The Society of Mercy (formally The Priestly Society of Mercy or Societas Sacerdotalis Misericordiae) is a male group of validly ordained Old Roman Catholic clergy not under Papal jurisdiction. We were established:
To maintain the essential dogmatic beliefs of the Universal Church
To follow the Ultrajectine tradition of local ecclesiastical control
To offer the sacraments reverently
To minister to all who have need while providing mercy to those who feel abandoned
Our history dates to the Church of Utrecht. The Church of Utrecht, now in what is called the Netherlands, received a Papal Bull in 1145 by Pope Eugene ensuring the diocese's ability to elect its own bishop through chapters of priests. This right was confirmed in 1215 by the Fourth Lateran Council and in 1517 by Pope Leo X. The right of a church to control its own affairs was called Ultrajectine. The Ultrajectine tradition follows the tradition of the early church, where each diocese is a true church and, while in union with the Church Catholic, emphasizes local control and theological comprehension.
After the establishment of the Jesuits, a new theory came into vogue. This was called Ultramontanism, which means “beyond the mountains.” Ultramontanism believes all power should be concentrated in the hands of the Pope, which is opposed to the Ultrajectine tradition. In the late 1600's the Jesuits moved into the territory of Utrecht and accused the then Archbishop of Utrecht, Petrus Codde, of the heresy of Jansenism because of his Ultrajectine views. Pope Clement XI suspended Codde in 1701 and appointed his own bishop, Gerard Potcamp. This was deeply unpopular among the clergy of Utrecht, who protested. Following their historic rights as an independent church, they elected a candidate for Archbishop named Cornelius Steenoven. Archbishop Steenoven was consecrated a bishop by Dominique Marie Varlet, Bishop of Babylon, who was sympathetic to their cause. This action caused a split wherein Rome refused to recognize the candidates elected by the Chapter of Utrecht. The Archbishops of Utrecht continued to pledge their allegiance to the Pope while also not relinquishing their historic right to elect their own bishops. In 1823, Archbishop Van Os stated:
"We accept, without any exception whatever, all the Articles of the Holy Catholic Faith. We will neither hold nor teach, now or afterwards, any other opinions than those that have been decreed, determined and published by our Mother the Church.....We reject and condemn everything, especially all heresies, without one exception, which the Church has rejected and condemned. We detest at the same time every schism which might separate us from the communion of the Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church and its visible head on upon earth. We have never made common cause with those who have broken the bond of unity''.
After this declaration, Pope Pius IX declared the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility. While held as doctrine by some faithful, Pope Pius IX declared they were dogma (which means they must be believed for salvation). In the 1800's many Roman Catholics joined the Catholics of Utrecht because they could not accept these beliefs as dogmas. Fr. Stephen Keenan's Catechism (or "Keenan's Catechism"), for example, in the 1850's called papal infallibility "a Protestant invention."
The Archdiocese of Utrecht called itself Old Roman Catholic or the Dutch Roman Catholic Church of the Old Episcopal Order. With the addition of new members and new churches the name "Old Catholic" began to be used, meaning they held the faith before the new dogmas were added and held the traditional Ultrajectine beliefs. The Archbishops of Utrecht helped set up churches in European countries, including Great Britain. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew was consecrated in 1908 as Old Catholic Bishop of Great Britain. Archbishop Mathew split from the Old Catholics in 1910 over what he perceived as changes to the faith by the Old Catholics.
Archbishop Mathew established the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a via media. He hoped to attract Anglo-Catholics as well as disaffected Roman Catholics. In 1911 he signed an Act of Union with the Patriarchate of Antioch, making the Church distinctly Catholic while also Orthodox in belief and continuing the emphasis on local control. Unfortunately, the church grew very little and upon his death in 1919 it still consisted of only a handful of members. The Church was more successful in America, where it was introduced in 1914 by the Archbishop-Prince Rudolph de Landes Berghes. He was succeeded in 1916 by Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora. Archbishop Carfora focused mainly on ethnic churches and the church claimed a membership as high as 50,000 prior to his death in 1958. When Archbishop Carfora died, the Church split into various jurisdictions which were independent but cooperative.
One of these descendants was the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America, where our Superior General was ordained in 2007. He was consecrated in 2012, and in 2013 joined with the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain (the historic successor church to Archbishop Mathew), and utilized the name The Old Roman Catholic Church in America. In 2016, Society of Mercy was founded as a venue to unite members of Old Roman Catholic backgrounds into a priestly Society focused on Mercy. The name the Priestly Society of Mercy was chosen. This was to assert the fully Catholic nature of the group as well as emphasize that the institute would return to a less rigid organization and simply seek to minister to all who have need. In 2019, the Superior General was elected to head the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America after the death of Archbishop Facione in addition to leading the Society of Mercy.