COMMON QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Questions about our Church answered by the people of The National Catholic Church of North America (TNCCNA)
Questions answered here are typical of those asked by those who inquire about TNCCNA. We’ve tried our best to provide solid answers within the restrictions of this page, but we’re always happy to answer more specific questions, or any questions at greater length. Just ask! Our contact information is included in this website.
Is there more than one Catholic Church?
No, there is only one Catholic Church. There are a fair number of Catholic jurisdictions though, of which the Roman Church is only one – and certainly the largest and best known. Our jurisdiction is called the National Catholic Church of North America, (TNCCNA). We are Catholic Christians not under the governance of Rome. As a group, these smaller jurisdictions are referred to as the “independent Catholic Movement” within greater Catholicism.
And why is it “Independent”?
The term “Old” Catholic (we now call ourselves “Independent” Catholics) was coined in 1870, when a group of European Bishops broke with the Roman Catholic Church. The rift came about because Rome had begun “declaring” new dogma – that is, new articles of faith – which is something that had been considered impossible up to that time. The things that Catholics must believe were codified in great detail before the year 1000. This “Deposit of Faith” was thought to be complete and immutable until Rome began changing it during the First Vatican Council, which opened in 1869. The group of Catholics that broke with Rome over the issue declared themselves loyal to “Old” Catholicism rather than the “new” Catholicism that Rome was attempting to define. Ever since then Independent Catholicism has tried to remain loyal to Catholicism’s roots of faith, while retaining a flexible outlook on Church discipline and governance. So we are “Independent” Catholics because we believe what Catholics always did prior to 1870.
Is a “jurisdiction” a separate religion?
No. A jurisdiction is an organization – that is, a group of fallible human beings – who gather in worship, pool funds, construct church buildings, file for nonprofit statue, operate ministries, hold rummage sales, and do all the other things people associate with the word “church”. Many – actually nearly all – Catholic jurisdictions believe the same tenets of faith, which were laid down in complete form prior to the year 1000. But each jurisdiction is separately organized and managed. So there is unity in faith, but diversity in practice and governance. (It is important not to confuse matters of faith with matters of church practice and governance!)
The Pope runs the Roman Catholic Church. Who runs these others?
Each jurisdiction is run by its own bishop. The Pope is a bishop (the word “bishop” is from the Greek for overseer”) who has been elected by his fellow bishops to be, in effect, the Roman Catholic Church’s CEO. There are variations among other Catholic jurisdictions, but each generally has a governing council of bishops, and that council elects a prime bishop (sometimes called an archbishop) among its own members to act as the jurisdiction’s CEO. The TNCCNA goes further, with a council of bishops, priests, and laypeople who meet regularly to make decisions about how the National Catholic Church is run.
Don’t bishops have to be specially anointed? I thought the Pope had to do that?
In the Roman Catholic Church, yes. However, every bishop once consecrated, is invested with “the fullness of the priesthood”, which includes the power to ordain new priests and consecrate new bishops. The process involves anointing with holy oil and a “laying on of hands” in an unbroken sequence that extends back to the original Twelve Apostles, who were Christianity’s first bishops. This unbroken sequence is called “Apostolic Succession”. A religion is considered apostolic when it can trace the consecrations of its bishops back to the original Church founded by Christ Himself. To be considered truly Catholic, a Christian jurisdiction must be Apostolic. The National Catholic Church of North America is Apostolic.
If that is so, did the lines of succession break from those of the original Catholic Church?
Catholic history is much more complicated than most people realize – and the Roman Catholic Church sees no benefit in emphasizing all the various complications. The greater Catholic Church has split a fair number of times, generally over matters of discipline and governance, much more rarely over matters of faith. The two largest splits – usually called schisms – are those with the Eastern Orthodox in 1054 and with the Anglican Communion in 1534. Both the Orthodox and the Anglicans can properly be called Catholics, even though the Roman Catholic Church does so with some hesitation. And there have been a couple of instances down through history where Rome has given a diocese permission to elect its own bishops, for reasons that today sound quaint or obscure. Bishops Independent of Rome have come about through both of these mechanisms.
