The Church consists of the Union of Utrecht, the Old Catholic Church in Germany, the Polish National Churches, and smaller movements. It is in full communion with the Anglican Communion, as per the Bonn Agreement of 1931 . The term 'Old Catholic' is used often by many splinter groups, ranging from 'Continuing' or 'Traditionalist' to 'New Age'. Many of these so-called Old Catholic Churches do not exist in reality, only on the internet.
The Old Catholic Church traces its origins through the See of Utrecht in Utrecht in the Netherlands, to the founding of that see c. A.D. 695. However, the see itself did not split from the Roman Catholic Church until the Pope tried to sack Archbishop Peter Codde of Utrecht in 1701, urged on by the Jesuits. The Archbishop resented the attempts by Jesuits to interfere with the affairs of his diocese, and they had multiple times accused him of being a Jansenist, a claim he denied. The Dutch refused to accept the replacement the Pope had appointed, and Codde continued in his office; however he resigned in 1703. A replacement Archbishop was not elected until 1723.
The Pope later, in 1853, established his own Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands, to rival the hierarchy established by the see of Utrecht. Thereafter in the Netherlands the Utrecht hierarchy was referred to as the "Old Catholic Church", to distinguish it from the "new" Catholic Church established by the Pope.
After the First Vatican Council in 1870, many Austrian, German and Swiss Catholics rejected the teaching on papal infalliability, and left to form their own churches. These churches were supported by the Archbishop of Utrecht, who ordained their priests and bishops; later the Dutch were united more formally with many of these Austrian, German and Swiss Catholics under the name "Utrecht Union of Churches".
In the spring of 1871 a convention in Munich attracted several hundred attendees, including Church of England and other Protestant observers. The most notable leader of the movement, though quickly alienated from it, was the important church historian and priest Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), who had already been excommunicated over the affair.
The convention decided to form a new church, to be called the "Old Catholic Church" to distinguish themselves from what they saw as novelty in the Catholic Church. At their second convention they elected the first Old Catholic bishop, who was ordained by a Jansenist bishop in the Netherlands. In 1874 they abandoned the requirement of priestly celibacy. The church received some support from the government of the new German Empire of Otto von Bismarck, whose policy was increasingly hostile towards the Catholic Church in the 1870s and 1880s, especially during the Kulturkampf period from 1871-1877.
The Old Catholic Church shares much doctrine and liturgy with the Roman Catholic Church, however it tends to have a more liberal stance on some issues, and a more traditionalist, pre-Vatican I view on other issues.
The »Catholic Diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany« (Katholisches Bistum der Alt-Katholiken in Deutschland) is an
Based on critical examination of the historical witnesses of early Christianity, the leaders of the Old Catholic movement developed an episcopal, synodal church structure, which incorporates the historic episcopal and priestly offices into democratic structures at all levels.