Life in the Church: Of collars and clerics

The churches of which I am a member have a distinctive policy on the question of clerical dress. By this is not meant the traditional dress of clerics when participating in a religious service, but what a clergyman wears on those occasions when he is not in church, such as walking down the street or visiting those in need.

The tradition which I have inherited draws from that of the Liberal Catholic Church and others which maintain a non-stipendiary clergy who support themselves and the Church through secular (or in rare cases religious) paid work. Non-stipendiary emphatically does not mean “part-time”, since a vocation of necessity involves the person as a whole, but it reflects both the fact that these churches are generally small communities with relatively limited resources as well as that their character is to some extent formed by the voluntary nature of the endeavour that they attract, uncompromised so far as is possible by Mammon. They also have regard to the fact that their clergy may not be of the financial means necessary to afford expensive specialist clerical dress, which is generally priced much higher than equivalent non-clerical garments.

At the point when the Liberal Catholic Church formed in the years of the First World War, the time was well within living memory, at least in England, when there was no “everyday” clerical dress. The detachable clerical collar (“dog collar”) was invented in 1865 by the Rev. Donald McLeod, a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister in Glasgow. Prior to this, from the 1840s, Anglican clergy sought a means of visually (and perhaps otherwise) separating themselves from the common run of men, initially with black coat and white necktie, and from the 1880s onwards, through adoption of the clerical collar. It may therefore be seen that distinctive clergy dress is a relatively modern invention.

It should also be pointed out that anyone of any religion (or indeed none) may wear a clerical collar; it is not a legally protected mode of dress nor is it associated with one or more Christian denominations exclusively. There are those who believe that wearing a clerical collar “on the street” is a form of ministry, and those who find in doing so a greater strength and purpose. There are also those who believe it serves no useful purpose and may indeed alienate some whose past experience with the clergy has not been positive. The churches to which I belong have always made this an optional matter, recognizing that there will be differing views as well as differing circumstances at issue.

As for me, I nowadays never wear a clerical collar except when performing a specific clerical function. I do not find it helpful to be visually set apart from those whom I serve, and nor is the erroneous assumption that I must be a clergyman of the Church of England one that I would wish to go uncorrected. In addition, I take the view that there is no need to broadcast that I am ordained through wearing clerical dress; that fact should be evident to others from my behaviour and discourse.

The question of what should be worn when I am a congregant in a church of which I am not a member (and when I have not been invited in my clerical capacity) also arises from time to time. In this I remember the answer of the late Bishop Leila Boyer of the Church of the Ascension, who maintained that clerical dress was wholly unnecessary in order to participate spiritually to the full on such occasions; such participation would take place entirely beyond the mundane world. I would also not want the clergy of the church in question to be unsettled by seeing someone in clerical dress in the congregation, perhaps thinking that they had been sent there in order to report in some way on them.

My preference instead is to wear a tie, and in doing so I am looking back to a tradition of decency and proper sartorial standards that should never have been let go in our society. I think above all of my grandfather, a painter and decorator by trade, who was never seen not to wear a tie even when he was in his own home. The tie is deprecated today, but not generally by people who share my outlook on life, and it remains nevertheless a discreet but effective means of the expression of taste and character.

Honours and awards: Grand Cross Chaplain of the Ordo Equestris Reginae Caeli

I have been pleased to accept the appointment of Grand Cross Chaplain of the Ordo Equestris Reginae Caeli, a religious order of knights in the spirit of the Benedictine tradition. An agreement of partnership has also been entered into between the Order and the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi under my leadership.

More information about the Order and its charitable works can be found at its website

Fellowship of the National Federation of Church Musicians

I have been delighted to receive Fellowship of the National Federation of Church Musicians. The Federation is administered by the National College of Music, It says of the award, “In order to qualify, candidates are expected to demonstrate at least twenty years of fully-documented service in the field of church music in any denomination of the Christian church as an organist, choir director or singer, making the award of the FNFCM a formal recognition of long and distinguished service.”

On marriage

In 2013 and 2014, at the time when the Government was redefining civil marriage, I wrote two essays on the matter that were published on the Libertarian Alliance blog and subsequently included in my collection of talks and essays The Radical Traditionalist Today. Here are those essays, very slightly revised. My conclusion was then and remains that there are now serious obstacles for traditionally-minded Christians (and indeed others who are traditionally-minded) who would want to enter into civil marriage, and my view is that civil marriage as currently constituted in England and Wales does not conform to marriage as that sacrament is understood by traditional Christians.

The trouble with gay marriage

I should begin with a simple statement of libertarian principle. The state has no business being involved in any way with marriage. It has adopted that role as a consequence of the compromise Henry VIII engendered when he merged Church and State. Since marriage within the Church of England is governed by the law of the land, and not simply by canon law, it follows that when marriage takes place between persons who are not members of that church, the state must act as registrar in order that those marriages have equivalent legal standing. One simple answer to the matter would be to disestablish the Church of England and thereby reduce marriage to a matter of private contract with an optional religious component, but this is not under consideration at present.

My purpose here is not primarily a discussion of marriage and same-sex relationships in their religious context, nor the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Rather, I want to point out that what is being proposed with regard to same-sex marriage has some important implications for those who are already married (ie. for those of the opposite sex) and further that its hamfisted legal construction is setting up a series of wholly avoidable and undesirable problems.

Let us not forget, however, that the institution of civil partnership has already established a position of legal equality between marriage and same-sex partnerships. Before civil partnerships, there were eminently legitimate complaints that the inequalities that existed in respect of inheritance and status as next-of-kin were iniquitous in a free society, and that there should be a means by which this could be redressed. In civil partnership, an institution was created that was distinct from marriage; indeed that was exclusively and completely a same-sex institution. For those same-sex couples who had said that they did not want marriage with its accompanying associations, but instead something that, while equal to marriage in law, was theirs alone to define, civil partnership could not have fitted the bill better, and its popularity since introduction would appear to have borne this out. Moreover, it was open to those churches that wished to do so to bless civil partnerships, and several have done so. Even the Church of England, which officially forbids such blessings, has a number of parishes where the letter of the law is observed but ways around the prohibition have been found through “services of prayer and dedication”[i]. At their most elaborate, such occasions are so close to the service for the blessing of civil marriage that were it not for the sex of the participants it would be difficult to tell the difference[ii].

