The Most Reverend
Arnold Harris Mathew, D.D.
First Old Roman Catholic Archbishop of Great Britain and Ireland
Any discussion of the various Old Roman Catholic Church jurisdictions must begin with Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew, the ecclesiastical progenitor for all of them.
Arnold Harris Mathew was born in Montpelier, Herault, France on 6 August 1852 of Roman Catholic father and an Anglican mother. First baptized as a Roman Catholic, he was, two years later at the insistance of hs mather, re-baptized as an Anglican. He began his seminary and theological studies at the Anglican College of the Holy Spirit on the Island of Greater Cumbrae, but had a change of heart and subsequently entered the Roman Catholic Seminary of St Peter at Patrickhill in Glasgow, Scotland. He was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church on 24 June 1877 at the age of 24, by Archbishop Charles Eyre. Father Mathew was assigned to a number of pastoral ministries over the ensuing years, until his final assignment in 1888 at St Mary's in Bath.
While on vacation in France, he met Father Hyacinthe Loyson, an Old Catholic priest who was also friends with Archbishop Joseph Rene Vilatte, and others within the Old Catholic, Independent Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiastical worlds. Father Mathew left the Roman Catholic Church in 1889, and served as an Anglican priest at Holy Trinity Church on Sloane Street in London, where he met and married his wife, Margaret Duncan. After ten years as an Anglican priest, he left the Anglican ministry in 1899 as a result of learning of the scandalous homosexual activity occuring within the Anglican Church, without the hierarchy taking any canonical action to prevent it at that time. He re-entered the Roman Catholic Church as a layman, due to his marriage, and became a prolific author and translator, earning acknowledgement from the Roman Catholic Church for his academic and literary accomplishments. Having tired of his status as a layman, he entertained the idea of returning to the Anglican ministry, (the only option open to him as a married cleric) but having not received any support for this option, by 1907 he had entered into communications with the Old Catholic Bishop of Switzerland, Edward Herzog, where they discussed the reaction of many High-Church Anglo-Catholics who feared the report of the Roman Catholic Ritual Commission set up in 1904, which denied the validity of Anglican Orders, and the strong likelihood of their embracing an indiginous Old Catholic jurisdiction in Britain. He was joined in that discussion by another former Roman Catholic priest, Father Richard O'Halloran.
Father O'Halloran claimed that seventeen priests with eight fully organized parishes were ready to affiliate themselves with a new Old Catholic Bishop if one could be provided for them in England. As a result of Father O'Halloran's claims and presentations, the Old Catholic Bishops were impressed enough to take the decision to establish a branch of the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain. Father O'Halloran then presented to the Old Catholic Bishops, a document purporting to have been the Mandate of Election, in which the said priests and parishes had elected Father Arnold Harris Mathew to be their Bishop. To the best of everyone's knowledge, Father Mathew had been unware of this election or of its transmittal by Father O'Halloran to the Old Catholic Bishops, until after the fact.
Once informed of his election and having secured the approval of the Old Catholic Bishops for his episcopal consecration, Father Mathew traveled to Utrecht, the ancient Archiepiscopal See of the Old Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, to be consecrated as the first Old Catholic Bishop for Great Britain and Ireland. Upon his arrival and upon closer examination of his life, theological belief, formation, training and ministry, the fact of his marriage came to light. The Church of Utrecht was dismayed at this development as they had never considered the consecration of a married man as a bishop, but the Swiss and German Old Catholic bishops had no such hesitation as they had abolished compulsory clerical celibacy since 1875 and 1877 respectively. Only in 1922 did the Church of Utrecht follow suit. After deliberating on the issue, the Old Catholic Bishops agreed to proceed with the consecration of Father Mathew to be the Old Catholic Bishop of Great Britain and Ireland. His consecration took place during a Solemn High Pontifical Mass on 28 April 1908 in the historic Cathedral of St Gertrude in Utrecht. The consecrators were: Archbishop Gerardus Gul of Utrecht, Bishop Johannes Jacobus van Thiel of Haarlem, Bishop Nicolas Bartholomaeus Petrus Spit of Deventer, and Bishop Johan Josef Demmel of Bonn, Germany. The consecration took place according to the Pontificale Romanum, which was the only ritual for conferring Holy Orders permitted within the Old Roman Catholic Church of Utrecht. Soon after his return to London, Bishop Mathew discovered that he and the Old Catholic Bishops had been duped and mislead by Father O'Halloran as to the true numbers of clergy willing to establish an Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, and in good faith, Bishop Mathew tendered his offer to resign to the Archbishop of Utrecht. His resignation was not accepted, and Bishop Mathew proceeded under great difficulties and hostilities from both the Roman Catholic Church and from the Church of England, to build his missionary church as had originally been envisioned at the time of his consecration.
