Rome and Liberal Catholic Orders
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Rome and Liberal Catholic Orders

Rev. L. K. Langley
Sydney, Australia

The Advent 1997 The Liberal Catholic mentions a 1931 decision on the validity of our Orders made by the Roman Catholic Church, and how the document was destroyed during World War Two. The fact is that the letter was never destroyed in a library fire, because it was never there in the first place. Yet the story seems to have a life of its own and resurrects from time to time.

It has appeared, to my knowledge, in the September 1944 Australian Provincial News, the Winter 1976 Ubique and the Winter 1990 Gnosis magazine. It is a pity that the story has became sanitised since the Ubique report by omitting reference to "a Belgian member of our Church having been jailed for a few months". As the alleged document was the work of a master forger, the jail episode may be the only true part of the whole saga.

The Sydney Roman Catholic apologist, Fr. L. Rumble, was made aware of the story in 1954 and made enquiries in Belgium and Rome. He published the results in The Homiletic and Pastoral Review of March 1958, complete with denials from the relevant authorities. This and further research he summarised in the Sydney Catholic Weekly of 19 July, 1962 as follows:

"The document is a forgery, a verdict of which I did not obtain final and positive confirmation until 1958. Since the document was alleged to have been sent to the Cardinal Archbishop of Mechlin (Malines) in Belgium, I first wrote there. That was in 1955. A search by the Chancellor of the Archdiocese revealed no such document preserved in the Archives, as it would have been had it in fact been received. In 1956 I wrote to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, in Rome, only to be told that no question had ever been put to that Congregation on the subject, and that no answer to it had ever been given. In 1957, I wrote to the Congregation of the Holy Office, and was informed that neither that Congregation nor any other had ever issued a document concerning the matter. In 1958, one of the best historians among the Liberal Catholic clergy in England, having read an article on the subject I had published in America, wrote to me in a letter dated August 14, that the document is definitely spurious, and that it was forged for some unscrupulous members of the Liberal Catholic Church by an equally unscrupulous 'member of the Roman Catholic Church in Brussels, Belgium'. This honest admission was from the Rev. Alban W. Cockerham, of Leeds, England, who naturally deplored the circulation of such a forged document ".

I am grateful to the Archives of the British Orthodox Church for copies of the articles mentioned, plus associated correspondence. This material will be deposited in our Australian Provincial Archives for future reference, with the hope that this matter can be finally laid to rest. The connection with the British Orthodox is through Fr. Cockerham (who was re-ordained by Mar Georgius in 1956 while apparently retaining his L.C.C. membership). The name of Albert Frank Duquesne, who was a Liberal Catholic clergyman in Belgium circa 1930-1932 is mentioned in their archives as "the too famous author of the 'false document of Utrecht"' and as the producer of a 1953 document purporting to be from Roman theologians declaring Mar Georgius' Orders as valid. Fr. Cockerham denied the authenticity of this document too.

The Liberal Catholic Church Statement of Principles claims that it "preserves an episcopal succession that is acknowledged as valid among those churches of Christendom that maintain the Apostolic Succession of orders as a tenet of their faith." We received a valid succession from the Dutch Old Catholics through Abp. Mathew, and claim no more or less than to have preserved it pure and unsullied. Bishop Wedgwood's booklets 'The Lambeth Conference and the Validity of Archbishop Mathew's Orders' and 'The Facts Regarding the Episcopal Succession in the L.C.C.' as well as Fr. Cockerham's 'The Apostolic Succession in the L.C.C.' should be sufficient for any enquiry on grounds of history and sacramental theology.



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