One of the hallmarks of the Independent Catholic Movement is its inclusivity. Following
the example of Jesus, we welcome outcasts and sinners of all kinds. We bring them into the
church and attempt to provide an environment in which Gods grace can touch them,
heal them, and save them. But how does Gods grace flow to the sinner? By the good
example of those already walking with God, certainly. But also through the sacraments. The
sacraments were given to the church as a means of giving Gods grace to sinners. Then
why deny the sacraments to sinners who ask for them? Why deny baptism to children of
single mothers? Why deny the graces of Matrimony to those whose first marriage failed? Why
be stingy with the sacrament of Reconciliation through General Absolution? Why deny the
Eucharist to any baptized Christian who seeks the Lord?
Catholic or not, in the
"state of grace" or not.
Part of our "inclusivity" then is generosity with the sacraments. But this
can be misinterpreted as condoning sin. It is not. Jesus never condoned sin; yet He never
turned away a sinner. Following that example in the real world is not always as easy as it
Some independent Catholic churches got carried away and let inclusivity become
irresponsibility. Openly promiscuous persons were ordained to the priesthood. This is
unacceptable. There is a difference between turning a sinner away from the church and
refusing them Holy Orders! We are to be absolutely nondiscriminatory when it comes to
welcoming people to the Church and, we believe, to the Lords table as well.
But we are to be very discriminating and selective when accepting candidates to Holy
Orders. If Christs Church is not to be rocked by scandal (any more than it already
has been, in almost every denomination), we must take steps to see that we ordain only
those who have a genuine calling, who are of good moral character, who are emotionally
stable, who are intellectually capable of performing their ministry, who have the
requisite training, and who will draw people to Christ with their example.
In the Independent Catholic Movement, since we avoid hierarchical structure and
legalism, carrying out this selectivity of ordination depends almost exclusively on the
good judgment of the ordaining bishop. Once in a while, as throughout history, that
judgment fails, and unsuitable persons enter the clergy. There has even been the
occasional con artist who has succeeded in getting himself ordained. If a bishop makes a
habit of unwise ordinations, the gentle persuasion of his brother bishops can be brought
to bear. Some people just find it difficult to say "no."
But in this Movement, there is also an automatic corrective. Clergy are guaranteed no
salary, no house, no car, no health care, no retirement. Their only support is that given
them voluntarily by the parishioners they serve. So ineffective ministers will not be
supported, and they will turn to other work.
Another sometimes controversial aspect of inclusivity involves standards of belief. The
independent Catholic churches generally do not require belief in a long list of dogmas.
Yet there are core beliefs that we hold to. (For a full discussion of this, see the
document "What Does It Mean To Be Catholic: A Call to Unity.") Our various
churches should first and foremost attempt to see that their people are Christian.
That does not mean that they are baptized, or that they grew up in a Christian
denomination, or that they identify themselves as Christian, but that they are
Christian. This means having a basic knowledge of the Christian faith, having accepted
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and having opened themselves to the influence of the Holy
Spirit. It means more than saying the words. It means turning their life over to God and
allowing Him to change them. It means following the example of Jesus in ones daily
It is impossible to be a good Catholic without first being a good Christian. Beyond
that, we should teach our people the distinctives of the Catholic faith respect for
the Apostolic succession, belief in the efficacy of the Sacraments, and belief in the Real
Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
We teach our people these things through our example, our liturgy, our preaching, and
our teaching (Bible study, etc.) But these are not entrance requirements into the Church.
They are graduation requirements. So we are to welcome the skeptics, the confused,
the agnostics, the atheists, and the "nominal Christians." We dont make
them feel like outsiders by turning them away from the Lords table. Jesus never ever
did that. What got him in trouble more than anything else was eating with sinners. We must
do the same. We are to include them in the broadest sense of the term. We are to make them
feel at home. And we let Gods grace do the rest.
In 1996, a group of independent Catholic bishops meeting in synod asked Bishop Bowman
to draw up guidelines for "inclusivity." "What is it that makes us
Catholic? What are our core beliefs? Our churches are so different, one from the other.
How can we have unity, the unity Jesus prayed for? On what basis do we include or exclude
churches from our family? What should be our relationship with the Orthodox churches? With
Protestants? What should be the standards for clergy? How can we have unity without
requiring the lockstep uniformity that we left behind?"
This was the genesis of the United Catholic Church. We dont have all the answers.
(Bishop Bowmans first attempt at dealing with these difficult issues is contained in
the document "What Does It Mean to be Catholic?: A Call To Unity") But at least
we recognize the importance of the questions. What has developed is a loose fellowship of
independent Catholic churches (some call themselves Roman Catholic, some Old Catholic,
some United Catholic, some just "Catholic"). These churches are cooperating to
find the answers to the above questions. We recognize each other; we support each other
(spiritually, not financially); we love each other. None of us follows another. We are all
attempting to follow Jesus.
As with so many of our spiritual forebears, we are Catholics who put our conscience
above blind obedience to hierarchical legalisms; who put faithfulness to the inclusivity
of Jesus above the exclusivity of institutions; who (like Jesus) put more emphasis on
caring for widows and orphans than on avoiding sexual pleasure in committed loving
relationships; who put more value on faithfulness to the early Church than on the
inventions of recent centuries; and who, above all, when forced to make a choice, would
rather follow Jesus than follow the rules.