Disenfranchised Catholics flocking to breakaway church

brian-delvaux.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

For the past 13 years, local Catholics estranged from the Roman Catholic Church for one reason or another, have flocked to the Good Shepherd Church, which offers all the sacraments and still performs the Mass, but is no longer under the direct authority of the Pope.
“This particular parish is made up of a group of Roman Catholic priests who have in this very generation stepped outside of the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church,” said Father Brian Delvaux, Good Shepherd’s pastor. “We have come together with a bishop to create a typical middle-of-the-road Catholic parish, but with a more flexible discipline.”
Delvaux noted that his church is part of a phenomenon known as Independent Catholicism, which began in the United States in 1870, but to the present is not a centralized, structured organization.
He explained that different priests in the movement have diverse ideas of what it means to be an Independent Catholic. Some churches in the movement are similar to evangelical protestant churches; others resemble Catholic Churches of the 1950s, performing the mass in Latin, while still others are so beyond the norm that their legitimacy is in question, according to Delvaux.
“Our particular type of Independent Catholicism at the Good Shepherd Church is aimed at serving people who still consider themselves to be Catholics, but feel they have been excluded from the Roman Catholic Church,” Delvaux said.
He explained that in 1994 he got the idea of forming a parish overseen by real Catholic priests who wanted to serve Catholics who had fallen through the cracks.
The largest group in that category, he explained, is made up of Catholics who have divorced and remarried without the benefit of church sanctioned annulment or dissolution of marriage. Such Catholics are not permitted to receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church and that, according to Delvaux, amounts to de facto excommunication.
Delvaux said that divorced and remarried Catholics are welcome at the Good Shepherd and he gladly administers communion as well as the other sacraments to them.
“We are just priests who are celebrating and ministering in a Catholic parish community just like any other Catholic parish community, only with some external differences,” he said. “For example, we do not consider divorce and remarriage the unforgivable sin.”
Like all good Catholics, the four priests of Good Shepherd Church embrace the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, which are formal statements of the tenets of true Christian belief.
“Our main difference with Roman Catholicism is that we do not believe that the Pope has the power to sit on the throne and declare dogma,” Delvaux said. “The church is infallible only in the areas of faith and morals; we can trust what the church teaches, but the Pope cannot have infallibility on his own.”
He explained that most people in the Independent Catholic movement believe that Papal decrees are only infallible when they are made with the consensus of a council of bishops.
Independent Catholics for the most part also reject the mandatory celibacy of priests. Delvaux himself is divorced and remarried.
Priests at Good Shepherd Church have other differences with Roman Catholic theology as well, and they are happy to discuss those with anyone.
The church has a regular hospital visitation ministry and a special ministry to those trying to overcome any kind of addiction.
Delvaux was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1974, He served in that capacity at St. John Fisher’s Church in Palos Verdes and St. Patrick’s Church in North Hollywood. He left the priesthood in 1979 to get married, and worked at secular jobs for the next nine years.
In 1988, he returned to the priesthood, but under the auspices of the Independent Catholic Church, and he served at St. Matthew Parish in Orange.
After starting his ministry at Good Shepherd, he was ordained as a bishop by Bishop Paul Raible, who traces his ordination to a Roman Catholic Bishop. “This is important because the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the consecration of anyone who is consecrated by a Roman Catholic Bishop,” Delvaux said. He explained that means that even though he is not under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church, that church recognizes him as a genuine bishop.
About 80 people normally attend Good Shepherd Church, which conducts masses 9:30 a.m. Sundays at The Grand, 4101 East Willow Street, Long Beach. Parish offices and a small chapel are located at 5230 Clark Avenue, Lakewood.
For more information, phone (562) 920-2212.

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