Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA
An Historical Perspective
The most common questions that we are asked when we tell someone that we are the Ecumenical Catholic Church USA are: “What does that mean? What is the difference between Ecumenical Catholic and Roman Catholic? The length of our answer usually depends upon the amount of time the questioner will give us. Here, however, we will be brief.
Background Church History
Until 1054 there was only one Catholic Church, both east and west were united under a number of equal patriarchs, the Roman pope being one of them. In 1054 Christendom suffered a schism with the result that Rome became the seat of ecclesiastical authority in the West and Constantinople the seat of ecclesiastical collegiality in the East. Catholics in the West became known as Roman Catholics while Catholics in the East became known as Orthodox, a word from two Greek words which translate as “correct” or “true belief”. Orthodoxy at that time also became the state religion of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Rumania. Orthodoxy thus became divided in language as well as national loyalties and politics.
In the United States, aside from the eastern ethnic orthodox churches (e.g., Greek, Russian, Coptic, etc.), most orthodox or independent catholic churches, like ours, are not united to Rome nor, frankly, with anyone else. Most of these western rite independent catholic churches are autocephalous (i.e., have their own head [bishop]). Most are non-ethnic, small congregations. Most of the bishops trace their line of apostolic succession to Archbishop Joseph René Vilatte, who in 1892 was consecrated bishop by the Patriarchate of the Syrian Orthodox Catholic Church in India.
The fact is that independent Catholicism is very splintered. Our church, the Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA, then, can see itself as a member of a very loosely unorganized family. We are independent, but ecumenical; we are open to association with other independent churches. In independent Catholicism, most jurisdictions allow their deacons, priests, and bishops to marry. Some expect their clergy to be self-supporting and perform their ministry freely as a service to their congregation. Some jurisdictions ordain both men and women to the priesthood. Many jurisdictions do not own property; they conduct services wherever they are invited or in whatever facility a congregation can afford to rent.
About the Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA
The ECC+USA does ordain women to all levels of ministries. Marriage is an option for all clergy before or after ordination. Although we do have a couple of full time and part-time pastorates and ministries, at present, most of our clergy and their families are supported by their own resources or employment.
Even as a small church, the ECC+USA is a national church having ministries (congregations, chaplaincies, and religious institutes) in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, and North Carolina. The ECC+USA is incorporated in the State of Missouri. Our Presiding Bishop and our National Church Office are in Missouri. Our church website is: www.ecc-usa.org.
Each cleric at his/her ordination presents a plan of ministry through which the mission of the church will be accomplished. Our Church Canons state: The mission of the Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA is fulfilled in ministering to all people by preaching the Word of God, offering the Seven Sacraments of the Church, and witnessing Christ’s mercy and love using an ecumenical approach that maintains Catholic Faith Tradition. Simply stated, our mission is to bring Christ and the sacraments to people. Our mission is to overcome the artificial and often legalistic barriers of some churches that tend to separate and alienate rather than unite people to Christ.
Since Orthodoxy, Old Catholicism, and by association, the Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA, hold that infallibility rests only in an ecumenical council of the undivided church, and the church has been divided since 1054, church dogma has not been changed since that time. You can see the implications for church teachings. The teachings of our church are based on the Sacred Scriptures and on the decrees of the first seven ecumenical councils of the undivided church. Of course, that excludes the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The Council of Trent did much to define and calcify Roman Catholic dogmatic and moral teachings based on the prevailing Roman Catholic philosophy and theology of the time).
Western orthodox, Old Catholic and independent Catholic churches tend to allow individuals to form their own conscience based on the Scriptures and Catholic Faith Tradition. Once you get beyond the first seven ecumenical councils’ dogmatic teaching on the Trinity and Christ, there is not much set in stone, so the individual person needs to form his or her own conscience on many basic beliefs and moral regulations. Based on that fact, the following are acceptable beliefs and practices in most independent catholic churches, including ours: a married clergy; allowing remarriage after divorce; belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist without the theological specificity of transubstantiation (it is simply a “great mystery”); a recognition of the practical necessity of family planning; and, the recognition of the individual’s personal responsibility before God of choices in all areas of human existence.
The Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA and the Roman Catholic Church
Although we share historical roots, as described above, as well as a common appreciation of liturgical rites and religious practices with the Roman Catholic Church, we are not in any way associated with or under any form of jurisdiction by that Church. We understand that our relationship with the Roman Catholic Church would at best be regarded as schismatic, not at all unlike its relationship with the Orthodox Catholics of the east, the Polish National Catholics and the Old Catholics of Utrecht . Our strain of Catholicism and our claim to Apostolic Succession, emerges out from the “Old Catholic” line.
We do not consider ourselves to be of the reformed (Protestant) tradition. This means to infer that we do not emerge out from that tradition nor are we of the spirit of that tradition. It is not our desire or intention to reform the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it our desire or intention ever to present ourselves as Roman Catholics; however, we do see ourselves as a genuine Catholic Church under the big umbrella of Catholicism. Under that umbrella of “Catholicism” with us are: the Roman Catholic Church; the Episcopal Church; the Anglican Church; the Polish National Catholic Church; the Orthodox Catholic Church; Old Catholic Church, some Lutheran Churches, and many, many independent churches like ours.
We will spiritually minister to all people who find their way to our communities. We do believe that the Ecumenical Catholic Church+USA can be a new church family for those who for one reason or another find themselves estranged or otherwise disenfranchised from their previous church community. We welcome wholeheartedly with the love of Christ anyone from any background who wishes to worship with us either as their church family or even just at key moments in their lives when they want to celebrate with the presence of Christ (e.g., baptisms, weddings, funerals).
One might rightly consider our faith community as an “atmosphere of ecumenical grace”, embracing all Christian believers and the un-churched, aiding them in their journey into the Divine.
Our Ecumenical and Community Purpose
As Christian and more, as an ecumenical Christian Body, it is not our desire to be an insular community of faith. Our hope is to know and participate with the broader communities of faith in our local regions. We desire to share and educate ourselves and make ourselves conscious of the beliefs, traditions and works of the larger faith community.
When it is possible, and when we can find common ground with other faith communities, it would be our desire to participate as we can in worship and for the common good.
Reviewed & Updated. July, 2016 National Church Office