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I care not to remember how many times I have answered this question asked of me by those confused by the black shirt and white collar that I wear that sends the message to them that I am a Catholic Priest. In all fairness, the golden band on the ring finger of my left hand that sends the message that I am married might be the initial source of their confusion as everyone knows of course Catholic Priests are celibate. Once again in all fairness, the source of their confusion is not the wedding band, nor the collar, but rather a rather widespread belief—more prevalent in America than anywhere else—that there is only one Catholic Church.

The word catholic (with lowercase c; derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective katholikos, meaning “universal”) comes from the Greek phrase katholou, meaning “on the whole”. The Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists believe that their churches are “Catholic” in the sense that they are in continuity with the original universal church founded by the Apostles. [1] Although there is an emerging movement of Charismatic Evangelicals who are including Sacramental and liturgical elements in their worship services, the aforementioned traditional churches—unlike their post reformation cousins—utilize Eucharistic rites as a central part of church life. Celebrating the Eucharist at most if not all services—to the Protestant outsider—appears to be “Catholic.”
The excesses of the Roman Catholic Church prior to and during the time of the Protestant Reformation, naturally led to distinct animosity against the Roman church. This hatred often being—continuing up to contemporary times—expressed through a accusation of Papolatry or the excessive veneration of the Pope. Believe it or not I have even been criticized by strangers in restaurants as being a worshipper of the Pope. Age old animosities held by Protestants contribute to the divide between Protestant and Catholic; not to mention the mistrust of the Catholic church due to the scandal centering around pedophiles masquerading as Priests.
Prior to 1517 when the Protestants parted ways with the church of Rome, the Orthodox churches had migrated away in the middle of the eleventh century. The Anglican church broke away in 1534.
This breaking away or Schism [2] in the greater Christian church, created several “catholic” churches or those that worship in a manner or hold traditions similar to Roman Catholics; however there have been several other “schisms.”
One such was the “Old-Catholic Church” formed by the Bishops of Utrecht. The term Old Catholic Church originated with groups which separated from the Roman Catholic Church over certain doctrines, primarily concerned with papal authority. These churches are not in full communion with the Holy See of Rome, but their Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches is in full communion with the Anglican Communion and a member of the World Council of Churches. The formation of the Old Catholic communion of Germans, Austrians and Swiss began in 1870 at a public meeting held in Nuremberg under the leadership of Ignaz von Döllinger, following the First Vatican Council. [3]
Another large “Catholic” church is the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church founded in June of 1945 by the excommunicated Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa.
Bishop Costa was an out spoken critic of Papal infallibility, a critic of the Vatican’s acquiescence of the Nazis prior to and during World War II, the Roman policies regarding divorce and clerical celibacy. He was a champion for the poor which was his main work during his life. As a result of his outspoken views, Costa resigned from his office of bishop of Botucatu in 1937. [4]
These schisms as well as others, coupled with a continuing evolution of autocephalous churches [5]or jurisdictions—defined as those leaving older groups to create newly formed Churches that are independent of older traditional organizations—create a lively but sometimes confusing landscape.
My particular jurisdiction has influences from Charismatic as well as Baptist beliefs, a great deal of commonality with Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Anglican traditions, while we utilize some aspects of worship commonly found in Roman Catholicism. As we are indeed autocephalous and not in communion with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic or even the Brazilian or Polish Catholic churches, we prefer—unlike many of our peers—to refer to the nature of our church structure as being a part of the Independent Sacramental Movement. While I respect my fellow Bishops—and certainly not criticizing them in any way—those who refer to their jurisdictions as being Old-Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox, I do not want to add to the confusion of the public by using terminology that infers an agreement of intercommunion with any of these august traditional bodies. It should be noted that few if any of the autocephalous “catholic” churches in North America are actually in communion with the Roman, Old-Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox Catholic Churches.
While the Vatican has gone as record as recognizing our Holy Orders as valid but irregular—irregular as in they did not authorize the ordination of our Priests or the consecration of our Bishops—the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox (official policies) are not so gracious. I have to interject at this point I personally have been shown remarkable levels of courtesy and consideration from clergy and others of the Roman and Anglican churches.
While the Roman Catholic church has openly received Priests who were married and even with Children—men who were forced by conscience to leave the Episcopal church due to the question of the acceptance of Same Sex relations and marriage—those of us in the autocephalous movement who perceive the warming of relations between the Roman, Anglican, and some Protestant churches as a convergence of sorts, a general state of intercommunion, we should also be careful to also realize that until the traditional churches change their doctrine we will not be a part of any ecumenical convergence. These Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches have a distinct doctrine stating that they cannot be in communion with any irregular church; those churches that might use the same name or doctrine but not created with that particular denominations blessing.
Most countries outside of the United States have laws regulating the establishment of churches and clergy so as not to confuse the populace. For example when Bishop Costa founded the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, the civil authority of Brazil required his clergy to wear gray shirts instead of traditional black clericals and for his churches to use a liturgy different from traditional Roman so as not to confuse people. While in the United States there are some issues with trademarks, for the most part one is free to start a church and call it what he wants, even if the name is obviously similar or even same to an existing Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Orthodox entity. While we are free to do so—from an ethical standpoint—should we?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_term_%22Catholic%22
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schism
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic_Church
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_Catholic_Apostolic_Church
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocephaly

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