minded Roman Catholics are alive and well in the Roman church! Most of these folks are not engaged in changing the Roman church from within. They retain their label in good conscience.

My rationale for operating as an independent Roman Catholic is to provide an opportunity for these independent-minded folks to have a place to go where they can openly express and live their faith without fear of reprisal or the need for secrecy.

I must admit that this idea has not caught on very well — yet! Perhaps, some day it will. As the old axiom goes: If it’s of the Holy Spirit, it will succeed. My ministry is to keep the option alive.

I’m happy to receive comments at jbrohl@wyan.org. Ideas to spread this notion are especially appreciated but I will accept criticism as well.