Now, though, we find our legislators – without any apparent cause other than the Left’s shibboleth of “equality” – contemplating far-reaching changes to the nature of marriage between both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Marriage as constituted at present has to do with the Christian viewpoint that the primary purpose of marriage is for the bringing of children into the world and their upbringing. Consequently, marriage is construed as a specifically sexual bond between husband and wife. This finds expression in the law in respect of the definition of marriage as a binding contract that is not entered into unless and until the marriage has been consummated. Non-consummation renders the marriage voidable under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, section 12a. Consummation has been defined, both in religion and in secular law, as the “ordinary and complete” act of sexual intercourse, a phrase which needs no amplification.

The problems with regard to same-sex marriage will by now be obvious to the reader. The partners cannot consummate the marriage according to the legal definition of that term. Nor is there any other equivalent sexual act that is universal to same-sex couples. Therefore, the government proposes to create a virtually unprecedented new definition of marriage that has no sexual component to it. Here is the relevant section of the government’s consultation document on the matter:

“2.16 Specifically, non-consummation and adultery are currently concepts that are defined in case law and apply only to marriage law, not civil partnership law. However, with the removal of the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, these concepts will apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples and case law may need to develop, over time, a definition as to what constitutes same-sex consummation and same-sex adultery.”[iii]

In other words, the government can see the problem but has absolutely no idea how to solve it. It therefore proposes to foist the entire matter on to the courts to be resolved sine die.

The implications are interesting. As the law would stand under the proposal, for example, a same-sex married partner cannot commit adultery with another partner of the same sex, since any definition of adultery applies only to heterosexual sexual intercourse. But they can commit adultery against their same-sex married partner with a person of the opposite sex. What will constitute adultery or consummation if a definition needs now to be found that applies both to heterosexual and homosexual marriages? The implication is that acts of a sexual nature that fall short of sexual intercourse and which are not regarded as of paramount significance in such discussions at present may come to be seen in a whole new light. Even without my religious hat on, I cannot see this as in any way being a good thing for our society.

I note, incidentally, that Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights organization Stonewall, thinks that “This focus on consummation, in particular on the sexual element of it, seems to exercise heterosexuals more than most lesbian and gay people.”[iv] He does not seem to realize that the reason why this exercises heterosexuals is because we, too, are to be significantly affected by the proposed legislation, and in ways that are as yet impossible for anyone to quantify or anticipate with any accuracy. As such, this is a leap into the unknown. There is still time to pull back from the brink.





The new marriage and conscience

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is one of the most divisive pieces of legislation to have been passed for many years. While the most obvious aspect of this law – that it permits homosexual couples to contract civil marriage – has been widely publicised, there are further aspects whose significance is likely to prove extremely far-reaching.

In preparing this legislation, the Government appears to have considered that, in respect of those religious groups that object to homosexual marriage, it has been sufficient to allow those groups an opt-out, which it assures us is unlikely to be capable of legal challenge. The veracity of the latter claim is currently under test by Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who intend to sue in order to compel the Church of England, to which they belong, to solemnize their marriage.

While the legislation takes account of religious groups that have an objection to same-sex marriage, it makes no provision for those people who are not religious but likewise object to same-sex marriage. They are expected and indeed encouraged to enter into civil marriage regardless of the fact that said civil marriage has been profoundly redefined by this law. Both they and members of religious groups that are officially opposed to same-sex marriage (including the Church of England and the Church in Wales, many Jews, almost all Muslims, some Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Bahá’is) are now placed in an extremely difficult position. This was, furthermore, something of which Parliament was clearly warned during the legislative process and that it chose to disregard in its rush to embrace the “equality agenda”.

The historical position of English law has been to define civil marriage according to Christian understanding, and in so doing to promote a position which is common to the Abrahamic faiths. That position is based on definitions of consummation (and thereby the validity of marriage), and of adultery (which constitutes grounds for divorce). A couple of the opposite sex who contracted civil marriage before 2013 could have that marriage blessed in a religious ceremony in the knowledge that they had not, in entering into civil marriage, engaged in a contract that contradicted the teachings of their religious faith. With the abandonment of consummation as a test of the validity of marriage, and the non-universality of adultery (since its definition applies only to members of the opposite sex), it can no longer be said that civil marriage for heterosexual couples does not involve the implicit acceptance of concepts that run directly counter to much religious teaching on the nature of marriage.

I will speak particularly of the Catholic faith here, since it is that with which I am most familiar, and I am aware that my remarks will have applicability to other faiths as well. In Catholicism, marriage is defined as a sacrament instituted by Christ. As such, definitions of marriage before the time of Christ, ie. in Jewish law, or in pre-Christian societies where the state undertook a role in marriage, are disregarded as irrelevant. The only definition of marriage that matters today is that which Christ gave us, and it is His standard by which other commentaries on marriage are to be measured.

Catholic doctrine holds that the state of marriage is opposed to all forms of unnatural, homosexual behaviour[i]. It is unambiguous on this point. While the Catholic Church does not permit divorce, it holds nevertheless that extramarital acts – of which adultery would be among the most serious – are to be seen as a violation of justice. It can therefore be concluded that adultery is highly germane to an understanding of the boundaries of Catholic marriage.

