Celebrating One Hundred Years, 1915-2015
Archbishop Robert Mary Clement
The Most Reverend Robert Mary Clement, Archbishop of North America of the original American Catholic Church (1915) and the original Eucharistic Catholic Church; founder of The Church of the Beloved Disciple, in Manhattan (1968-1986); the first openly gay bishop in the United States; the first major urban Apostolic and Sacramental work for the LGBT community in NY; and, the co-creator of term “Holy Union” and the first “Holy Union” was celebrated at the Church of the Beloved Disciple in July 1970 by the Rev. Robert Mary Clement. Robert Clement was born on March 12, 1925 in Lee Park, Pennsylvania, of Roman Catholic and Episcopalian parents. In college, he became aware of the Old Catholic movement, and felt comfortable with it as a way to study and prepare for the priesthood.
Archbishop William Henry Francis Brothers ordained him as a priest in the Old Catholic Church of America on August 8, 1948. As a result of intercommunion, two years later he was transferred to The Old Roman Catholic Church under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Richard Arthur Marchenna (1911-1982). For internal reasons he was conditionally re-ordained on November 1, 1950. Clement was a Bishop-Elect under Marchenna in 1958. He was at that time the Vicar General and was elected to be Co-Adjutor to Archbishop Marchenna.
Recognizing a different call within the priesthood, he was accepted into The Polish National Catholic Church; again, in order to regularize the standing of his priesthood, he was conditionally ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Thaddeus F. Zielinski on June 22, 1959 in Perth Amboy, NJ. In August 1959 Fr Clement met his life-companion John Darcy Noble while in London; a relationship, which lasted 44 years until Bishop Noble’s death on September 21, 2003.
Fr Clement served as a parish priest in New Jersey and New York City for the Polish National Catholic Church for approximately ten years, until he left the PNCC in 1968 since the PNCC had no interest at that time in a primarily English-speaking parish in NYC.
Consequently, Fr Clement founded an independent work called the American Orthodox Church of the United States (Western Orthodox), based upon an apostolic and sacramental system for which he became the Curial Administrator. This was in response to Fr Clement’s strong desire to do an open and public outreach to the LGBT community. So in 1968, Fr Clement and friends founded the initial work of The Church of the Beloved Disciple, which primarily served the New York LGBT community.
However, after the Stonewall uprising, Fr Clement heeded its clarion call to action, and in NYC’s first Gay Parade, Fr Clement marched as the only openly-gay priest and in collar carrying the banner “Gay People This Is Your Church,” while his life-companion John Darcy Noble passed–out fliers inviting people to attend “The Church of the Beloved Disciple.” Over 800 people attended the following Mass at the church at 9th and 28th Street. In essence, Clement had inherited the work of the 1946 Eucharistic Catholic Church. So much so that, in 1972 Bishop Hyde legally transferred to Clement the official incorporation papers of the original American Catholic Church (founded by Archbishop Vilatte in1915) so that Beloved Disciple now functioned under it as the incorporated American Catholic Church. Two years later, Bishop Hyde also authorized Bishop Clement to continue the mission of the Eucharistic Catholic Church at Beloved Disciple. The year 1974 was a highmark in Clement’s work and life, as Archbishop Richard A. Marchenna consecrated Robert M. Clement as a Bishop on October 6, 1974, assisted by Bishop Martin Luther Williams, which was televised over New York City, and received national attention as the first openly gay bishop’s consecration. Clement and Noble also coined the term “Holy Union” and Clement was the first to publicly perform Holy Unions in July 1970. Bishop Clement was a lightning-rod for the News Media whenever they wanted a quote concerning the naturalness of gay and lesbian people.
In 1986, Bishops Clement and Noble wanted to retire from the fray of NYC, so Fr Philip Vasianto became the rector of Beloved Disciple in NYC until his death. When Fr Philip died of AIDS, Bishops Clement & Noble were living in southern California and too far away to return to over-see The Church of the Beloved Disciple.
In California, Bishop Clement made ecumenical relations with other independent Catholic jurisdictions and work, while his personal time was occupied by caring for a gay Godson Tim who had AIDS, and in caring for Bishop John who had diabetes. Following said inter-communion, on October 24, 1993 Archbishop Marcario Ga, Obispo Maximo of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church recognized Archbishop Clement’s ecclesial standing and sub-conditione consecrated Robert M Clement as the regional Bishop of San Diego. Archbishop Ga was assisted by Bishop Robert Halliwell II and Bishop David Riggs at St.Andrew Church in Los Alamitos. After Ga’s death, the PICC took a different direction and other fractions assumed all functions.
During the San Diego years, Clement underwent deep introspection and Bishop Robert began to reassess his understanding of his calling and service, and the meaning of Jesus’ words. His readings expanded to the Jesus Seminars, the Historical Jesus, and he became aware of the historical Celtic Church and found within it similarities to the philosophies of Buddhism and Sufism. He had an epiphany in realizing that since he had been a leader in LGBT human rights and since many churches now embraced his lead; it was now time to present a new vision of spirituality and the church. Clement saw in the Celtic church that it was free of the Augustinian concepts of sin, guilt and punishment, and how the Celtic church expressed in greater depth many of the spiritual concepts of The Church of the Beloved Disciple.
After Bishop John’s death (2003), Archbishop Clement carried the work of the American Catholic Church to Los Angeles. He has been active in inter-communion with numerous independent Catholic parishes; active as a member of the Interfaith LGBT Clergy Association; and, established the Archbishop John Darcy Noble Center- a center for spiritual studies where individual spiritual growth is a goal. Clement’s interest in the Celtic Church is paramount, as are studies of the Aramaic Jesus, the Historical Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi, and Buddhist and Sufi writings.
Rev Dr Tim Langdell, MDiv PhD BCC, has continued the work of Bp Clement, naming the main ACC church (and procathedral) at the Hollywood, CA location "Church of the Beloved Disciple" after +Clement's 1968-86 original watershed church. Fr Tim is lead priest of the Church of the Beloved Disciple and celebrates services there in Hollywood each week. Like +Clement, Fr Tim has had a life-long passion for the historical Jesus and his 1st Century teachings of The Way, and for Buddhist and Sufi writings. Fr Tim is also ordained as Zen Buddhist.
The Most Rev Robert Mary Clement