Episcopi vagantes


These two photos are of  liturgical church bishops from recognized church bodies.  No one questions that they are bishops by the standards of their church bodies. Sometimes we run into a bishop who seems different.  Episcopi vagantes are bishops, but are these bishops like regular bishops? Just what makes a person a bishop? What makes a bishop not really a bishop? How did he become one? What do the established churches do when an episcopus vagans (bishop) comes around?  This may be a question you have never asked yourself.

Yet it is fascinating to study. First some definitions.  A later post will explore more examples.

Episcopi vagantes (singular: episcopus vagans) are persons who have been consecrated as Christian bishops outside the structures and canon law of the established churches and are in communion with no generally recognized diocese. Also included are those who have communion with a group so small that it appears to exist solely for the alleged bishop’s sake.[1]

kfsThe term is Latin and means “wandering bishops” (or “stray bishops”).BishopWarnkeThose to whom it is applied see it as pejorative.

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church mentions as the main streams of succession deriving from episcopi vagantes in the twentieth century those founded by Arnold Mathew, Joseph René Vilatte, and Leon Chechemian.[1] Others that could be added are those derived from Aftimios Ofiesh, Carlos Duarte Costa, and Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục

Theological issues

In Western Christianity it has traditionally been taught, since as far back as the time of the Donatist controversy, that any bishop can consecrate any other baptised man as a bishop provided that he observes the minimum requirements for the sacramental validity of the ceremony. This means that the consecration is considered valid even if it flouts certain ecclesiastical laws and even if the participants areschismatics or heretics.

Some theologians, within the Roman Catholic Church and elsewhere, question whether all such consecrations have effect, on the grounds that an ordination is for service within a specific Christian church. Therefore an ordination ceremony that concerns only the individual himself does not, they say, correspond to the definition of an ordination and is without effect. The Holy See has not commented on the correctness or erroneousness of this theory. Other theologians, notably those of the Eastern Orthodox Church, dispute this notion, but it can be seen how such an understanding opens up the possibility of valid but irregular consecrations proliferating outside the structures of the “official” denominations.

A distinction is also made in Catholic theology between the conferral of the sacramental powers associated with the episcopacy and the conferral of jurisdiction: the authority of a bishop to govern his people. In Roman Catholic canon law, a bishop’s sacramental power is to some extent entwined with his jurisdiction (or lack of it): jurisdiction is required for valid celebration of the sacraments of Penance and Matrimony.  Jurisdiction can be conferred only within the official structures of the church under the Pope. Catholic episcopi vagantes sometimes appeal to the principle that, in emergency situations, jurisdiction is automatically “supplied” even where it has not explicitly been conferred (“ecclesia supplet“).

The Eastern Orthodox Church‘s position has been summarized as follows:

While accepting the canonical possibility of recognizing the existence (υποστατόν) of sacraments performed outside herself, (the Eastern Orthodox Church) questions their validity (έγκυρον) and certainly rejects their efficacy (ενεργόν).”[2] It sees “the canonical recognition (αναγνώρισις) of the validity of sacraments performed outside the Orthodox Church (as referring) to the validity of the sacraments only of those who join the Orthodox Church (individually or as a body).”[2]

This applies to the validity and efficacy of the ordination of bishops and the other sacraments, not only of the Independent Catholic Churches, but also of all other Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Church of the East.


Many episcopi vagantes claim succession from the Old Catholic See of Utrecht, or from Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or Eastern Catholic Churches. A few others derive their orders from Roman Catholic bishops that have consecrated their own bishops after disputes with the Holy See.

Many, if not most, episcopi vagantes are associated with Independent Catholic Churches, and in some cases the bishop is almost the only clergyman of the group. They may be very liberal or very conservative. Episcopi vagantes may also include several conservative “Continuing Anglicans” who have broken with the Anglican Communion over various issues such as Prayer Book revision, ordination of women and the ordination of unmarried, non-celibate individuals (including homosexuals).

[edit]Particular consecrations of episcopi vagantes

When it declared devoid of canonical effect the consecration ceremony conducted by Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục for theCarmelite Order of the Holy Face group at midnight of 31 December1975, the Holy See refrained from pronouncing on its validity. It made the same statement with regard also to later ordinations by those bishops, saying that, “as for those who have already thus unlawfully received ordination or any who may yet accept ordination from these, whatever may be the validity of the orders (quidquid sit de ordinum validitate), the Church does not and will not recognize their ordination (ipsorum ordinationem), and will consider them, for all legal effects, as still in the state in which they were before, except that the … penalties remain until they repent” (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decree Episcopi qui alios of 17 September1976Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1976, page 623).

A similar declaration was issued with regard to Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo‘s conferring of episcopal ordination on four men – all of whom, by virtue of previous Independent Catholic consecrations, claimed already to be bishops – on 24 September2006: the Holy See, as well as stating that, in accordance with Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, all five men involved incurred automatic (“latae sententiae“) excommunication through their actions, declared that “the Church does not recognise and does not intend in the future to recognise these ordinations or any ordinations derived from them, and she holds that the canonical state of the four alleged bishops is the same as it was prior to the ordination.”[3]

In contrast, the Holy See has questioned neither the validity nor the canonical effect of the consecrations that the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre performed in 1988 for the service of the relatively numerous followers of the Traditionalist CatholicSociety of St. Pius X that he had founded.