Our question now is whether a member of the Roman Catholic Church can in good conscience contract civil marriage in the light of the 2013 law. In so doing, the civil marriage that they would now contract is far from being opposed to all forms of unnatural and homosexual behaviour. Rather, it considers that behaviour to be on an equal footing with marriage. The Pastoral Letter “The Narrow Gate” of the Archbishop of Westminster on the passage of the 2013 law says,

“The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has changed the legal definition of marriage in this land. No longer does this definition assume or support the complementarity of male and female, or expect sexual fidelity between the married couple, or see marriage as oriented towards conceiving and nurturing of children. The titles ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are now officially gender neutral. This is the deconstruction of marriage as it has been understood for millennia. In effect, this Act completes the privatisation of marriage, so that its central content is whatever the couple wish to construct. Marriage is no longer a truly public institution, at the basis of society.”[ii]

This issue is more complex that it might seem. It should not be thought that the Roman Catholic Church advocates that its members should contract civil marriage in isolation from religious marriage. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church in practice requires that marriages take place in church and are solemnized by a priest, but also that the priest should hold a certificate or license to solemnize marriages from their local Superintendent Registrar. Failing this, it is required that a registrar should be present at the service and should simultaneously complete the necessary paperwork for civil marriage. Under either situation, a Roman Catholic priest effectively performs the marriage service on behalf of the state, under an arrangement that was first agreed in 1895. Whether he should continue to do so given the changed legal position has already been the subject of some discussion.

The present situation requires the acceptance of a moral contradiction that could not be more stark. The acceptance in conscience of civil marriage which directly opposes Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage is a matter of great seriousness. The registrar is taking from the words the priest says during the service those elements that fulfil the requirements of civil marriage as currently constituted. The priest and the couple marrying are therefore actively colluding in the act of civil marriage and not merely treating it as incidental (as would be the case, for example, in France, where church and state are separate, and the registration of a marriage is merely a bureaucratic act). In so colluding, they are forced into a position of the gravest moral compromise.

It may be responded that without civil registration, our Catholic couple would have no standing as married persons in law. Their marriage would be valid in Catholic canon law, but for civil purposes their standing would be as cohabitees. My personal view is that this is now becoming the only route for Catholics that would not involve moral compromise as to the principles of their faith. It would involve a degree of sacrifice – for the legal recognition of marriage brings with it a number of important rights that are not extended to cohabitees – but that is nothing new for Catholics in this country. It would also require the agreement of the Catholic hierarchy, which for all its vocal opposition to the 2013 legislation has tended to take the view that once a law is passed, it must be complied with. While no-one would advocate that Catholics should break the law, there is an important issue as to whether a law that has a distinctive moral element that is opposed to Catholic teaching may be the subject of conscientious objection whereby that law is shunned on those grounds.

It should be mentioned that the existing status of a number of Muslim marriages in England and Wales is of relevance. The Muslim marriage contract or nikah is not automatically recognized as a marriage in English law (in contrast to most Muslim countries, where it is so recognized), and the couple need to contract a civil marriage in order to be recognized as other than cohabitees. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the nikah may be polygamous.

Those Muslims who contract the nikah, and those Christians or others who contract a religious marriage that is not recognized by law, may feel that their religious contract is sufficiently binding in conscience as to constitute all the marriage that they would need. They will need to make additional safeguards in their legal arrangements to ensure that their spouse is treated in the way that they believe is fitting to them, rather than assuming the legal benefits that civil marriage confers, but this may well be an acceptable price for them to pay in order to avoid the moral compromise now involved in contracting civil marriage.

Couples who cohabit have already had to evolve private contracts that serve as alternatives to civil marriage, on whatever terms they may agree. It seems that those who hold religious beliefs that do not equate homosexual partnerships with heterosexual marriage may now be compelled to do likewise. Effectively, we have indeed seen the end of marriage as a public institution in our country, and its aftermath will be one of increasing fragmentation.

[i] See Fr. John Hardon SJ, “Marriage” in  Modern Catholic Dictionary, consulted at


Personal observations on the episcopate in the smaller churches

These general observations serve as a postscript to my autobiographical series entitled Life in the Church.

I am sometimes asked how my office as a bishop in the smaller churches differs from that of bishops in the larger, mainstream denominations. Clearly there is a difference in the numbers concerned, both in respect of clergy and laity. That makes the bishop a more immediate and accessible figure in the smaller church, and also means that the bishop can undertake more in the way of a presbyteral ministry. Bureaucracy is generally more streamlined internally, but no less so in respect of conformity to external laws and requirements, which can involve multiple jurisdictions and require some degree of legislative expertise and linguistic dexterity.

A smaller church will inevitably bear the imprint of the bishop who leads it. In the modern age of centralized, committee-run churches, this is unusual, as is the directly hierarchical structure in which the presiding bishop has the final say on all matters. The model that works best in this situation is that of the benevolent dictator, but it is crucial that in exercising authority, the bishop is aware of the implications of his decisions on the church as a whole. He may have the ultimate responsibility before God, but he would be foolish not to listen to his clergy and laity. I have been surprised over the years how many outside my churches have wrongly assumed that the policy of my churches is merely a direct reflection of my own views. In fact, policy is carefully crafted bearing in mind the significance of tradition, external requirements (such as legislation), the need for accountability and the nature of the body of active clergy and laity as it may be constituted from time to time. My role is to integrate these factors and to consider, after prayer and reflection, how they may be best expressed in practice.

Probably the biggest point of similarity with the larger churches is in dealing with the clergy and the challenges they face. These raise familiar and universal themes, but within a structure such as the Catholicate of the West where the clergy are all non-stipendiary, there is the additional factor that the connexion between the clergy and their church is more readily frangible; there are many competing denominations, and where church buildings are not owned centrally, they can move jurisdiction with the clergyman in question. This tends to produce a pressure for smaller churches to advance their clergy irrespective of pastoral necessity, in order not to lose them to other churches where they might find such advancement more readily. I have always taken the view that this pressure is to be resisted. Holy Orders are conferred for the Church, not for the individual benefit of the person concerned, and it means considerably more to be a priest in a well-run church than it does to be a bishop in those jurisdictions where the episcopate is indiscriminately conferred. With most smaller churches being “top heavy”, what is actually needed is more deacons and priests, more lay ministers, and of course, more laity.

The experience of working with others within small religious bodies tends to heighten differences that would be more readily absorbed within a larger organization. When the group of clergy is small, there is a risk of dominance of the more extrovert personalities at the expense of others, and where there is a clash of ideologies or personalities it will become more readily apparent at an early stage. Over the years, I have been privileged to work with some outstandingly gifted clergy, who have been every bit the equal of those to be found in the larger churches. Notwithstanding this, there have been occasions when it has been necessary to admit that the paths of clergy have diverged to an incompatible extent from the nature of our church, and occasions where working relationships have sadly broken down. Wherever possible, my duty is to assure stability and to manage change in a way that is organic and that offers reassurance as to the way ahead.