At the time of his death, Archbishop Bernard Mary Williams, Archbishop Mathew's successor, described the late Archbishop Mathew in the following words:
"Of the truly great Prelate who has passed beyond the veil, our most venerable and revered Archbishop, I could write much. He was truly one of those of whom the world was not worthy — a man without guile. His kindness, sympathy, and generosity were only too easily aroused, and knew no bounds. Himself a good man, he seems to have been incapable of suspecting or understanding bad faith and treachery in others, and so became a very easy victim to the unscrupulous. Unhappily, he was constantly preyed upon by persons of this type, who never failed to misrepresent him, grossly, deliberately, and of evil purpose to all who had not the happiness of knowing him. No man has ever been more thoroughly misunderstood or more viciously, wantonly, and most unjustly persecuted.
He was a man of simple tastes, possessed of a high appreciation of the beauties of Nature, with a deep knowledge of Natural History. A real scholar, whose sound learning was by no means confined to the usual fields of Clerical knowledge; a nobleman of great courage, perfect courtesy, the highest integrity, and an address which can only be described as charming. A Prelate of wonderful humility and very great personal sanctity..."
Elsewhere he had described the late Archbishop Mathew thusly:
"A more lovable man, or one of greater personal sanctity than the late Archbishop Mathew could hardly have been found, and yet the choice proved an unfortunate one, because Bishop Mathew was entirely lacking in statesmanship, and his lack of guile rendered him an easy victim to the unscrupulous. This lack of statesmanship, together with the ease with which he could be imposed upon, and persuaded to ordain and sometimes, alas, consecrate men wholly unsuitable for those high and holy states, and the scandals resulting therefrom, together with the incessant and extremely bitter persecution at the hands of Ultramontane (Roman) Catholics, Protestants, and the irreligious, has so far prevented the daughter Church in England from making much real progress."
This brief eulogy succinctly describes the life of Archbishop Mathew from the time of his Consecration at Utrecht until his repose on 20 December 1919 in the arms of the Lord he had so faithfully served.
The following men have claimed Episcopal Consecration from Archbishop Mathew:
Francis Herbert Bacon (entered Anglican Church, 1 consecration of an Anglican priest);
Herbert Ignatius Beale (entered Anglican Church, 0 consecrations);
James Arran Bell (his consecration is dubious, established Old Catholic-Free Catholic Church, 1 consecration);
John Arnold Carter (Order of Corporate Reunion/Anglican, 0 consecrations);
Rudolphe de Landas Berghes (First Primate of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, 3 consecrations - only 2 considered valid as 1 was obtained under deception as to lack of previous ordinations);
Frederick C C Egerton (returned to Roman Catholic Church, 0 consecrations);
Allen Hay (Anglican, performed funeral rites for Archbishop Mathew, 0 consecrations);
Cuthbert F Hinton (entered Episcopal Church, 0 consecrations);
Arthur W Howarth (Roman Catholic, 0 consecrations);
William Noel Lambert (Order of Corporate Reunion/Anglican, 0 consecrations);
James Columba McFall (Old Roman Catholic/Old Catholic-Feee Catholic Church, 2 consecrations);
William Edward Scott-Hall (Roman Catholic, 0 consecrations);
Ralph Whitman (his consecration is dubious and it is questioned if the man ever existed as none of the ORCC clergy had ever seen or met him, 1 consecration by him is claimed but with serious doubt);
James Charles Thomas Ayliffe [Bernard Mary] Williams (Old Roman Catholic Church, See of Caer-Glow, 0 consecrations);
Frederick Samuel Willoughby (Liberal Catholic Church, 2 consecrations).