Some have questioned the mental capacity of Archbishop Ngô to form the requisite intention to consecrate. On this question it would be extremely difficult to obtain a definitive objective judgement. Ngô was advanced in age and was reportedly experiencing a dementia at the time of his actions in question.

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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15 Responses to Episcopi vagantes

  1. In one of the websites on such bishops, if you search, you will find Patriarch Mendes of the Apostolic Catholic Church of Brazil who I believe is alive and still consecration bishops. If you search his episcopal descendants to the bottom, you find some familiar names: Please see below:

    C. 05/03/1948 Luis Fernando Castillo-Méndez
    [who is still living and still consecrating bishops]

    B. Luis Fernando Castillo-Méndez
    ….1) Stephen Meyer Corradi-Scarella
    ………a) Albert A. Steer
    …………..I) John Robert Quinn
    ………b) Emile Federico Rodriguez y Durand (Fairfield)
    …………..I) William R. Nesselrode
    …………..II) Robert Norton
    …………..III) Paul Christian G. W. Schultz, Jr.
    …………..IV) Michael Joseph Farrell
    …………..V) Patrick Callahan
    …………..VI) Bertil Alexander Mar Alexander Persson
    …………..VII) Karl Julius Barwin
    …………..VIII) George Augustus Stallings
    …………..IX) Alexander Ong Verzosa
    ………c) Harold Lawrence Trott
    …………..I) Roy Benton Davis, Jr.
    ….2) Forest Ernest Barber
    ………a) Francis Jerome Joachim Ladd
    …………..I) John P. Doerr
    …………..II) Don Bryant de Cordova (see below)
    ………b) Seiji Yamauchi
    …………..I) Forest Ernest Barber (see above)
    ………c) Bertil Alexander Persson
    ………d) Edward Paul Raible
    ………e) Harold James Donovan
    …………..I) Forest Ernest Barber (see above)
    ….3) Claude Roger Baron
    …….. a) Louis Francis Battaglio (see below)
    ………b) Don Bryant de Cordova (see below)
    ………c) Carlos E. Escobedo (see below)
    ….4) Patrick Michael Cronin
    ………a) Donald W. Saint Peters
    …………..I) Michael Edward Coburn
    ………b) Charles Ingram
    ………c) Paul William Seese
    …………..I) Paul A. Diederich
    …………..II) Michael Edward Coburn
    …………..III) George Bussmann
    …………..IV) Mark Steven Shirey Shirilau
    ….5) Louis Francis Battaglio
    ….6) Don Bryant de Cordova
    ….7) Carlos E. Escobedo
    ….8) Juan Ignacio Cariaga y Cariaga
    ………a) René Parra Somorrostro
    …………..I) Celso Mario Rosales y Fernes (see below)
    ………b) Celso Mario Rosales y Fernes
    ….9) Frederick R. Aylward
    ………a) Albert J. Nigro
    …………..I) William Arthur Bolinger (see below)
    ………b) Joseph Smeekens
    ….10) Juan José Villegas
    ………a) Joseph Hladney
    …………..I) Robert P. Daly
    …………..II) Raymond Francis Kelly
    …………..III) Carl G. Purvenas-Smith
    …………..IV) Michel Joseph Pugin (see below)
    ………b) Donald J. Buttenbusch
    …………..I) Robert P. Daly
    …………..II) Raymond Francis Kelly
    …………..III) Joseph Johnson
    …………..IV) Lawrence Harms
    ………c) Michel Joseph Pugin
    …………..I) Basil Isaaks
    …………..II) Robert P. Daly
    …………..III) Raymond Francis Kelly
    …………..IV) Carl G. Purvenas-Smith
    ………d) William Arthur Bolinger
    …………..I) Christopher W. Fitzpatrick
    ….11) Harold Norwood
    ………a) John Christopher Simmons
    …………..I) Daniel Kanyiles
    …………..II) Thomas Joseph-Francis Patrick Sebastian
    …………..III) Michael George Charles
    ….12) Austin Randolph Adler
    ….13) Randolph Whitcomb Sly
    ….14) Richard W. Lipka
    ….15) Philip Charles Zampino
    ….16) Frederick G. Fick

    • How right you are. Patriarch Mendes does not seem to be on many sites. He definitely is well cataloged here as of the aging date of posting. I wonder what his current status and that of the Brazilian Church, if any, is with the Roman Catholic Church. Also, what does this mean? Probably not much. Any futher comment?

      • Prince of Peace Ministries says:

        The Late Patriarch Dom Luis Castillo-Mendez is passed on into Heaven, having succumbed to the Lung Cancer that he fought for over twenty years. Currently Dom Josivaldo Oliviero is the Presiding Bishop of the Council of Bishops of Igreja Catolica Apostolica Brasileira

  2. There is an article on the website:


    which states a history of the Apostolic Catholic Church of Brazil and gives some examples of Roman Catholic ruling on the validity of the episcopal orders.

