Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands

The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands (Dutch: Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland), sometimes known as the Dutch Roman Catholic Church of the Old Episcopal Order, the Church of Utrecht (Ultrajectine Church), or Jansenist Church of Holland,[2] is an Old Catholic jurisdiction originating from the Archdiocese of Utrecht (695–1580). The Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands is the mother church of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht.

The jurisdiction is currently led by Archbishop Metropolitan Bernd Wallet.[3]


Early history[edit]

St. Willibrord evangelised the northern parts of the Netherlands (above the Rhine), bringing Roman Catholicism in the 7th century. The southern parts of the now so-called Benelux were already evangelised from the 4th century, beginning with St. Servatius, Bishop of Maastricht.[4] Willibrord had been consecrated by Pope Sergius I in circa 696 in Rome.[5][6]

In 1145, Pope Eugene III restricted the electorate to the chapters of the five collegiate churches in the diocese.[2]: 64 [a] The Fourth Lateran Council confirmed this in 1215. In 1517, Pope Leo X prohibited, in Debitum pastoralis officii nobis, the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Hermann of Wied, as legatus natus,[b] to summon to a court of first instance in Cologne, Philip of Burgundy, his treasurer, and his ecclesiastical and secular subjects.[8][c]John Mason Neale explained that Leo X only confirmed a right of the church but Leo X’s confirmation “was providential” in respect to the future schism.[2]: 72 

Reformation and Jansenism[edit]

Forced into hiding as a result of the Protestant Reformation, the diocesan structures of the Catholic Church of the Netherlands were dissolved.[d] The Holland Mission started when Pope Clement VIII erected the Apostolic Vicariate of Batavia in 1592.[10] Eventually, the church obtained a comfortable enough status with the local authorities so as to allow it to practice Catholicism as long as this did not take place in public or semi-public buildings and areas. However, conflicts arose between Jesuit missionaries sent from Rome and the local clergy. This was augmented by an influx of Jansenist priests from France and Belgium.

The Jesuits accused Archbishop Petrus Codde, apostolic vicar, of Jansenism. Pope Innocent XII appointed a commission of cardinals who started an investigation of Codde, ending in exoneration.[citation needed] In 1700, Codde was summoned to Rome and brought before a second commission appointed by Pope Clement XI. When Codde refused assent to the Formula of Submission for the Jansenists, Clement XI suspended Codde in 1701 and appointed a successor, Gerard Potcamp [nl], as apostolic vicar. This decision was not popular among the Dutch clergy, who demanded the return of Codde. Codde returned to Utrecht in June 1703 and formally resigned—protesting the circumstances—in a pastoral letter of March 19, 1704. He died on December 18, 1710.

Although the historic archdiocese was suppressed in 1580, and its replacement, the apostolic vicariate, was erected in 1592, the chapter of the suppressed archdiocese arranged for Luke Fagan, Bishop of Meath, to ordain priests for the suppressed archdiocese in 1716.[2]: 235–236, 282  The canonical matters arising from the supposed Roman violations of Debitum pastoralis officii nobis led to the case being brought before the Pontifical Catholic University of Leuven in May 1717, which found in favour of the chapter of the suppressed archdiocese, but was unable to resolve the matter with Rome; this led to a de facto autonomous Catholic church in the Netherlands.

Finally in 1723, dissatisfied Dutch clergy elected Cornelius Steenoven [nl] as archbishop of the suppressed Archdiocese of Utrecht.[d] He was consecrated in 1724 without a papal mandate by suspended Bishop Dominique Marie Varlet, who had been living in Amsterdam since 1721.[2]: 246, 256 [e] 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. Varlet later reconciled with the Catholic Church, but subsequently consecrated, again without a papal mandate, four more bishops for the independent Ultrajectine church, which would become known as “Old Catholic” after 1853. Petrus Johannes Meindaerts, after his consecration by Varlet without a papal mandate in 1739,[2]: 282  consecrated bishops to the suppressed dioceses of Deventer,[f]Haarlem,[g] and Groningen.[h][citation needed]

The apostolic vicariate was reduced to a mission sui iuris by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727.[10]

Most Dutch Catholics nevertheless continued to follow the pope, first under missionary administrative structures and, from 1853, under the reestablished episcopal hierarchy in the Netherlands, when Catholics were permitted to worship publicly after two and a half centuries of secret and private religious worship.

