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Our History

The ‘Old Catholics’ is the name of the group of Catholics who are faithful to the tenets of Christianity at different times in history as different from those of the Roman Empire and Church. The term ‘Old Catholics’ was chosen at the Council of Utrecht to mean ‘Original Catholics’, i.e. those who uphold the original teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and traditions of the early Church in line with the word of St. Vincent of Lerins: “We must hold fast to that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all the Faithful” as against the Roman Catholics who departed from the teachings of Jesus handed over through the generations of early believers by the Apostles.

"We must hold fast to that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all the Faithful"

St. Vincent of Lerins

Here is a detailed timeline of our history:

696 — Diocese of Utrecht is established

St. Willibrord was consecrated to the episcopacy by Pope Sergius I in 696 at Rome. Upon his return to the Netherlands, he established his See at Utrecht. In addition, he established the dioceses at Deventer and Haarlem.

1723 — Cornelius van Steenoven is elected Archbishop of Utrecht

The Chapter of Utrecht convened at The Hague on April 27, 1723. After the Mass of the Holy Ghost, the canons prepared to advance the rights of the Catholic episcopate over the papacy by electing their own archbishop. Cornelius van Steenoven received the most votes and was named Archbishop-elect of Utrecht.

1724 — Consecration as Archbishop of Utrecht

On Sunday, October 15, 1724, Cornelius van Steenoven was consecrated without a papal mandate by Dominique Marie Varlet in Amsterdam. Although the pope was duly notified of all proceedings, the Holy See still regarded these dioceses as vacant. Therefore, the pope continued to appoint apostolic vicars for the Netherlands.

1725 — Church of Utrecht separates from the roman catholic church

Old Catholics’ formal separation from Roman Catholicism began over the issue of Papal authority. On February 21, 1725, Pope Benedict XIII issued a brief declaring the election of Steenoven null and void, calling his consecration “illicit and execrable”. Both Varlet and Steenoven were suspended for illicit episcopal consecration and excommunicated for claiming a diocesan see of jurisdiction without the permission of the Roman Pontiff. This led to the breakaway of the Church of Utrecht.

1870 — Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches is formed

At the First Vatican Council held from1869 to 1870, papal primacy in jurisdiction and the Catholic dogma of papal infallibility were defined, to the objection of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands and some communities in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Several separate communities were formed at this time and eventually formed the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches.

1871 — Church of Utrecht becomes the “Old Catholic Church”

In the spring of 1871, a convention was held in Munich which attracted several hundred participants, including the churches of Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland who had earlier created the Union of Utrecht after Vatican I. The convention decided to form the “Old Catholic Church” to distinguish its members from what they saw as the novel teaching of papal infallibility in the Catholic Church.

1874 — Requirement of clerical celibacy is removed

In 1874 the Old Catholic Church abolished compulsory celibacy.

1877 —Latin is removed in the Liturgy

Although it had continued to use the Roman Rite, from the middle of the 18th century the Dutch Old Catholic See of Utrecht had increasingly used the vernacular instead of Latin. The churches which broke from the Holy See in 1870 and subsequently entered union with the Old Catholic See of Utrecht gradually introduced the vernacular into the Liturgy until it completely replaced Latin in 1877.

In 1889 — The Declaration of Utrecht is made

In 1889, when the Old Catholic Church bishops founded the Utrecht Convention and published the agreement, thereafter, known as the Bishops’ Declaration of 1889, which laid down the foundation on how the Old Catholic Churches can grow together based on share principles and how they would conduct their relations with one another.

1996 — Women ordained as priests

In 1994 the German bishops decided to ordain women as priests and put this into practice on 27 May 1996. Similar decisions and practices followed in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. By the early 1900s, the movement included England, Canada, Croatia, France, Denmark, Italy, America, the Philippines, China, and Hungary. Old Catholic Churches are presently all over the world and particularly strong in Africa.


Today, OCAC is a truly worldwide church, with work and outreach on every continent, and a clergy of hard-working genuine Christians who are serving Christ in what they do. There are prayer communities, religious orders and societies alongside Sacramental Worship and evangelism. Each of our clergy must have an active expression of ministry, and so we have chaplains, missionaries, street pastors, serving the homeless and programs to help the needy.