There are inevitable difficulties in relations with members of other churches who have a prejudiced view of our traditions and practices. The smaller churches have not proved immune from the scandals of abuse that have affected the mainstream communions, and so there is a particular need for vigilance in respect of the selection of ordinands and others who may be placed in positions of trust. On a more subjective level, there are issues where I take a particular position in view of some of the more justified criticisms that have been levelled at the smaller churches over the years. I have always insisted that candidates for admission to the clergy be of graduate standing and undergo background checks (including in some cases psychological testing by a qualified professional). Those convicted of criminal offences are not eligible for admission to the clergy. I require of the clergy that they conduct a purposeful and visible ministry in the community, or follow a contemplative vocation guided by a Rule of Life.

More generally, I try to avoid “hard edges” in theological interpretation, mindful that it is the pastoral application of theology that is at the heart of Christian ministry. I have also always taken a studied disinterest in the minutiae of liturgy, ceremonial, and ecclesiastical robes, having too often seen these things lead clergy down the wrong paths and away from our proper priorities. I hold, in the words of Mar Georgius of Glastonbury, that “the most spiritual people are usually the most natural”.

Regarding the question of titles, I believe that these should serve a practical purpose within the body concerned, and be integral to the preservation of its distinctive ethos. Often, those who object to titles are objecting primarily to the hierarchy that they signify, and yet hierarchy is fundamental to the nature and governance of all the churches that I lead today, having been inherited by me as a living tradition and continued accordingly. I do not interpret Christianity as supporting egalitarianism, and neither did the overwhelming majority of Christians prior to the second half of the twentieth-century.

I am a firm believer that integrity in the episcopal office is best served by a thorough knowledge both of the Church and her mission and of oneself. The diversity of character among those called to the episcopacy is considerable; some are obvious saints, some are of a monastic mien, some are parish priests writ large, while others are sadly clearly more at home with administrative responsibilities than with people. My own approach is to be and give of myself as much as I can, and through this, to try to lead people to Jesus by my own, inevitably flawed, example. Key to my approach is to try to meet people at the point they have reached on their spiritual journey.

The Anglican tradition of “muscular Christianity” has a certain appeal for me, and points towards a degree of unstuffiness in which the Christian way becomes the natural context for our values and behaviour, integrated indelibly into the archetypal English character and the history of our nation. I also identify with the concept of the guardian of multiple traditions, maintaining and preserving these in good order so that in due course they will survive me. Although these are sober and sometimes weighty responsibilities, I try to remain as grounded as possible and not take myself too seriously, which is an easy task with three young children.

Life in the Church – part 5 “Quis et unde?”

In 2018, I was faced with a challenging combination of circumstances. With our third child now expected, my family had outgrown San Luigi House and needed a bigger home. Moreover, having elderly family members living on the other side of the country, we no longer wished to make marathon train journeys to see them. Added to this, the AEC had continued to grow overseas, but had dwindled in Great Britain to the point where I was now the only remaining clergyman in major orders. With the exception of my own family, the remaining laity were, through age and geographical disparity, no longer in a position to form a viable worshipping community.

In such circumstances, a public chapel could no longer easily be sustained, and when we moved to Shropshire in December 2018, it was with an awareness that the provision of congregational worship in Great Britain would no longer be a priority. Even in far larger and better-resourced churches than ours, the decline in congregational worship was endemic. For all that our vision of the church is built upon the worshipping community, it proved necessary for us to reconsider how and where ministry can take place when people are no longer turning to the church as they have done in the past. Our solution was in various forms of voluntary service in the community and in the preservation of the distinctive history, tradition and identity of our communion through curation of its archives, the preparation of further book and article publications, and the maintenance of its detailed and informative website. Through all of this, we continued to support our overseas parishes and missions through practical assistance and in prayer.

During 2019, I was particularly pleased when a group of Brazilian clergy joined the Byelorussian Patriarchate, having previously been part of the related Belarusian jurisdiction of the American World Patriarchates (which was now issued a Perpetual Charter in the Catholicate of the West). The creation of the Brazilian Exarchate under Dom Nagui Zayat brought about a new headquarters for our mission there in the form of the Cathedral of St George and St Sebastian in Rio de Janeiro.

The new year and the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic brought a much-needed opportunity to re-think the structure and organization of our missions going forward. The outcome of this was that the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi became the parent body for all jurisdictions, and the Catholicate of the West was established as the ecumenical organization within the Abbey-Principality under which they would be gathered.

The most visible blows dealt to us by the pandemic were the deaths of Dom Nagui Zayat from complications of Covid-19 and the death of the wife of one of our senior priests in Scandinavia as a result of a reaction to the Covid-19 vaccine. Inevitably, public worship was placed under even greater strain than had been the case previously, and it still remains to be seen whether it will return to the position prior to 2020.

Following the death of Dom Nagui, the Synod of the Byelorussian Patriarchate elected Dom Bartholomews his successor as Exarch. Unfortunately, this appointment was not accepted by some of the clergy, who proceeded to separate their missions from the Patriarchate, and there was further and ongoing legal strife concerning the Cathedral in Rio de Janeiro, which was claimed by Dom Nagui’s family as their personal property. Fortunately, alternative premises were found in which worship could be continued and a new Cathedral established, and it was not long before the Patriarchate was once more engaged in productive mission among some of Brazil’s poorest citizens.

Between October 2021 and November 2022 we also took on responsibility for the oversight of a number of parishes and missions in the Spanish-speaking world under the aegis of the Apostolic Episcopal Church. These parishes followed the Use of Sarum, a rite with a long tradition within the Catholicate of the West, and had previously been organized under a Continuing Anglican ministry. Unfortunately it was not long before significant internal dissent had developed within this group, with the result that the majority of these parishes were released from our jurisdiction in June 2022 with the last continuing with us until November 2022.