Vatican I[edit]

After reestablishment of the episcopal hierarchy in the Netherlands in 1853 by Pope Pius IX, the breakaway Church of Utrecht adopted the name “Old Catholic Church” to distinguish itself from the newly created Roman hierarchy by its seniority in the Netherlands. In 1870 the First Vatican Council was convened, and the bishops of the Church of Utrecht were not invited because they were not seen as being in communion with the Holy See. At the First Vatican Council, 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 sought apostolic succession from the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, eventually forming the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches, and these German speaking communities adopted the name Old Catholic. The schism was able to continue.


Old Catholics have celebrated Mass in the vernacular virtually since their foundation, even if not everywhere, doing so as early as the 18th century in Utrecht. They reject the Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary as well as papal infallibility. Old Catholics believe they preserve ancient Catholic doctrine through adherence to the “ancient Catholic faith”.[15][16] Their practice of private confession has fallen into disuse in most areas. Since 1878, Old Catholic clergy have been allowed to marry at any time. It would also seem that, by the beginning of the 20th century, the Eucharistic fast had been abandoned, along with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and the veneration of the saints; in his declaration of ecclesial independence of December 29, 1910, Arnold Harris Mathew wrote to the Old Catholics of Utrecht deploring the lack of these practices among Old Catholics on the European continent.[17]

Perhaps the most fundamental positions of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands are its claim to apostolic succession and to being legally separate from the Roman Catholic Church. The churches of the Union of Utrecht have been in communion with the Church of England since 1931. The Polish National Catholic Church was part of the union and also in communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States. The PNCC left the Union of Utrecht and broke communion with the Episcopal Church over the issues of the ordination of women and openly gay clergy.

The main bodies of the Old Catholics are theologically progressive. The Dutch Old Catholics since 1998 have allowed women to enter the priesthood and, for a long time, have allowed divorce. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some Roman Catholic priests who have been unable to accept certain Catholic disciplines or doctrines have joined the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, often in order to marry.

Whilst the vernacular was introduced at a very early stage, external rites remained very Catholic, and the prayers of the Mass still emphasised sacrificial intention. Although distinct from the Catholic Church, since the 1960s most Old Catholics in communion with Utrecht have followed the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council which met periodically from 1962 to 1965.

Old Catholic Archbishops of Utrecht[edit]

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht (not to be confused with the Catholic prelate who holds the same title) is the leader of the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, and chairman of its governing bodies. He is also ex officio the primate (primus inter pares leader) of the entire Old Catholic Church. The current archbishop is Bernd Wallet.[18] Individual national or regional Old Catholic churches maintain a degree of autonomy, similar to the practice of the Anglican Communion, so that each diocese of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht has a diocesan bishop, and countries with more than one diocese have a bishop who is appointed “bishop in charge” (or similar title). All, however, recognise the Archbishop of Utrecht as primate.

Old Catholic Bishops of Haarlem[edit]

The Old Catholic Bishops of Haarlem continue to govern the see first overseen by Bishops Nicolas van Nieuwland (1560-1569) and Godfrey van Mierlo (1569-1578) of the Catholic Church.

Old Catholic Bishops of Deventer[edit]

The Old Catholic Bishops of Deventer continue to govern the see first overseen by Bishops Johannes Mahusius (1560-1570) and Egidius van den Berge de Monte (1570-1577) of the Catholic Church.