What about married priests?
The Roman Catholic Church is the only major religious group in all Christendom with a celibate clergy – and the historical reasons for that celibacy might surprise you, though they are much too complex to cover on this page Celibacy has been an absolute requirement of the Roman Church only since the year 1100 or so. For the first thousand years of Catholic history, priests, bishops, and even popes were married. There’s nothing inherently wrong with celibacy, for those who are called to it. But requiring celibacy of all ordained priests prevents many worthy individuals from serving Christ in the priesthood. The Independent Catholic Movement has long since treated celibacy as a special calling, not as a requirement.
What about women priests?
Although there is no general consensus as yet – and much agony, study, and prayer is occurring over the issue – more and more Independent Catholic jurisdictions are granting ordination, and even consecration as bishops, to women. The various contending threads of the debate are complex and can’t be explained in just a few words without being unfair to one side or the other. The National Catholic Church of North America strongly supports the ordination of women to the priesthood. If you are a woman and feel called to the priesthood, we can put you in touch with a woman priest who can advise you, and organizations that conduct programs of study leading to Catholic ordination for members of both sexes.
Are the divorced welcome?
Everyone, without exception, is welcome! Divorce is a tragedy, but in the Independent Catholic Movement no one is excluded. This is perhaps the most significant difference between Roman Catholicism and Independent Catholicism. In the Independent Catholic movement, priests and bishops recognized that human beings often marry too young or without sufficient reflection, or in the heat of a passion that masks deeper problems. All Independent Catholic jurisdictions take that into account, and recognize that Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, and if mortal sin can be forgiven, a failed marriage can too. Most emphatically, the clergy and bishops of the National Catholic Church of North America feel that divorce should not be an unscalable wall standing between two unhappy human beings and the sacraments that can begin to comfort and heal them. We offer special counseling to the divorced, both to welcome them back to Catholicism, and also to help them.
Do you embrace LGBTQ persons?
Yes! Not only are they welcomed, but they are ordained deacon, priest, and Bishop.
I understand that the big fuss over birth control originated with the Pope. Do the Bishops of the Independent Catholic movement perpetuate this law?
No. Each jurisdiction establishes its own code of canon law, and virtually every single one has ruled that contraception is a matter of conscience, basically a decision that a married couple makes, ideally after some prayer and consultation with their parish priest.
That sounds great! I haven’t been to church for years and really miss it – why haven’t I heard of the Independent Catholic movement before?
It’s small and between World War II and 1990 or so it had lost critical mass and seemed in danger of extinction. The Internet has brought new energy to the movement, and new ways of letting people know that we exist. Most Independent Catholic groups have their own websites, and many conduct server lists and chat rooms. As yet is hasn’t gotten a lot of national publicity, and as you might expect, the Roman Church has little or nothing to say about it. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not out there.
Is there any way I can help?
Obviously every person who seeks Christ through the Independent Catholic Movement helps the movement achieve its goals – which centers around removing all unnecessary barriers between God and the people God loves so much. So find and join an Independent Catholic community near you. But more than that, talk about Catholicism. Get People who might have been Catholic at one point thinking that it could be worth “going back”. Read up on the nature of the Catholic Church, its good and bad sides, and strive to understand what the real issues are. Be ready to explain the difference between a church and a jurisdiction, and between a divinely revealed truth and an artifact of church governance. Go to Mass regularly, receive the sacraments, and pray. Tell your friends. Be an active Catholic.
Great! How do I learn more?
Come and see us! We’ll explain anything we can. There is also a great deal on the Web. There are articles on history, the Independent Catholic Movement generally, the issues with which we (and all of Catholicism) are contending, and links to many sites around the Catholic world. Do a search engine search on “Independent Catholic” or “Old Catholic (which some Catholic jurisdictions not under Rome call themselves) and you’ll be surprised at what you find!