Understanding Independent Catholicism: A Perspective from the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church

By Michael Callahan, Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church


Independent Catholicism is a burgeoning movement within the broad Christian landscape that holds its origins in the Catholic tradition. While not in direct communion with the Roman Catholic Church, Independent Catholic churches have been growing and diversifying, especially since the 19th century. The Apostolic Western Orthodox Church, over which I preside, is one such church. In this article, we’ll delve into the roots, developments, and significance of Independent Catholicism.

The Origins: A Brief History

The movement traces its roots back to the 19th century, spurred by a variety of factors. One key catalyst was the First Vatican Council’s declaration of papal infallibility, which led to divisions within the Church. The Old Catholic Church emerged in 1870, founded by seven German bishops who opposed the doctrine. This church later formed its own international body, the Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches.


The American Experience

In the United States, the late 19th century saw the advent of independent Catholic churches, highlighted by the efforts of Bishop Arnold Harris Mathew. Consecrated in 1908 by Archbishop Gerardus Gul of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, Mathew laid the groundwork for what would become one of the largest independent Catholic churches in the country, the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America.

Evolving Through the 20th Century

Over the course of the 20th century, the Independent Catholic movement has continued to grow and diversify. New churches have been founded, often incorporating more liberal theological and liturgical practices. However, some churches, like the ourselves, the Western Orthodox Church (AWOC), have remained committed to the teachings passed down from the Apostolic Age.

Our Commitment at the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church

We stand as a testament to the continuity and preservation of the ancient faith. We are committed to upholding the teachings received from Jesus, carried forth by His Apostles and the Church Fathers. While we acknowledge the modern challenges facing Independent Catholicism, we remain steadfast in upholding the faith while being attuned to contemporary societal needs.

Why Independent Catholicism Matters

The Independent Catholic Movement serves as a counterpoint to the shifting doctrinal landscape within the Roman Catholic Church and other modern reformed churches. For those seeking a spiritual home that aligns with historic Church teachings yet addresses modern challenges, Independent Catholicism, especially the AWOC provides a sanctuary.

Guided by Ancient Principles

The Declaration of Utrecht’s First Article eloquently captures the core ethos of our movement, affirming our commitment to the principle laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins: “Id teneamus, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere proprieque catholicum.” In essence, we hold steadfastly to the universally accepted faith of the ancient Church, as articulated in ecumenical symbols and dogmatic decisions from the ecumenical councils of the first millennium.


The Independent Catholic Movement is not merely a historical footnote; it’s a living, growing community committed to the ancient faith of the Church. At the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church, we stand confident in the bright future of Independent Catholicism, united in our commitment to tradition and modern relevance.

Join us in our journey of faith. The Apostolic Western Orthodox Church welcomes all who seek a church that honors both ancient wisdom and modern needs.