As a postscript to this series, I have included some general observations drawing on my experiences of exercising the episcopate in the smaller churches, which can be read here.

Life in the Church – part 4 “Quid non Deo juvante?”

The late Dom Klaus Schlapps OPR (1959-2013) was responsible for the revival of the Order of Port Royal (OPR) and the foundation of its Abbey of St Severin in Germany where he and other men served as Cistercian monks. In 2004, the Order became a part of the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches, and Dom Klaus was recognized as a bishop of the Union of Utrecht, sharing a number of the Apostolic lineages that I had myself received at my consecration in 2008. However, the modernist direction of the Union did not sit well with the theology of the Order, and in 2010 it became independent once more, establishing its own synod, the Christ Catholic Church in Germany. This was in 2012 accepted as the German administration of the Nordic Catholic Church under the Union of Scranton. Sister communities were established in the USA, Haiti and Cameroon, the latter two of which were under the protection of Anglican bishops. Dom Klaus was appointed an Honorary Canon of St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Cameroon, in 2008. He was German Superintendent of the International Council of Community Churches.

A Cistercian monk’s life is necessarily one dominated by silence, but each day, Dom Klaus and I would set aside time to communicate via an online messaging application. I was struck by the high priority that he gave to this contact, amid the stringent demands of his monastic life and the administration of the monastery. He became both a friend and a mentor.

Dom Klaus was strongly involved in chivalry and was of the same mind as me regarding the sacred nature of kingship and the existence of noble prerogatives within the historic Churches. He held senior office in branches of the Order of St John and the Order of St Lazarus, and was also expert in the nobiliary and chivalric traditions of Africa. When, prompted by my contact with some of its few surviving members, I raised with him the possibility of the revival of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, whose headship had been vacant since the death of the seventh Prince-Abbot, Edmond II, in 1998, he became one of the major architects of the revival. San Luigi was briefly an independent monastic state in the Fezzan during 1883-84, and had then passed through a succession of bishops in France and the USA, with notable connexions with European and African royalty. In 1962, King Peter II of Yugoslavia gave official recognition to Prince-Abbot Edmond II, also granting to him Royal Yugoslav honours. Notably, Prince-Abbot Edmond II had also been a bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Another important friendship that developed at this period was with Prince Kermit Poling de Polanie-Patrikios. He was a direct descendant of Russian, Polish, European and Byzantine kings, held a number of hereditary titles of nobility, and was head of the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios, which had been established in 1970 when he was elected by the Orthodox Patriarch of Belarus as the candidate for a proposed Belarusian monarchical restoration. Moreover, having been consecrated bishop by Mar Basilius Abdullah III (Dr William Bernard Crow), he was now the only living bishop of the Apostolate of the Holy Wisdom, one of the leading jurisdictions of its time to combine Orthodoxy with esoteric study. He had spent his career in ministerial service, having served in the pastorate of the United Methodist Church, and was now living in retirement in West Virginia. His connexions in the church, nobility and chivalry ranged very widely. Importantly, he had been a good friend of Prince-Abbot Edmond II of San Luigi, and was honoured by him both through senior rank in the San Luigi Orders and with a dukedom.

With Dom Klaus’s and Prince Kermit’s help, it was established that the Supreme Council of San Luigi was the responsible body for electing a successor to the last Prince-Abbot, who had died without nominating an heir, and the present representation of Supreme Council in descent from that body as it had stood in 1998 was traced in detail. Following this work, new appointments were made to the Supreme Council by its President and I was asked by the Supreme Council to accept election to the vacant Prince-Abbacy. I duly became the eighth Prince-Abbot of San Luigi with the regnal name Edmond III on 25 August 2011.

After my election, application for recognition was then made to H.M. the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro-Kitara. Bunyoro-Kitara is today one of the constituent kingdoms of Uganda, with its monarch recognized under the Constitution, but when the monks of San Luigi arrived there in 1885, it was an absolute monarchy under Omukama Chwa II Kabalega. The Omukama had granted to the Prince-Abbot the title of Mukungu, translated as Prince-Governor, in perpetuity, and our application to the present Omukama, who is the grandson of Omukama Chwa II Kabalega, was therefore to recognize the succession to this title. On 25 January 2012, His Majesty responded to our petition by issuing Letters Patent accordingly.

Moreover, H.M. the Omukama graciously consented to become a Royal Patron of the dependent chivalric Orders of San Luigi, the Order of the Crown of Thorns and the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross, and issued new Royal Charters for both Orders. This placed these Orders under the patronage and protection of a reigning monarch.

The work of re-establishing San Luigi would take up many hours of research, writing and administration. From the outset, I took the view that the membership of the San Luigi Orders would be highly selective and that we would take as our model the dynastic Orders of the European former ruling houses. Equally, I was determined that the membership would not be restricted to the wealthy or well-connected. As had always been the case in the past, we looked to merit wherever it was to be found, without distinction of class or background. As part of the administration a Charitable Trust for San Luigi was established in the United Kingdom. A permanent chapel for San Luigi was also established by the membership in France. Prince Kermit became a Royal Patron, and Dom Klaus oversaw the Grand Priory for Continental Europe.

The church tradition of San Luigi was extremely rich, including its Benedictine Roman Catholic foundation, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of San Luigi itself (re-established by a bishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in 1945), and the Order of Antioch, a religious order which had been established in 1928 by the Western extensions of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. Two past Prince-Abbots had also been Anglican clergymen. New appointments of clergy were made, but as with the Orders, this was done selectively rather than with a view to building up numbers.

On 3 November 2012, Dom Klaus in his capacity as Grand Prior of the Confraternitas Oecumenica Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani (Ecumenical Brotherhood of the Holy Grave of Jerusalem, or COSSH) erected a Prefectory of Great Britain under my leadership. The COSSH is an ecumenical fraternity open to men and women that draws inspiration from the “pilgrims to Jerusalem from the chivalric Brotherhood of the Holy Land in Haarlem” founded in 1394. It was revived in 1996 and Dom Klaus was elected Grand Prior in 2009. In May 2012, I received the Gold Cross of Merit of the COSSH, and in October 2012 I was appointed as a Brother of COSSH honoris causa.

