Liberal Catholic Church

A body that may be dated from 1918 when it appeared in London as a synthesis of theosophical and Old Catholic* doctrines and practices. Four members of the English Theosophical Society were ordained (1913-14) priests in the miniscule British Old Catholic Church. A lapse in the Old Catholic bishopric led to the recognition (1916) of J.I. Wedgwood as bishop, who in turn ordained C.W. Leadbeater (the leading London Theosophist since 1895) as bishop of the Old Catholic Church for Australasia. Wedgwood and Leadbeater compiled a new liturgy and renamed the body the Liberal Catholic Church (1918) to distinguish it from Old Catholicism. An American branch, begun in 1917, established its headquarters at Los Angeles, California, and built a procathedral (1924). The church does not hold to a firm doctrine, believing that there are “many paths to truth.” Instead it stresses liturgy-whereby the “living Christ” is experienced-theosophy,* and reincarnation. It maintains a hierarchy of regional bishops, selected by a general episcopal synod, with a presiding bishop. Membership numbered 10,000 (1964), including 2,500 in the United States. Headquarters are in London.

E.E. Beauregard, “Liberal Catholic Church” in New Catholic Encyclopedia XIII, pp. 699- 700; R.K. McMaster, “Theosophy” in New Catholic Encyclopedia XIV, pp. 74-75; F.W. Pigott, The parting of the ways (1927); C.W. Leadbeater, The science of the sacraments (1920; rep. 1957).