“Bye, Bishop Mema!” 4-year old Miles crooned as he wrapped his arms around his grandmother.
His Mema, Denise Donato, had just been ordained the first female bishop in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC). Psalm 82 speaks about wisdom coming “from out of the mouths of babes.” One day Miles will learn that his sweet farewell was also a revolutionary statement.
Yet, for all of its radical elements, Donato’s ordination, which took place on Feb. 9, looked and felt a lot like a typical ordination of a Roman Catholic bishop. The order of the liturgy, the prayers, and the symbols were remarkably traditional.
Like all bishops, Donato was offered sacramentals to mark to her nascent episcopacy: a crozier carved by her husband, Phil; a pectoral cross from her parents; a ring that was a gift from Mary Magdalene Church, the community that she serves as a priest; a mitre handcrafted by the same women who made her vestments for her priestly ordination 15 years ago.
The article, as usual, is a mish mash of sentimentality and the passive aggressive sweet and sour tone we have come to expect from the radical progressives in the Catholic Church. It is full of “the joy of the Spirit” and “God’s people discerning the movement of the Spirit among us” and “we are saddened by the refusal of the Catholic hierarchy to respond to the Spirit’s urging.”– that usual sort of clap trap.
What interests me is the Reporter’s promotion of something called the “Ecumenical Catholic Communion.” For those not in the know, the ECC is just another “independent Catholic Church” (which is another word for schism). These churches have been around from the beginning in one way or another, but the modern manifestations usually stem back to the Old Catholic schism of the nineteenth century. There is a pretty good article about their history here.
I should point out that if anyone is taken in by the propaganda pumped out by the National Not Catholic Reporter, and imagines that the Ecumenical Catholic Communion is some sort of wonderful new movement of the Holy Spirit–it is nothing of the sort. In fact there are loads of independent Catholic Churches–groups that have split away from the Church for some reason or another over the years. A list of them is here.
If you have a spare couple of hours it is far more entertaining than watching television to go to this list and click on the website links. Just rummaging around quickly I found the oddly named Ecclesia Epignostika. The first line of their website states:
Our parish consists of ordained women and men. Clergy may be married to either gender. We ordain LGBTQIA clergy. Unmarried clergy may reserve the right to marry after ordination or remain celibate.
Another random grab at the list comes up with The Ancient British Church in North America. A brief look at their page tells us their history and character:
The Ancient British Church in North America is a western rite denomination founded by Jonathan Vartan Zotique and based in Toronto Canada. Although it identifies with Catholic and Orthodox traditions, it is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church.
Jonathan Vartan Zotique (original name Thomas William Brennand) was ordained as a bishop in the Old Catholic Church (Latin Rite) by its primate, Boniface Grosvold, on 12 September 1976, taking the ecclesiastical name Mar Zitikos. He founded the Ancient British Church in North America, with its headquarters in Toronto, to reach out to communities (LGBT, drug addicts and others) not being served by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions. The church adopted the Autocephalous Glastonbury Rite in Diaspora. Mar Zitikos died on 3 June 1998.
You get the idea. They even have their own monastic order: The Celtic-Catholic Culdee Community of Orthodox Monks, Hermits, Missionaries and Evangelists of the Old Church of the Blessed Virgin, St. Mary of Glastonbury, Our Lady of Avalon, in Diaspora).
If you to to the page listed you’ll see that the Ecumenical Catholic Communion is just one of over a hundred of these “Catholic Churches.” Some ordain women and LGBTQIA people. Some just women. Some do not ordain women or gay people. Some have broken away because the Catholic Church is too liberal. Others have gone out on their own because the Catholic Church is too conservative.
Then there are the independent religious orders–Benedictine, Franciscans, Jesuits. All of them doing church and each one of them with the Bishops, their Abbots and Archimandrites, Archpriests, Archbishops, Archdeacons, Canons and Monsignors.
And those are just the Catholics. I came into the Anglican church as a young college student through the Anglican Orthodox Church. Just as the Catholic Church has its collection of “independent churches” so the Anglican Church has a similar list. If you’re still interested you can find the list here.
Like the Catholic list, some have broken away because the Anglican Church is too liberal and others have broken away because the Anglican Church is too conservative. Some because they want charismatic worship, others because they insist on the old prayer book.
The definitive book on the history of the Anglican schismatic bishops is Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Chuch– Episcopi Vagantes is the proper term for independent bishops. It means “Stray Bishop” or “Wandering Bishop.” The book tells the story of the colorful characters who inhabit this twilight world of Christianity. Another good book on the subject which is charming and sounds like it was written by the Revd Humphrey Blytherington is Bishops at Large.
I’ve always had a fascination with this zoo of eccentrics. The people who start these churches are invariably genuine characters. Some of them are kooks and criminals, rogues and rascals. Others are simply naive, dreamy sorts, some eccentric antiquarians and others sentimental, angry radicals. Some are simply sad, frustrated clergy people, others ambitious, unscrupulous, immoral money grabbing opportunists.
The most endearing are those who continue to celebrate the Most Holy and Divine Liturgy of the Western Rite of the Coptic Culdees in full episcopal regalia in their Aunt Flossie’s attic while working as a delivery man for the local pet food store. This fellow who was once called Hank Florsheim now takes the name The Most Reverend Eminence Mar Zossima Augustine Innocenti, all the time truly believing that he and his little band of believers are members of the one, true, only, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
This is the sort of “church” that has just ordained “Bishop Denise”
Who cannot love (and just a little bit admire) such enthusiasm and eccentricity? The only thing which comes close to such endearing craziness is the fact that a paper like the National Not Catholic Reporter publishes a write up on the Ecumenical Catholic Communion with (it would seem) complete seriousness.
The only thing that seems more bizarre than these groups are the individuals who agree with their main preaching points (women’s ordination and gay liberation), but not only stay within the Catholic Church, but do so intending to change it from within. How different from the members of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion are people like Phyllis Zagano (who ALWAYS makes it clear that she NEVER speaks about women priests!) and James Martin SJ who push the same preaching points as the ECC?
It would seem they support the same agenda as Bishop Denise . They just don’t have the integrity to get up and go join the ECC like she did.
As they have said, “We prefer to work within the system.”