The sudden death of Dom Klaus in January 2013 prevented many of our plans from coming to fruition, and it became necessary in a number of cases to take decisive action in order to preserve the organizations he had led. Accordingly, I exercised the sovereign prerogative of San Luigi in order to ensure that his representation of the Johannine and Lazarite Orders could continue, and worked with the Revd. Christian Kliver, who as Prefect of Bavaria was now the only other remaining senior officer of the COSSH, to ensure that the COSSH was not suppressed as was the intention of some others.

In July 2014, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro appointed me as his co-adjutor with right of succession to the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Archbishop Spataro subsequently announced that he would retire as AEC Primate on 5 February 2015, his seventy-ninth birthday, and I duly succeeded him the following day. As an urgent priority, I promulgated canons for the AEC after a long period of rule by decree, and worked to re-activate fully the historical, jurisdictional and canonical legacy of the AEC, most particularly in its role as the successor of the Catholicate of the West. This was ultimately the fulfilment of the commission I had received in respect of the Ancient Catholic Church in 2008 and the Apostolic ordination I had received within the communion of the AEC in 2006. The AEC’s corporate nonprofit status had been unclear for some years, and in order to resolve this and manage its affairs effectively, I established a nonprofit religious Corporation Sole for the Primate and Presiding Bishop of the AEC under the special legislative provision that exists for such corporate entities in Hawaii.

To my surprise, after many years of the friendliest contact, Bertil Persson opposed my election to the Primacy, proposing that he should resume that office instead. A power struggle ensued for some months, in which (despite severe provocation and threats) I refused to criticize my opponents or descend to their level. Likewise, Archbishop Spataro was steadfast and unflinching in his support for me. The Persson camp, which consisted of Persson and a young bishop who he had recently consecrated, was implacably opposed to a canonical or hierarchical organization for the AEC, despite this being the original historical basis of the church, and also rejected anything that represented the legacy of Mar Georgius of Glastonbury. It was further apparent that, for them, these issues had become deeply politicized, and that they favoured a progressive theology of the style of Pope Francis rather than my traditionalist Catholic and Anglican outlook. It was necessary to quash the dissenters firmly, and after much forebearance, rejected attempts at dialogue, and an abortive attempt at schism, they were excommunicated by the AEC.

It was also my duty to conduct a thorough review of the serving clergy and the state of the various intercommunions that had been entered into over the years. I came to the conclusion that the extremely wide scope of the ecumenical developments in the AEC during the primacy of Bertil Persson (1986-98) had taken the AEC into a position where its core identity was in danger of being lost. Following the work of Archbishop Spataro, I therefore re-emphasised the Continuing Anglican and Orthodox core identity of the AEC, while making clear its openness to diverse intellectual traditions including the esoteric.

On my accession to the Primacy, I was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology by the AEC.

On 1 March, Prince Kermit adopted me as his successor in all his honours, and on 31 March he died, whereupon I succeeded him as Ecclesiast of the Byelorussian Patriarchate of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle and as head of the Apostolate of the Holy Wisdom.

I moved from London to Norfolk in September 2015, and took up residence at what was to become San Luigi House. This was a magnificent Victorian home that was the subject of an extensive and painstaking restoration by the previous owner and myself. It became the headquarters for San Luigi and the AEC.

Among the outbuildings was a former store that I converted into a fully-fledged chapel. I embarked on the project intending that this would serve not only as a domestic chapel for the worship of my young family and myself, but that it would form a focal point for San Luigi and AEC members in Great Britain. The resulting Vilatte Chapel was duly registered with the civil authorities as a place of worship.

On 1 August 2016, Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan, Universal Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion, died. Archbishop Brennan had been a friend for many years and we would meet on his regular visits to London. He was one of the rare breed of clergymen who had the ability to work both within conservative and liberal church traditions, and sought throughout to bring about unity and to find common ground between groups of Christians. He appointed no successor, and following a period of transition the AEC reasserted its own historic representation of the Order of Corporate Reunion (which dates from 1933). Subsequently, the OCR would be re-organized under the AEC and the Catholicate of the West and incorporated once more in its homeland of England. This also marked a revival of its founding mission as a religious society to bring about unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. This mission grew internationally to include both clerical and lay members on several continents.

In 2017, I was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters, jure dignitatis, by the Western Orthodox University, which since 1977 has been an integral part of the AEC. Since the degree-granting authority of the University was not only secular (it having been chartered in the Commonwealth of Dominica) but depended upon the Presiding Bishop of the AEC in his office as Catholicos of the West, I had to sign my own certificate. I had previously received the degrees of Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Canon Law and Bachelor of Letters of the Western Orthodox University during 2015, as well as being formally admitted to its Fellowship. The degrees were awarded in consequence of my having incorporated degrees conferred by other institutions according to the University’s Regulations on such matters.

The AEC has always remained an intentionally small communion, with something of the character of a church society, but under my Primacy I was delighted to see fresh growth with new missions joining us in Scandinavia and in Latin America. I was also particularly pleased to sign an intercommunion agreement between the AEC and the Patriarchate of Bunyoro-Kitara. In Great Britain, I had dialogue with several clergy of the Church of England who were concerned about developments in that communion, and one of our clergy was also accepted to minister in the Free Church of England in parallel with his AEC responsibilities.

Against this, there was the continual difficulty that both clergy and laity were predominantly of the older generation, and one of my duties was to deal with a steady flow of retirements and obituaries. Past experience in the LCAC and EADM had shown that the younger generation rarely stays the course in the smaller communions. This highlights, of course, the considerable challenges of undertaking this kind of independent, self-reliant ministry, but it also speaks of a generation that has either rejected institutional and formal religion, or that regards the larger communions as fulfilling adequately the need for such.

>>Continue to part 5

Life in the Church – part 3 “Adveniat regnam tuum”

Following my ordination and consecration by Dom Phillip Kemp, the church which I co-led experienced a period of growth and development. The new name The Liberal Rite was adopted with effect from 1 January 2007 and reflected our position as part of the Liberal Catholic movement, consisting of churches that used the Liturgy or Rite of the Liberal Catholic Church.

