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The Scrivener: Proper Bishops And Another Messiah

Some so-called bishops find themselves in the most unholy of situations, as Brian Barratt reveals in this astonishing article.

This is the second in a series of three articles. To read the first in the series please click on The Scrivener in the menu on this page.

Do please visit his entertaining Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Bishops abound, all round the world. OK, but it isn't easy to become a proper bishop. You're supposed to be in a direct line of succession from the apostles appointed by Jesus. Several branches of the Christian church claim to have this line of apostolic succession. Unfortunately, they can't always agree on the little matter of who, exactly, is a proper bishop.

The Roman Catholic church, for example, recognises bishops of the Eastern Orthodox churches but not those in the Swedish Lutheran church or the Church of England. However, it accepts the claim of the Old Catholic church to have apostolic succession.

The Old Catholic church was set up in The Netherlands following disagreements with HQ in Rome, after the First Vatican Council in 186970. It continues to thrive in half a dozen European countries. There is also a plethora of small churches which stem from the work of episcopi vagantes, independent bishops who claim a somewhat dubious apostolic succession via the Old Catholic church.

Arnold Harris Mathew, formerly a Roman Catholic priest, managed to get himself consecrated as a bishop in the Old Catholic church of Utrecht in 1908. The church subsequently withdrew his consecration, but that didn't prevent him from steaming ahead.

Having failed to set up his own branch of the Old Catholic church in Britain, Mathew adopted many illustrious titles. Along the way, he called himself Bishop in The Western Orthodox Catholic Church in Great Britain and Ireland; Archbishop of London; Archbishop and Metropolitan of the English Catholic Church; to name but a few.

In 1915, he consecrated a former Anglican priest, Frederick Samuel Willoughby. Mr Willoughby was thrown out when it was discovered that he had left the Church of England after charges of sexual crimes.

Bishop or not, Willoughby went on to create more bishops, one of whom consecrated Bishop James Ingall Wedgwood who in turn consecrated Bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater, the most flamboyant of all the episcopi vagantes. Both were also deeply involved in the early years of the Theosophical Society, International Co-Freemasonry, and the new Liberal Catholic church.

Anne Besant, herself involved in a great number of Theosophical and political activities, eventually ordered Wedgwood to resign. He had, it seems, compromised himself in sexual depravities (with persons of both genders). According to a biographer of Krishnamurti, Wedgwood later moved to Paris, became a drug addict, supplied his boyfriends with drugs, and smuggled drugs inside his bishop's crozier. Other sources tell us that he became mentally deranged as a result of contracting syphilis during homosexual encounters, and died, quite mad, in 1951.

Krishnamurti, by the way, was the young man recognised and appointed by Bishop Leadbeater and Anne Besant as the Lord Maitreya, the new Messiah. For his visit to Australia, a beautiful white amphitheatre with 2,500 seats was built, overlooking Sydney Harbour. Some of his followers believed they would see him walk across the waters of the harbour.

Bishop Leadbeater's relationship with the new Messiah-in-training had been highly suspect, as were his dealings with other boys in his care. The term 'onanism' appears in the reports. He went out of circulation for a while but returned to play a significant role in the Theosophical Society and the Liberal Catholic church.

Dawn, a Theosophical magazine 'Devoted to the Promotion of Universal Brotherhood' in Vol. 2 - No. 9 March 1, 1923, suggested that Mrs Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society, 'showed her weakness over the Wedgwood scandal; today she is putting the glass to the blind eye over the Leadbeater scandal'.

The eye was still closed 35 years later when I was researching several fascinating little churches based in London. 'St Andrews Collegiate Church' sent gibberish in response to my letter. I received a helpful response from an elderly gentleman concerning the liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic church. But a Liberal Catholic bishop, Sir Hugh Sykes, Baronet, had 'no knowledge' of the Leadbeater scandals.

Between them, many episcopi vagantes in various lines of descent established two or three hundred 'churches', many of which had more bishops than members, if they had any members at all. The Liberal Catholic church, in its several schismatic branches, is still alive and well. It has a beautiful liturgy and I'm sure its current members are good folk. What a pity that its founding bishops were improper.

But what of the Catholic Apostolic church, mentioned above, and its fore-runner the Rev. Edward Irving? That's an entirely different kind of story, without an apostolic succession, which we can consider another day.

Encyclopedia Britannica 2007.
Anson, P., Bishops at Large, Faber and Faber, London, 1964.
Brandreth, H.R.T., Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church, S.P.C.K., London 1961.
Luytens, M., Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening, John Murray, London 1975.
Tillett, G., The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1982.
Vernon, R., Star of the East: Krishnamurti, the Invention of a Messiah, Constable, London 2000, per

This version Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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