Monday, March 09, 2015

Talking with a Polish National Catholic priest

Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Institution of the Polish National Catholic Church, an American denomination spun off from Catholicism by some Polish immigrants a little over 100 years ago, today basically a small Novus Ordo clone with married clergy (including married bishops) and parish ownership of church property.

Going over many of my talking points, I asked Fr. Jim Konicki of New York state: As I like to say, everything in church polity except the papacy and the episcopate is negotiable. Married priests and parish property ownership are on the table, as far as I'm concerned. So if we really solved the problems that caused the PNCC, would you, individually and collectively, consider coming back? (I say the same thing to Slavic-American Orthodox, whose story parallels the Nats'. It wasn't about our teachings.) After all, there's been a Polish Pope. I understand the PNCC's conservative wing, such as former Prime Bishop Swantek, recently was interested in such a "reunion with honor."
John, thank you for your comment. As a general rule I think you are correct; much of the differences between Catholic Churches are issues of polity. The theological issues can be studied and differences of understanding on the Filioque and aspects of the life and death of the Blessed Virgin might not present real impediments. As you had often commented in the past, the key issue is over the role and scope of the Bishop of Rome. Is he the absolute head and sole final decision maker or is he the bishop of a local diocese with an honorific position in a Church Council? How he is seen by most Roman Catholics covers a range of possibilities, but we have to look beyond individual opinion to the Church's understanding of his role. That issue is the true show stopper in the way of unification. Yet we hope and trust. Who ever thought the Cold War would be overcome? Certainly not most of us who grew up in that environment. Yet it did happen. So nothing is impossible with prayer and hope. As an aside, having a Polish-born Bishop of Rome was nice, I met him, humble and prayerful man — but that did not change the bigger issue. It did help to open the door to dialog between the R.C. and P.N.C. Churches.
Right; besides divorce & remarriage and now contraception, the only real difference between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is the scope of the Pope. A few things put me on the Catholic side. There is a checklist of essential beliefs I hold: God, Christ, the Trinity, the hypostatic union, Mary the Mother of God, bishops, the Mass, and the option of using images in worship. As far as I can tell, the Pope has only been a good defender of them. So I have no problem with him as a final decision-maker because he can't change those teachings. He's not the General Convention of the Episcopal Church or the President/Prophet of Mormonism: he can't declare ex cathedra that the Holy Spirit isn't God after all, that women can be priests, or that two men can marry each other. To say he can, and remain Pope, with all Catholics required to accept the change, is to misunderstand Catholicism. If he did, he'd put himself outside the church and not be Pope anymore. His office is the church's, a subset of church infallibility. The other reasons I'm Catholic are divorce & remarriage doesn't make sense for Christians, the church has kept the faith on contraception, and we include the East (even though we haven't always treated Eastern Catholics well, causing a schism in America much like the Nats) but they don't really include us. Again, I see Catholicism defending those beliefs I named; the Orthodox have too, but they say only they have truly kept them. And on that they're wrong. Again, the fights that caused the PNCC and Slavic-American Orthodoxy were nothing to do with our teachings.

Henry VIII's churchmen and other Protestants made the excuse that the Pope claimed too much power. Now they claim power the Popes never dared, so I'm not buying.

The Pope can't change the creeds (I'll get to the filioque), natural law, or the matter of the sacraments.

The filioque obviously didn't change what came before; we don't worship a Quaternity, for example. The case against it sounds like an empire defending its turf (what Orthodoxy really is) rather than the church.

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