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There are some 1 million ‘independent Catholics’ in the U.S. — who are they?

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Author Julie Byrne recently published a book which delves into the culture and lives of Catholics who are not formally connected to the pope in Rome.

There are some 1 million Catholics in the United States who observe Catholicism in a way that is not formally connected to the pope in Rome. They practice in around 200 denominations, such as Ecumenical, Antiochian or Evangelical Catholics.

While these Catholic churches do not answer to the pope in Rome, they do practice apostolic succession, seven sacraments and devotion to saints.

Author Julie Byrne, an associate professor of religion and the chair of Catholic studies at Hofstra University in New York, has devoted her recent research to studying such populations of Catholics. She has released a book titled “The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion,” which focuses on the ability of independent Catholic churches to change much faster than the Roman Catholic Church.

“In the United States, the movement really took off after Vatican II, which saw a move toward liberalization in the Roman Catholic Church, which some saw as not going far enough,” Byrne said. “Independent Catholics are really taking what was hoped for in moving progressive directions and seeing it through.”

How progressive is progressive? Some independent Catholics accept female priests and bishops. They also open all sacraments. That means, in some denominations, sacraments are opened to the divorced, there is same-sex marriage and priests can marry.

Not all independent Catholics are so progressive — and those that are more right-leaning, Byrne said, have been extensively courted by the Roman Catholic Church to return to the fold, especially during Pope Francis’ time.

Overall, Pope Francis is viewed in a positive light by independent Catholics because of his more progressive decisions. That doesn’t mean independent Catholics on the whole are rushing to rejoin the Roman Catholic Church.

“I really think the independent Catholic phenomenon shows the limits maybe not of Francis personally but the limits of the Roman Catholic Church, which, as an institution, moves glacially,” Byrne said. “Whatever Pope Francis might want to do, he definitely is dealing with an institution in which he’s dealing with opposition forces.”

The United States isn’t the only country with a number of independent Catholics—there are significant populations in Poland, France, west Africa and the Phillipines, among others.

Listen to further discussion about independent Catholicism, St. Louis’ independent Catholics (including St. Stanislaus Kostka) and more here:St. Louis on the Air, author Julie Byrne will join host Don Marsh to discuss her book “The Other Catholics,” which delves into the culture and lives of Catholics who are not formally connected to the pope in Rome.

Byrne is an associate professor of religion and the chair of Catholic studies at Hofstra University in New York. Byrne will be in St. Louis on Sunday and Monday for a book signing at St. Stanislaus.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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