History of the Liberal Catholic Church
Established in England in 1916 through a reorganization of the former Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, the new movement quickly spread to other countries, and in 1918 adopted its distinctive name, THE LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH. Its Episcopal succession is derived from the Old Catholic Church of Holland through Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew and his Auxiliary, Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby, the latter having been elected and consecrated “to safeguard the Succession.” Archbishop Mathew ordained a number of Theosophists to the Priesthood, knowing that they were Theosophists and knowing about their philosophy. They had built up a congregation in London which was at that time (1915) the only congregation of the Old Catholic movement in England. In an about-face the Archbishop suddenly demanded that they all withdraw from membership in the Theosophical Society, and when they demurred at this breech of agreement, he bowed out and declared the whole movement “terminated.”
This left them free to act as they should deem best, but without a bishop. Bishop Willoughby, who had been elected from among their number by their votes (though not a Theosophist), and from whom Archbishop Mathew had since parted company, passed on the Apostolic Succession to them by consecrating James Ingall Wedgwood to the Episcopate as Presiding Bishop of the now autonomous body, in London on February 13, 1916. He in turn consecrated Charles Webster Leadbeater to the Episcopate in Sydney, Australia in July of that year, and the Church rapidly spread over the world, being active in over 40 countries with more than 15 languages, continuing to grow in all of them. (All services are in the language of the people). Although Theosophists played a major role in establishing this Church, the Church itself has no connection with the Theosophical Society or with any other philosophical school of thought. Clergy and members are free in such matters. All clergy are self-supporting, receiving no financial remuneration for their work. They are free to marry if they wish.
Nowhere is the Church large as yet, but it is steadily growing. The United States of America has its complements of bishops, priests, incorporated parishes as well as unincorporated missions, various churches, church centers and private oratories. The Church in the USA is incorporated in the State of Maryland as “The Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States of America,” but its Provincial Headquarters is now in Ojai, California.
The world headquarters of the Church is maintained in London, England, where its archives are kept and where the official international journal, The Liberal Catholic, has been published for over 50 years under the direction of the Presiding Bishop.
RT REV JAMES INGALL WEDGWOOD
RT REV CHARLES WEBSTER LEADBEATER
CONSECRATION OF JAMES INGALL WEDGWOOD AS FIRST PRESIDING BISHOP
Seated left to right : Rt. Rev. Robert King, Rt. Rev. James Ingall Wedgwood, Rt. Rev. Frederick Samuel Willoughby, Rt. Rev. Rupert Gauntlett, Dean Seaton. Standing : José B. Acuña (later Bishop), Reginald Farrer, three unidentified Servers, Theodore Bell, unidentified Priest.