The word “liberal” means different things to different people. I am liberal in some aspects, particularly in my pastoral approach and in my openness to the study of esoteric teachings, but conservative in others, such as the essentials of orthodox theology and my preference for a hierarchical church organization. Others draw the line in different ways. I also believe that liberalism in the context of the Liberal Catholic movement should signify adherence to a positive set of precepts rather than an absence of theological principles and organization.

In many respects, the Liberal Catholic Church from which the Liberal Catholic movement descends is highly conservative. The liturgy is formal, ceremonial in nature and differs little from the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass (hence the attraction of the Liberal Catholic Church to a number of Traditional Catholics). The church is administered hierarchically and according to a corpus of canon law, policies and regulations. Its emphasis is sacerdotal rather than evangelical, and it is oriented towards the contemplative and mystic. It has never laid great emphasis on numbers of parishes or followers, and is more concerned with reaching those who have a particular calling to follow its distinctive charism.

What is certainly liberal, however, is the freedom of individual interpretation that is permitted. For many years, this was wholly unrestricted, and in some cases came to embrace a good deal of syncretism and Eastern teachings, but in more recent years more orthodox official Summaries of Doctrine or lists of Teachings have been adopted by some Liberal Catholics. For those who, like the founders of the LCC, had come from a background of Roman dogma and unquestioning constraint, interpretative freedom must have seemed revolutionary. From an Anglican perspective like my own, it was a much more natural approach to faith, in which the intellect is welcomed and the spiritual journey of the individual emphasised. However, during my time, I saw a number of people come into the Liberal Catholic movement whose background was not necessarily in the LCC or its related churches, but instead in theological and liturgical liberalism, with its opposition to traditionalism, hierarchy and formality. This approach was not in line with my own, and indeed it was a major reason why I had left the Church of England.

The principal causes of division between the different churches of the Liberal Catholic movement are long-standing and as seemingly intractable as the other principal obstacles to ecumenical reunion. Firstly, there is controversy as to the importance of Theosophy and its teachings. It should be stated that there has never been an official relationship between the original LCC or any of the churches of the Liberal Catholic movement and the Theosophical Society, and indeed the Theosophical Society early on issued a statement dissociating itself from the LCC. The fact remains, however, that the founding clergy and many other members of the LCC have also been members of the TS, and this has led to a number of Theosophical ideas entering into some Liberal Catholic jurisdictions. Principal among these are belief in the Ascended Masters, compulsory vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol and tobacco. A strong connexion between the LCC and Co-Freemasonry is also evident. In the modern era, there have been further divisions concerning the ordination of women.

The position of The Liberal Rite was that it did not endorse Theosophy or any other esoteric school, holding that it was for the individual to determine to what extent they accepted such views. Nor did it prescribe vegetarianism or teetotalism. It also followed the practice of the non-Theosophical Liberal Catholic churches in ordaining women to the major orders. While I had not been part of the vigorous opposition from Anglo-Catholicism to the ordination of women in the Church of England, neither did I agree with the “progressive” view in favour of the matter that had its origins in egalitarian politics. Instead, influenced by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s comments on the female diaconate, the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church and a number of the esoteric churches, and ultimately by the Eglise Gnostique of Doinel, I took the view that the ordination of women was a parallel but separate ministry to that of the ordination of men, with its own distinctive character and charism. Some years later, I would come to see this view as excessively idealistic. The fact was that where the ordination of women was being advocated, it was being done in the name of egalitarianism rather than with reference to any origins in orthodox theology and church history, and it was being used to undermine the traditional values that I wished to support.

Having made positive contact with other Liberal Catholic groups, including The Young Rite on the Continent, The Liberal Rite also had a good working relationship with the Apostolic Episcopal Church and the Ancient Catholic Church as two jurisdictions with similar approaches and aims. Our worship continued to be based in London, but, reflecting both perceived need and our resources and interests, had moved from a general congregational outreach to a more specialized mission that would of its nature be of interest to a smaller group of people.

On 15 August 2007, I was the principal consecrator for two bishops at the former Well Chapel at Witnesham, Suffolk. Assisted by Andrew Linley and Old Catholic bishop Michael Skelly, I consecrated priests Charles Mugleston and Alistair Bate, who had both previously been members of other Liberal Catholic churches. Charles was responsible for the community of the Well Chapel and in secular life is a professional actor. He worked tirelessly to try to achieve reunion between the churches of the Liberal Catholic movement and remains in communion with my church today. After some years during which he served as a bishop in my jurisdictions, Alistair ceased to be in communion on 31 May 2011.

During the earlier part of 2008, I was much occupied with the complex ecclesiastical and legal aftermath of the loss of the Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd in Clapton to the Ancient Catholic Church, which I have written about elsewhere. The eventual outcome was that the Ancient Catholic Church merged with The Liberal Rite to create the new Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, which I led as its first Metropolitan Primate.

In August 2008, I returned to the Well Chapel when Bishop Charles Mugleston ordained Sr. Magdalena Stebbing to the priesthood.

With the death of Archbishop George Boyer in the same year, the Apostolic Episcopal Church (AEC) elected me to succeed him as their Archbishop of Great Britain; I was also appointed as Bishop and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury in the Order of Corporate Reunion.

The AEC required me to undergo subconditional consecration, this being necessary since the AEC was a Continuing Anglican body and maintained the Anglican practice of having a minimum of three bishops consecrate rather than allowing for consecrations to take place solus by a single bishop (as is more commonly accepted by Rome). This took place on 23 November 2008 in the beautiful Arts and Crafts setting of Golder’s Green Unitarian Church. The principal consecrator was Archbishop Bertil Persson, Primate Emeritus of the AEC, assisted by Archbishop Paget E.J. Mack of the AEC (acting as Commissary of the Primate, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro) and Archbishop-Primate Phillip Lewis of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church of North and South America and Europe. Other bishops were present, including Andrew Linley and Alistair Bate of the LCAC and Leila Boyer of the Church of the Ascension. During the service, I was enthroned as Archbishop of Great Britain in the AEC and confirmed in my positions within the LCAC and the Ancient Catholic Church. As well as the outer aspect of the ceremony, there was also an inner aspect, in which all the bishops present gave each other additional commissioning.

