The founding bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church was J. I. Wedgwood of the Wedgwood China family, who became a theosophist and was ordained as a priest in the Old Catholic movement on July 22, 1913 by Arnold Harris Mathew (whose membership in the Union of Utrecht was terminated in 1910). Archbishop Mathew was a resigned Roman Catholic priest who had been consecrated by Archbishop Gerardus Gul of Utrecht on April 28, 1908 and appointed as the first Old Catholic bishop in Britain. Thus the Liberal Catholic Church claims to trace its apostolic succession back to Rome through Old Catholicism. In the end Mathew came to cease all ties with the Utrecht Union of Churches to vow allegiance once more to the Roman Catholic Church (this did not happen) and to advise those of his flock who were Theosophists to resign membership of the Theosophical Society Adyar. This advice was not taken seriously by many of the church's members. Wedgwood was consecrated to the episcopate on February 13, 1916 by Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby (who had been consecrated by Bishop Matthew), and started the organisation that would later become the Liberal Catholic Church of which Wedgwood became the first Presiding Bishop. Bishop Wedgwood published articles within the Theosophical Society on ceremonial work. These writings interested Charles Webster Leadbeater, an alleged clairvoyant and Anglican priest who was consecrated as a Liberal Catholic bishop in 1916. C. W. Leadbeater became the 2nd Presiding Bishop.
The Liberal Catholic Church is governed by the "General Episcopal Synod" of all bishops. The synod meets formally every three years and it elects a Presiding Bishop from among their ranks as the church's chief executive officer. The current Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church worldwide is the Right Reverend Graham Wale. The General Episcopal Synod also elects priests to the episcopacy, with the approval of the parishes of their respective provinces. The bishops of the Liberal Catholic Church may hold office until the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Each province is governed by a regionary bishop who, in turn, may have one or more bishops functioning as assistants. A province may also have its own Clerical Synod of deacons, priests and bishops. For the most part these clergy are not financially compensated and hold secular jobs. They also may marry and hold property.
Training for the clergy varies from province to province. The Liberal Catholic Institute of Studies was created to standardise the program of studies for the development of future deacons and priests, but laypersons may follow the courses as well.
Liberal Catholicism regards these promises as validating all Christian worship, of whatever kind, so long as it be earnest and true. But it further holds that while the promise of the presence with individual believers is thus effective, Christ also appointed certain rites or sacraments, called 'mysteries' in the Eastern Church, for the greater helping of his people, to be handed down in the Church as special channels of power and blessing. Through these 'means of grace' The Liberal Catholic Church believes that Christ is ever present within His Church, in fellowship and Communion, guiding and protecting them from birth to death.
In 1920, C.W. Leadbeater published a book for the use of the clergy of the Liberal Catholic Church called The Science of the Sacraments. The book has pictures what Leadbeater said he saw with his claimed clairvoyant ability to observe etheric matter with his third eye. The pictures show the effect of performing the sacraments on the distribution of etheric matter within the vicinity of the congregation.
The controversy surrounding Bishop Hampton led to a legal battle in the United States which eventually split into two different divisions, both of which claimed to be the Liberal Catholic Church. Frank W. Pigott, the church's 3rd Presiding Bishop in England, who held to a more Theosophical ideal for the church, removed Hampton and then ordered the confiscation of certain church property at the regionary headquarters in California and forced the resignation of those clergy under Hampton who refused to support his new episcopal replacement. At the time the majority of Liberal Catholics in the United States supported Hampton and saw his removal from the office of regionary and the other subsequent preceding as a breach of canon law and a violation of some of the laws of California under which the church had been incorporated in America. These clergy continued on their own and won the right to be called the Liberal Catholic Church in the U.S. (while being called the Liberal Catholic Church International in the rest of the world). Those who followed Bishop Pigott in England became known in America as The Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States of America. Both divisions have similar structures of government and administration.
After Frank W. Pigott retired as the Presiding Bishop, and after attempts at a reconciliation, some of the clergy in the LCCI returned to theLiberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States of America. Bishop Hampton died before the litigation was settled. While some clergy wish for more cooperation between the two divisions, they still exist independently.
Bishop Jackson was a devout, humble, and dedicated man, and wanted no part of these political machinations. It saddened him to see this, and other evidences of creeping authoritarianism happening within our church.
It saddened him to see that the synod had lost the original vision and purpose of the church as intended by our founding Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater.
Motivated to restore and maintain the "Original Vision and Purpose" of Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater, Bishop Jackson organized the Liberal Catholic Church Theosophia Synod on Advent, 1982.
Bishop Jackson consecrated Bishop John Schwarz to succeed him. Bishop Schwarz consecrated Bishops Judson Saas and James Lippert. Bishop Schwarz retired from leadership of the Church in 2005 and is no longer active. Bishop Judson Saas is the Episcopal Vicar General of The Liberal Catholic Church - Theosophia Synod
In 2003 the issue of the limitation of the right of a bishop to ordain candidates of his choice gave rise to a schism into two groups: a 'conservative' and a more 'liberal' one. The ordination of women was the primary point of conflict. The parishes in the Dutch, Belgian and Canadian provinces elected their own Episcopal Synod under the presidency of the Right Reverend Tom Degenaars, claiming use of the name the Liberal Catholic Church. In 2002 the 'conservative' wing opened 'The Order of Our Lady' as an alternative for women seeking ordination. Since both groups call themselves The Liberal Catholic Church, distinguishing between the two is confusing. In 2003 the 'liberal' Episcopal Synod declared that women may be ordained. In 2007 the 'liberal' wing is represented in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Cameroon, both Congos, and Sweden.