  3. know of any RC writing on the subject?

  4. fr francis wardega says:

    Salomao Barbosa Ferraz

    Bishop Salomao Barbosa Ferraz was a former Roman Catholic Priest, was consecrated a bishop by Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa for the Igreja Catolica Apostolica Brasileira (ICAB) in 1945. In 1958, during the late pontificate of Pope Pius XII, he reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church.
    Bishop Ferraz was named by the Holy See to be Titular Bishop of Eleuterna on May 12, 1963. Although still married, Bishop Ferraz was later appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro by Pope John XXIII. Bishop Ferraz was later called by Pope Paul VI to serve on a working commission of the Second Vatican Council and addressed the Council Fathers in session.

    It is notable that Bishop Ferraz was never re-consecrated by the Roman Catholic Church, even conditionally (sub conditione), and later was buried with the full honors accorded Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Church by accepting Bishop Ferraz in this manner, without any re-consecration, affirm de jure and de facto the sacramental validity of the Duarte Costa Apostolic Succession lines of what is commonly known as the “Rebiba Apostolic Succession.”

    Bishop Orlando Arce-Moya

    Bishop Moya was the fourth bishop consecrated by Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa on November 30, 1956, with the title of Bishop of Santiago, Chile, for the Chilean Catholic National Church (Igreja Nacional Chilena). Bishop Moya left the Church Apostolic National many years later, and was received by the Patriarch of the West, Pope John XXIII of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Bishop Moya was never reconsecrated not even sub-conditione and he was accepted as having valid Episcopal orders. He was appointed by the Vatican as Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, Spain. Bishop Moya died some years later

  5. seems as no problem here. seems to just be, now, irregular, separated bretern. An adminstrative problem. Didn’t realize you were so conversant on this topic. It is logical, though.

  6. Patriarch Dom Luis Ferando Castillo Mendez episcopal orders are valid. there is later up to dat examples of bishops returning to churches in communio with Rome with this line. Lets not forget that Dom Carlos Duarte costa resigned to the holy See namely to Pope Pius XI in 1937, He was appointed as Titular Bishop of Maura. He even was allowed to continue to act as a Co Consecrator in episcopal consecrations in 1940 some 3 years after his resignation from Rome was accepted.
    Is the Brazilian Church Schismatic ! Was Dom Carlos Duarte Costa Excommunicated in 1945 if so by what authority and by whos authority, bearing in mind the Excommunication decree did not come in to force for automatic excommuncation until 1951! all of these answers are on http://www.icabuk.org.uk
    Bishops with the Duarte Costa line have returned to Rome or churches in communion with Rome since 2009.

    • I have not heard anyone from my circles deny the validity of Patriarch Dom Luis Ferando Castillo Mendez’s episcopal orders. I have heard some of my brethren question those orders, however. Interesting point about the 1945 excommunication decree and its authorship.

    • Mike Skelly says:

      “Most Rev” David Bell is, to put it mildly, clinically unhinged. I give no credence to anything he says. If he were to tell me that grass was green, I would call him a liar! Bell’s modus operandi is violating the eighth commandment of the decalogue. [I should know, I experienced him in action weeks after I buried my mother]. His “church outfit” is no more than an ordination factory. Much more could be said about him and many other episcopi vagantes but that would be futile. Also, not all vagantes are like Bell;many do, do worthwhile work. To understate the case, he and others like him, are malevolent, self-serving, dangerous, whited-sepulchres and unscrupulous opportunists. Thank you “Most Rev” David Bell [or whatever your real name is] for helping me to see the truth about you. I look forward to seeing you in hell. Life is very short – you will reach there sooner than you think! P.S. If you read this, you can now go to the police, yet again, and make more false allegations/statements about me. Your God, [you know, the One you claim you serve] Jesus Christ, said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Just think of it Mr Bell, you have traded in your soul for a fancy pointed hat and a crook!

  7. GRAHAM says:

    I see on the Wikipedia website on Mendez that there was some question on the validity of his ordination to the priesthood as he was only 21 years old and thus not canonically fit to be ordained. Does anyone have any information or views about this.Would this make his consecration as a Bishop invalid?

    • Canonically unfit by what jurisdiction in what place and at which time? There is a long history of younger consecrations and ordinations in the church depending on time and place. So far as I know, the Mendes ordination was legitimate.

  8. Mike Skelly says:

    Castillo-Mendez claimed he was ordained priest on 10 August 1944 at Solsona, Spain, by Msgr. Valentín Comellas-Santamaria. The Solsona Diocesan authorities deny this ordination took place. There is much misunderstanding and ignorance [the latter especially among vagantes] about sacramental theology concerning per saltum ordinations. One only need cite Saint Ambrose of Milan. There were many others who were consecrated to the episcopate per saltum although it certainly is not the custom now, for very obvious reasons.

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