This consecration conferred upon me the Apostolic Succession through the Anglican Communion (Philippine Independent Church) and Old Catholic Union of Utrecht successsions. The validity of the orders of the Apostolic Episcopal Church had been confirmed by the Bishop of London in the Church of England during the 1980s when several AEC clergy were incardinated into the Church of England.

Archbishop Bertil Persson signs the major consecration certificate above during the ceremony

Inevitably some reorganization of my responsibilities became necessary, and I retired as Metropolitan Primate of the LCAC in January 2009. There were already tensions in the LCAC between those clergy who were, in line with the Liberal Catholic movement, traditionalists who were open to esotericism, and those clergy who saw the phrase “liberal catholic” as signifying a commitment to liberal theology and practice within a broadly Roman context. On September 26, 2009, Adrian Glover was consecrated bishop for the LCAC at Golder’s Green Unitarian Church and he would eventually succeed to its primacy. The principal consecrator was Andrew Linley, and the assistant consecrators were Alistair Bate, Charles Mugleston and myself.

On Easter Day, 2010, I established a new ekklesia within the Apostolic Episcopal Church called the Ecclesia Apostolica Divinorum Mysteriorum (EADM; Apostolic Church of the Divine Mysteries), in which I was designated by the name Tau Eleutherius. This reflected a number of lessons learned from the way the LCAC had developed. EADM positioned itself as a reformed Liberal Catholic rite in the contemplative tradition. The strands that were of particular importance in its identity were a pre-Nicene Western Rite Orthodoxy and Traditionalist Catholicism emphasising Johannine spirituality, and an openness to esotericism, including the traditions of the Eglise Gnostique, Rosicrucianism and the Wisdom Traditions. EADM was hierarchically and formally governed by a Council of Three operating under a corpus of canon law, and had soon come to include all of the esoterically-minded clergy of the LCAC. As well as activity in London, there was an active parish in Edinburgh and other missions in Europe and the Americas.

On 19 June 2010, EADM chartered the Companions of the Cross and Passion, an order of men following the Passionist charism. In July 2010, EADM provided a charter and constitution for the new Mission Episcopate of Ss. Francis and Clare, and the necessary mandates for the consecration of its two bishops, Br. Thomas and Sr. Magdalena Stebbing. This was to be an independent body whose ministry would be carried out chiefly in the United States. On 14 August, these bishops were consecrated at Newington Green Unitarian Church by Alistair Bate assisted by myself, Andrew Linley, Adrian Glover and Louise Lombard, bishop of The Young Rite.

The impetus of EADM was sound, but it did not succeed in achieving stability. This was largely due to the divergent personalities involved, some of whom were not committed to living within a disciplined and ordered canonical community. As 2011 progressed, the majority of EADM’s clergy defected in order to form a new church that would be more in line with the looser and less accountable norms of the independent sacramental movement. This set in place a process of complete reorganization that saw EADM emerge with its purpose and mission intact, but occupying a more specialized role and with a significantly lower profile compared to the other aspects of my ministry.

Around this time I was completing the research for my biographies of Arnold Harris Mathew and Joseph René Vilatte. These built on a much more extensive earlier book that traced the history of the smaller sacramental churches from the nineteenth-century to the present day. The archival holdings of my jurisdiction were continuing to expand, with many gifts of historic papers and church publications that were often rare and ephemeral. My book on Mathew had been expanded from my doctoral thesis at the Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica, and I was pleased some years later to see it extensively referenced in further doctoral work at a British university.

Meantime, several events happened that would set the tone for my life in the church during its next phase. The first was my election to the vacant Prince-Abbacy of San Luigi, and the second was the beginning of my friendships with the late Dom Klaus Schlapps and Prince Kermit de Polanie-Patrikios.

>>Continue to part 4

Life in the Church – part 2 “Ora et labora”

As a result of the issues that had arisen concerning Illtyd Thomas (see previous post), it was decided that Andrew Linley and I should undergo subconditional ordination to all the major orders as a cautionary measure.

Dom Phillip Kemp OSB(csr) was Primate of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain, which had been founded in 1968. He was for twelve years employed at the Department of Work and Pensions, where he rose to become a manager. He then became a learning and development officer, and latterly Regional Manager, for the public service trades union Unison. An able chef, he served for eight years in the Territorial Army Catering Support Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, and was promoted from the ranks to Second Lieutenant in 1992. Further promotion to Captain followed before he left the T.A. in 1998. Although he had not pursued university education after leaving school, he studied later in life with the Open University.

Phillip Kemp was consecrated by Aelred Peter Distin, then Primate of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain, as Titular Bishop of Elmham on 6 June 2004 and appointed additionally as Co-Adjutor Metropolitan. He was a professed member of the Benedictine Community of St. Romuald. On 13 September 2004 Distin formally retired as Metropolitan Archbishop of the OCCGB in favour of Kemp. Under Kemp, the OCCGB was regularized and registered as a charity. Undergoing several changes of name, it was known at the time of our ordination and consecration as the Independent Catholic Alliance and latterly was called the Traditional Catholic Orthodox Church.

The services that took place on 11 November 2006 took up an entire day. The venue was the Oratory of the Holy Spirit in Enfield, north London, which was then the principal house-chapel of our church. All services used the Roman Pontifical. The services were open to the public and were attended by laity. Dom Phillip ordained us conditionally to the diaconate and priesthood and then consecrated us to the episcopate. We then at Dom Phillip’s request conditionally consecrated him to the episcopate, and I then conditionally ordained Dom Simon Scruton of the OCCGB to the priesthood.


When Dom Phillip died at the early age of 46 in 2012, the Administrator of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain requested that I, as the senior of the two bishops consecrated by him, should succeed him as Primate and Titular Archbishop of Elmham.

>>Continue to part 3