In the United Kingdom another Liberal Catholic Jurisdiction exists under the leadership of Bishop Richard Palmer. This Church was founded by mandate in May 1999 and is known as the 'The Reformed Liberal Catholic Church (Old Catholic)'. The RLCC doesn't emphasise theosophy, vegetarianism nor belief in the Masters as it holds that the individual has the right to choose whether to subscribe to these beliefs and practices.
Palmer was consecrated to the episcopate in the 'conservative' wing in 1997 and subsequently consecrated Professor Elizabeth Stuart of University of Winchester as a bishop in the Open Episcopal Church on 10 April 2003 at the chapel of Royal Holloway, Egham assisted by Bishop Jonathan Blake and Bishop Michael Wilson. Stuart has since left the Open Episcopal Church and has been appointed the regionary bishop for the British Province of the Liberal Catholic Church International.
In 2006 another reform resulted in the formation of a new group called the Young Rite. The past Presiding Bishop of the "mother" Liberal Catholic Church, Johannes van Alphen, who had resigned from the LCC in 2002, had consecrated Mario Herrera (in 2002) who in turn had consecrated Benito Rodriguez (in 2005). These three bishops consecrated Markus van Alphen, a former priest of the Dutch Liberal Catholic Church, in June 2006 in Hilversum, The Netherlands. In March of 2007 various bishops of the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship (formed in 2007) consecrated another Young Rite member (Aristid Havilcek of Slovenia) to the episcopacy.
Markus started the Young Rite as an autocephalous group operating within the Liberal Catholic tradition, yet separate from any of the Liberal Catholic Church organisations. Although the Young Rite shares many beliefs and customs with the Liberal Catholic Church and derives its apostolic succession from it, they are not affiliated with any of the Liberal Catholic Church organisations. The major difference between the traditional LCC and the Young Rite lies in the abolition of the separation between clergy and congregation. Everyone is allowed to request and receive ordination up to and including the priesthood. The Young Rite operates in the Netherlands, Nigeria, Slovenia and South Africa.
The roots of The Liberal Rite go back to 1999, and the foundation of a small autocephalous group of Christians that was first called the British Liberal Free Church, later renamed the Society of the Divine Spirit. Subsequent developments saw the evolution of SDS into the English Liberal Free Church. In 2006, several major changes took place. The changes in ELFC, and specifically those to its ministerial team, set in place a re-organisation and renewal of mission that was largely complete by the end of 2006. Having used the name IOCCUS (Independent Old Catholic Church of the Utrecht Succession) in the interim period, the Presiding Bishops announced that from 1 January 2007, the denomination would bear the name The Liberal Rite. As independent Liberal Catholics within the esoteric tradition, the denomination has had no affiliation with other current denominations using variations of that name, but remained autocephalous throughout. In 2008, following a year of significant growth and development, The Liberal Rite Renamed the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church.
The Old Catholic Church of British Columbia was established in 1921 as in independent communion. They use the Liberal Rite in their church. In 2006, the church was granted conditional status as a member of the Utrecht Union. This lasted only a short period, as they withdrew from the Union the following year due to differences of opinion.
In April 2007, former LCCI Presiding Bishop Dean Bekken, several priests and St Francis Parish of San Diego left the LCCI to form the Liberal Catholic Church of California, now the Universal Catholic Church.
The General Episcopal Synod of The Liberal Catholic Church worldwide requires its clergy to believe in such Theosophical tenets as reincarnation and the ascended masters. It encourages its priests and its bishops to have a vegetarian diet and to refrain from using tobacco as well as alcohol. Significantly it also continues to require deacons, priests and bishops to be male.
The Liberal Catholic Church International does not as a group require any belief in theosophical tenets, while it continues to accept them if they are the personal choice of the individual. Since 2004, the Liberal Catholic Church International opens the ordination of women to all Holy Orders up to and including bishop. The reformed movement in the Liberal Catholic Church (Dutch, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Sweden), retains the emphasis on the tenets defined by the founders of the Liberal Catholic Church, but practices the ordination of women to the Holy Orders, including the episcopate.
The Reformed Liberal Catholic Church began facilitating the ordination of women to all orders before other branches of the Liberal Catholic Church. It doesn't emphasise theosophy but holds that theosophy is a lense through which we can gain a deeper and broader understanding of religion. Clergy and laity are free to accept or reject this, but are expected to accept those who have differing views. Currently the RLCC is forming new Provinces around the world.
The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Ernesto Portillo Jr. column: Church fills certain need for liberal Catholics.(Column)
Jul 15, 2007; Byline: Ernesto Portillo Jr. Jul. 15--Bennett D.D. Burke was raised a Catholic. He attended Mass and weekly religious education...