Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church

Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church

The Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAA - "Iglesia Católica Apostólica Argentina") sometimes known as the Argentine National Church, is a derivative movement of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira) founded by the excommunicated Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte Costa of Brazil in 1945. The Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church was founded, according to varying sources, in 1970 or 1971, in Buenos Aires by its first Archbishop–Primate Leonardo Morizio Dominguez (n.b. most of the surnames used here are ‘double surnames’ as often used in Spain and Latin America, i.e. the paternal or main surname followed by the maternal family name).


Leonardo Morizio Dominguez had been ordained a Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, apparently after converting from Judaism, and served as a Military Chaplain during the 1960s. He was consecrated Bishop by a Bishop of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, Luigi Mascolo. The Italian–born Monsignor Mascolo, also a former Roman Catholic priest, had apparently initially been given the task of infiltrating the Brazilian National Church with the intent to divide it and destroy it. Instead he affiliated himself to it and became Bishop of Rio de Janeiro (consecrated by Dom Artidio Jose Vargas, in turn consecrated by Duarte Costa). Mascolo’s elderly Italian mother ended her days in the belief that her son was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the city, rather than the representative of a schismatic or separatist movement. According to some reminiscences Mascolo, consecrated Bishop in 1964, bore a striking resemblance to his near–contemporary fellow Italian Pope John XXIII.

Once founded in Buenos Aires the Church set about claiming its status as the National Church of Argentina. The movement was registered with the Dirección Nacional de Cultos (National Register of Religions) in 1973, the same year in which a noted and extraordinary Roman Catholic priest, Pedro Ruiz Badanelli (1899–c.1984) joined its ranks and was consecrated Bishop by Morizio Dominguez.

Pedro Ruiz Badanelli

Pedro Ruiz Badanelli was a priest from the Santa Fe diocese of Argentina, to the rural north of Buenos Aires, and had made his name both as an academic canon lawyer, founder of university departments, and dissident catholic supporter and friend of Lieutenant General and President Juan Domingo Perón. The Lawyer–Academic–Priest Pedro Ruiz Badanelli is remembered as being a headstrong Andalusian, though his second surname is clearly of Italian origin. The author of several important books, Badanelli declared in his 1959/1960 work "Perón, The Church, and a Priest" ("Perón, La Iglesia y un Cura") that he rejected the idea of a National Argentine Church along the lines of "Henry the Eighth’s Church of England", and also ridiculed the rumour that he had already been consecrated Bishop clandestinely by Bishop Duarte Costa on a visit to Buenos Aires in 1960. Nonetheless Ruiz Badanelli later adhered to the National Church (though his dissidence and militant support of Perón had never actually earned him excommunication) and was consecrated by Leonardo Morizio Dominguez in 1973. Ruiz Badanelli objected strongly and in person to the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s demands that the National Church’s clergy should wear the pearl grey cassocks of their Brazilian National Church cousins in order to differentiate themselves from their Roman counterparts, reportedly marching into the Roman Archdiocesan Vicar General’s office uninvited, and pinning him to the wall by ramming his desk into him.

The ICAA and the Military Junta in Argentina

Given the political situation in Argentina in 1974–1976, and the return from exile of "The Old Man", Juan Perón, the National Church could be assumed to have come into its own, although Perón himself, by Badanelli’s own testimony, had no interest in supporting an alternative Catholic Church to Rome. The ICAA did, however, become linked somehow to the repressive terrorist group The Triple ‘A’ (AAA – Anti Anarchist Alliance) and its supposed commandant the high–ranking politician Lopez Rega. The widely considered complicity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy with the Military Junta (1976–1983), as opposed to the organized resistance at Catholic ‘grass roots’ level, invites questions as to why the oppressors should have seen any benefit in espousing the actions of this schismatic church, although a schismatic Bishop was persuaded to celebrate a Nationalist Christmas Eve Mass at the site of Perón’s proposed "Altar of the Fatherland" (Altar de la Patria) in 1974.

The Argentine National Church since 1983

The end of the dictatorship in 1983 saw the removal from the National Register of Religions (Dirección Nacional de Cultos) of the ICAA. By this time the former Roman Catholic priest José Eugenio Tenca Rusconi (c.1930–2003), of Yugoslav/Italian parentage, had been consecrated Bishop by Monsignor Morizio Dominguez. Tenca Rusconi would then consecrate – directly or indirectly – all of the current Bishops of the church. In 1992 he ordained a former Roman Catholic seminarian who had studied in Barcelona, Dante Luis Bergonzi Moreno (1965–) to the priesthood, and then to the Episcopate only three years later, on the eighth of December 1995. The multilingual Bergonzi Moreno (of Italian/Piemontese parentage) is the current Bishop–Primate of the Church, who operates from a Sanctuary dedicated to Saint Expeditus in the locality of Alejandro Korn in Buenos Aires Province, in the ruins of a sofa factory. Tenca Rusconi also consecrated Bishops Ramón Frías (apparently now inactive as a Bishop), Eduardo Lencina (a church organist), Gustavo Gabucci (ordained priest for the Brazilian Congregation of Saint Andrew, now a high school teacher in Buenos Aires), and a Monsignor Arnedo. Bergonzi Moreno, in turn, has consecrated Bishops Carlos Walter Vich Pizarro as Bishop of Córdoba, and Carlos Adrian Guedes Dominguez as Bishop of The Exaltation of The Cross (a diocese centred around the northern Buenos Aires locality of Ingeniero Maschwitz).

Controversy and Persecution

Recent years have seen the Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church dogged by controversy. A TV report exposed ‘sham’ marriages by priests pretending to be Roman Catholics, phoney miracles and fake exorcisms perpetrated by members of the ICAA. Other branches of the Church have achieved extraordinary feats in the field of working with immigrants and marginalised groups. A certain ‘Padre Pedro’ Andrade Arregui, born in Uruguay (1937–c.2003), achieved almost nationwide fame through a bizarre mixture of highly commendable charitable works coupled with shameless acts of trickery and profiteering (Andrade Arregui had been ordained and consecrated by Ruiz Badanelli). The Roman Catholic authorities and other Catholic groups, however, warn consistently of the dangers of associating with the ICAA.

The ICAA today

Primate Bishop Monsignor José Tenca Rusconi seems to have dissolved the Argentine Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAA) in 2001 in favour of each of his Bishops – Bergonzi Moreno, Frías, Arnedo, Gabucci, Lencina – founding separate ‘congregations’ rather than continuing the proposal of an alternative Catholic denomination. Monsignor Bergonzi Moreno, since the death of Tenca Rusconi, has revived the ICAA, but also heads the Priestly Fraternity of Christ the Worker (Fraternidad Sacerdotal de Cristo Obrero), Monsignor Adrian Guedes heads the Sacerdotes Obreros (Worker Priests), Holy Spirit Missionaries (Misioneros del Espíritu Santo) as well as the diocese mentioned above, and Monsignor Gustavo Gabucci leads the Institute of Mary Mystic Rose, Charismatic Missionary Priests (Instituto María Rosa Mystica, Sacerdotes Carismáticos Misioneros). Bishops Guedes and Gabucci attended the international council of the Worldwide Communion of Catholic Apostolic National Churches (associated with the ICAB - Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, or Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira) headed by Monsignor Luis Fernando Castillo Mendez (1922–) in 2005. These congregations generally aim to preach a traditional catholic message to disaffected portions of the overwhelmingly – at least nominally – Roman Catholic population of Argentina.

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