Founded in 2009 by a bishop and a group of priests seeking a more inclusive religious experience but not ready to leave the Catholic tradition completely, the ANCC aims to follow the spirit of reform established by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
While the sacraments and many fundamental beliefs remain identical to those of Roman Catholicism, the ANCC presents a more progressive version of Catholicism: divorced members can take Communion, women and gays can be ordained, and priests can marry.
Mass is conducted in the “Novus Ordo” liturgy that was widely practiced in Catholic parishes until last year, when revamped — some say clunky — language was introduced by the Vatican. The movement follows a “congregational model” of governance, which means that parishes make decisions largely independent of the national group. And no church leader — including the pope — is viewed as superior.
The movement claims its priests and bishops are validly ordained in the chain of “apostolic succession” tracing back to the early church. The bishops were ordained by a group that traces its chain back to a Brazilian Catholic bishop who died in 1961, who himself had split from Rome and founded a breakaway group.
But beginning a religious movement from scratch requires much more than simply determining a set of guiding beliefs.
“It’s a big undertaking,” explained the Rev. Matthew Bailey, who followed Bishop George Lucey and a few other priests in launching the breakaway group. “A number of us had explored different options, so we sat down and talked about what was really good, what didn’t work, and tried to craft something that addressed it.”
According to Bailey, independent Catholic movements typically falter because their standards are too low: Priests are too easily ordained and may call themselves clergy without having any real ministry.
In response, the ANCC founded a seminary in 2010 that provides distance-learning courses to candidates, who must spend two years in preparation and submit to background checks.
“We’re doing this deliberately and intentionally: We want what we’re building to last,” said Bailey, adding that the group reaches out to priests with small ministries or who may have left the church. “We’re not trying to open 20 parishes tomorrow. Maybe we’ll open just two in a year, but they need to be high quality, with good clergy and solid liturgies.”