  1. ^ Elections prior to Heribert, election of bishops in the diocese was by popular vote and included laity in the electorate.[2]: 64 
  2. ^ “As papal power increased after the middle of the eleventh century these legates came to have less and less real authority and eventually the legatus natus was hardly more than a title.”[7]
  3. ^ Joosting and Muller noted that Leo X also promulgated another bull, in which he commissioned that the Bishop of Utrecht, his treasurer and his subjects informed that they were empowered to disregard privileges formerly granted to others and to prosecute offenders while setting aside formerly specified legal process.[8]
  4. ^ a b The Archdiocese of Utrecht (695–1580) was suppressed in 1580.[9]
  5. ^ Varlet was suspended and removed from office in 1719 for administering the Sacrament of Confirmation in 1718 outside of his jurisdiction while travelling through Amsterdam.[2]: 241–245 [11]
  6. ^ The Diocese of Deventer (1559–1591) was suppressed in 1591.[12] Meindaerts consecrated a bishop for the suppressed diocese in 1758.[2]: 293 
  7. ^ The Diocese of Haarlem (1559–1587) was suppressed in 1587.[2]: 272 [13] Meindaerts consecrated a bishop for the suppressed diocese in 1742.[2]: 284 
  8. ^ The Diocese of Groningen (1559–1580) was suppressed in 1580.[14]


  1. ^ “Aantallen bij de SILA geregistreerde personen” [Numbers of registered persons at SILA]. sila.nl (in Dutch). Wageningen, NL: SILA – Stichting Interkerkelijke Ledenadministratie. 2020-07-04 [end of 2017].[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Public DomainThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain: Neale, John M (1858). History of the so-called Jansenist church of Holland; with a sketch of its earlier annals, and some account of the Brothers of the common life. Oxford; London: John Henry and James Parker. hdl:2027/mdp.39015067974389. OCLC 600855086.
  3. ^ “Bernd Wallet verkozen tot nieuwe aartsbisschop Oud-Katholieke Kerk”. frieschdagblad.nl. Archived from the original on 2021-05-21. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  4. ^ “Sint Servatius project – Archeologie – Universiteit van Amsterdam”. archive.is. 2012-05-30. Archived from the original on 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  5. ^ “Saint Willibrord”. CatholicSaints.Info. Retrieved 2021-05-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ “Bishop St. Willibrord’s Record of Succession”. catholic-hierarchy.org. Retrieved 2021-05-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ La Monte, John L (1949). The world of the Middle Ages: a reorientation of medieval history. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 393. hdl:2027/mdp.39015024887880. OCLC 568161011.
  8. ^ a b Public DomainThis article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain: Pope Leo X. Debitum pastoralis officii nobis (in Latin). From Joosting, Jan G. C.; Muller, Samuel (1912). “Verbod van Paus Leo X aan den aartsbisschop van Keulen als legatus natus, Philips bisschop van Utrecht, diens fiscus en diens kerkelijke en wereldlijke onderdanen in eerste instantie naar keulen te doen dagvaarden”. Bronnen voor de geschiedenis der kerkelijke rechtspraak in het bisdom Utrecht in di middeleeuwen. Oude vaderlandsche rechtsbronnen (in Dutch). ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 59–62. hdl:2027/mdp.35112103682300. Retrieved 2014-01-09. This book contains documents relating to the limit of the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Utrecht. This book was published in Werken der Vereeniging tot Uitgaaf der Bronnen van het Oud-Vaderlandsche Recht. ‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff. 2 (14). OCLC 765196601.
  9. ^ “Archdiocese of Utrecht”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
  10. ^ a b “Mission “Sui Iuris” of Batavia (Holland Mission)”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
  11. ^ “Bishop Dominique-Marie Varlet”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2016-01-12. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  12. ^ “Diocese of Deventer”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  13. ^ “Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  14. ^ “Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden”. Catholic-Hierarchy.org. David M. Cheney. Archived from the original on 2016-01-16. Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  15. ^ Churches, the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic. Declaration of Utrecht.
  16. ^ “Old Catholics”. Catholic Answers. Retrieved 2021-05-21.
  17. ^ “Old Catholic Church History”. Archived from the original on 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2006-08-09.
  18. ^ “Bernd Wallet verkozen tot nieuwe aartsbisschop van Utrecht”. oudkatholiek.nl (in Dutch). Oud-Katholieke Kerk van Nederland. 15 February 2020. Retrieved 6 March 2021.

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