Foundation and originating religious status
The founding Charter of the Western Orthodox Academy, issued on 1 August 1945, defined its authority as issuing directly from the powers inherent in the Chancellor as Catholicos of the Catholicate of the West as a fully autocephalous Orthodox and Catholic communion. These powers originate firstly in the commission to Mar Julius of Iona (Jules Raimond Ferrette) (1828-1904) on 2 June 1866 (Old Style) as Bishop of Iona and its dependencies by the Syrian Orthodox Church, and in the subsequent erection by Mar Julius of a British Patriarchate on 6 March 1874, united with the Catholicate of the West since 29 January 1945. Secondly, they originate in the acts of the Council of London of 17 October 1943, which established the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church as the continuation of the Western extensions of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Western Orthodox Catholic Church, having been formed by a Deed of Declaration on 23 March 1944, was then erected by the Patriarch of Antioch of the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church into the Catholicate of the West. The Charter of the Western Orthodox Academy was issued by the Catholicos of the West on 1 August 1945. Subsequently, the Western Orthodox Academy was renamed the Western Orthodox University.
It may therefore be seen that the Western Orthodox University did not owe its foundation to any civil power or secular government, but was established purely on ecclesiastical authority. However, legal and regulatory developments since 1945 have meant that while the religious authority of its foundation has not at any point been rejected, the Western Orthodox University has been compelled to seek and obtain additional secular authority to grant degrees.
Past secular authorities of the Western Orthodox University
The University has obtained the status of an incorporated body, thus gaining secular authority for its grant of degrees and related academic activities, on four occasions during its history. The first such incorporation was on 20 February 1950 in India, under Act XXI of 1860 (registration no. 5/1950), and the second on 6 August 1977 in California, USA (corporation 213240). Both corporations are now inactive. Between 2015 and 2019, the University was incorporated with degree-granting authority in the Commonwealth of Dominica.
During the period from its foundation until January 1, 2020, the University granted the majority of its degrees in religious subjects, but also made provision for the award of degrees in some secular subjects. From January 1, 2020, the basis for the University’s operation has been the Corporation Sole established in respect of the Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church (as Chancellor and Supreme Head of the University) in Hawaii, USA, and the University has awarded degrees in religious subjects solely.
Current authority to grant degrees
The University’s degrees are granted by authority of The Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, A Corporation Sole, established as a nonprofit religious corporation in the State of Hawaii, United States of America, with file number 314114 D9. The Apostolic Episcopal Church (founded 1925 and recognized by the Statutes of the State of New York since 1932) has mandatory tax exemption as a church under 26 US Code 508(c)(1)(A). The Western Orthodox University is defined as an integrated auxiliary of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, being its seminary. It is a 501(c)(3) organization and a public charity under IRS Code section 509(a)(1).
All degrees and certificates granted by the University are religious in nature, being awarded in the areas of Divinity, Theology, and Ministry. The degrees awarded by the University are intended primarily for students who are pursuing a religious vocation in the Apostolic Episcopal Church, and admission is open only to members of that church. The programs of the University are not open to the general public.
The legal basis for the grant of degrees is contained in HI Rev Stat §305-3, section 7, which provides for a religious exemption from authorization by the Hawaii Post-Secondary Authorization Program in respect of “Schools and educational programs conducted by religious entities that are owned, controlled, operated, and maintained by a religious organization lawfully operating as a nonprofit religious corporation and that award only religious degrees or certificates.” This is further clarified by Hawaii Administrative Rules Title 16 Chapter 255, and specifically §16-255-3 which requires that a religiously exempt institution shall limit its educational programs to the principles of the church or denomination with which it is affiliated and grant degrees or diplomas only in areas of study that contain on their face, in the written description of the title of the degree or diploma being conferred, a reference to the theological or religious aspect of the degree’s subject area.
Additionally, the University is exempted from the provisions of HI Rev Stat §446E firstly as an institution that does not charge fees for its services (446E-1, section #3) and secondly under section 1.6 subsection 9, “Schools and educational programs conducted by religious organizations solely for the religious instruction of their members”.
The University is not accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the United States Secretary of Education. In the United States, many licensing authorities require accredited degrees as the basis for eligibility for licensing. In some cases, accredited colleges may not accept for transfer courses and degrees completed at unaccredited colleges, and some employers may require an accredited degree as a basis for eligibility for employment.
The University is ineligible for accreditation by a recognized agency in the United States firstly because its programs are not open to the general public, secondly because it does not charge fees, thirdly because its programs are individually designed rather than following a standardized curriculum, and fourthly because its student body is too small to meet the minimum criteria for enrolled student numbers set by recognized accreditation agencies.
The University has a full relationship of reciprocal partnership, recognition and accreditation with the historic Pontificia Accademia Tiberina in Rome, Italy, founded in 1813 and recognized by the Sacred Congregation of Studies under Pope Leo XII in 1825. The University is also accredited by the Anglican Association of Colleges and Schools, the umbrella body for the educational institutions of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, and holds a number of other recognitions and validation agreements, including dual degree agreements with several government-recognized universities in Central America. The dual degree agreements allow graduates of the Western Orthodox University to obtain, without requirement of further academic work, a reciprocal degree from a government-recognized university on payment of a validation fee.
Status of the Apostolic Episcopal Church
The Apostolic Episcopal Church, with which the Western Orthodox University and the Catholicate of the West have been united since 1977, was given official standing by the State of New York, USA, under the Religious Corporations Law, article 3-A, section 50, in 1932-33. The law provides inter alia that “any…biblical seminary for the preparation of candidates for the ministry, leading to ordination and the granting of credentials of ecclesiastical degrees of orders in sacred theology,” shall be formally “deemed a congregation to all intents and purposes…of the Apostolic Episcopal Church”.