Friday, December 12, 2014

Think the Polish National Catholic Church is a conservative option? Think again

A unique mixture of conservative and liberal.

From Fr. Chadwick: The TAC and the Nordic Catholic Church. The Nordic Catholic Church (ex-Lutherans in Norway) is an offshoot of the Polish National Catholic Church. Read the comment thread; as usual, William Tighe and Dale Griffith enlighten.

The PNCC is an 1897 immigrant schism based in Scranton, Pa. At the time, due to bad treatment by the Irish bishops, there were several Polish schisms (Bishop Kaminski in Buffalo and Bishop Kozlowski in Chicago). So this schism was partly for the same reasons as other Slavic ones (Fr. Toth to the Russian Orthodox, at the same time as the Nats, and, 40 years later, Fr./Bishop Chornock to the Greek Orthodox) but also because agitator Fr. Franciszek Hodur (their founder and first Prime Bishop, consecrated by the Old Catholics) was a heretic (universalist) and a troublemaker kicked out of seminary in Poland. His bishop in America whom he turned on had given him another chance, ordaining him.

Having never been to a PNCC Mass, I had no idea how bad it is. I've long assumed: radical liberal founder and bishops kept in check by Polish cultural conservatism (the grand old-fashioned trappings their churches retain, from the intact old disused altars and the statues to the birettas, mozettas, and lace). Before Vatican II it was universalist Prime Bishops but Tridentine in Polish in the parishes. (A girl I used to know in upstate Pennsylvania told me her family went to the PNCC for a couple of years in the '30s by mistake, because it seemed the same!) My impression has been of a priest from Poland who switched to get married (they have third- and fourth-generation American priests too) serving a fourth-generation, aging, dwindling congregation, using a Novus Ordo clone. I've also noticed they're trying to make a play for Catholic liberals, in order to save themselves. Unrelated to liberalism, they've opened one or two new parishes in depressed Rust Belt towns in the wake of Catholic parish closings. Just good people who wanted to keep going to Mass locally as before.

While the ethnic congregationalism as a possible hedge against Vatican II has some appeal to me (one of their unique selling points is a parish owns its property — possible in Catholic doctrine but the church doesn't do it), the PNCC makes no sense. They venerate St. Josaphat, a martyr for the Pope, just because he's popular in Poland. Now they have two factions, the liberal Episcopal-oriented trying to recruit Catholic liberals, vs. the relative conservatives who, at least under Prime Bishop Swantek, were interested in talking to Rome.

If Bishop Hodur were alive today he'd be with the Modernist National Catholic Reporter types preaching his heresy and a kind of Polish liberation theology, not celebrating the Tridentine Mass for Polish-American Catholics.

They have one parish in Philadelphia, in the long Polish Lower Northeast: St. Valentine's, I think with a Polish-born pastor. The story: for some reason, 100 years ago the neighborhood built a church on their own and asked the Catholic archbishop to approve it but he turned them down. Sometimes the Catholic bishop in those situations said yes (Our Lady of the Angels Italian Catholic Church in West Philly, now closed), sometimes no (St. Anthony of Padua Episcopal Church, Hackensack, NJ). The big Polish Catholic parish of St. John Cantius is not too far away. Polish-Americans overwhelmingly remained Catholic; many have never heard of the Nats.

With the Old Catholics' liberal turn, the Nats broke with them about 10 years ago so now there are no more official Old Catholics in America. The Archbishop of Utrecht has designated the Episcopal Church as his American representatives. Thanks to Polish conservatism barely keeping them orthodox, the Nats broke with the Episcopalians in '77 and have formed the relatively conservative alternative (Continuing?) Old Catholic communion, the Union of Scranton. (Scranton has its own Vatican. Who knew?)

The Nats have no religious orders (no nuns) and as far as I know have never canonized anyone on their own.

A lot of their clergy are Freemasons; for some Polish-Americans, the Nats were their families' first step out of Polish Catholic culture towards the American (liberal) Protestant mainstream.

You might well have placed "education" and "educated" in quotation marks, since we are speaking of the occasional PNCC boy or girl who had "majored" as an undergraduate in theology at university, or a middle-aged PNCC layman or laywoman (and almost always a woman) who has got some sort of certificate for taking a few courses at a RC seminary or adult-education institute; the "theological training" its ordinands (when there are any ordinands; some years there are none, and when there are some they are mostly former RCs who left to marry) receive at its Savonarola Seminary is pretty "basic."
A friend has observed he thinks Continuing Anglican priests often have the equivalent training and workload of Catholic permanent deacons. Probably the same here.

Everything in church polity except the papacy and episcopate (which are part of the church's divine institution; part of our doctrine) is negotiable in ecumenical talks. Some Catholics have long had married priests (the Nats marry the ordained, like Protestants, against both Latin and Eastern rules/custom; likewise, they have married bishops — we had Salomão Barbosa Ferraz), and Catholic lay trusteeship of parishes has happened too (it was suppressed here but again, not doctrine).

Worshipping a culture, putting it above the church, even with a good thing such as an Eastern European Catholic culture, is a dead end. Ethnocentrism/nationalism can turn left just as easily as it can turn right. (The Nazis: opposing the old German aristocracy out of envy, they were leftist on everything except possibly race, except liberals were big believers in eugenics at the time.)


  1. "A lot of their clergy are Freemasons; for some Polish-Americans, the Nats were their families' first step out of Polish Catholic culture towards the American (liberal) Protestant mainstream."

    True - and to give three examples (1) I was told in 1999 by a PNCC friend that a son of their second Prime Bishop, Leon Grochowski, although nominally a member of the PNCC, was in practice a regular attender of a Methodist church, (2) a PNCC clergyman (later one of their bishops) told me in 1999 that the PNCC had served as a kind of "fast-track" for the more capable and ambitious of its members up into the Middle Class and out of the PNCC, and those which it had retained were to a considerable extent "the dregs" of the descendants of its original members, & (3) what really halted any progress towards reconciliation with Rome was the election to their episcopate in 2005 of two former Catholic priests from Poland who, when they entered the PNCC, in 1968 and 1981 respectively, gave out that they had left the RC priesthood in order to marry. What they didn't fess up to at the time (but which came out after their election) was that both had married divorcees, one of them clandestinely, behind closed doors, which rendered the marriage invalid (he had to go through another private marriage ceremony in the PNCC before his episcopal consecration); the other wasn't even married to his "wife" when he entered the PNCC (and was probably responsible for the break-up of her previous marriage), even though he had stated that he was married to her, but in actual fact was married to her in Poland five years later, in 1971. (This latter one was an active and enthusiastic Freemason.)

    Prime Bishop Swantek unaccountably (for he was thought to be, and was elected Prime Bishop in 1986 partly as, one favoring an "honorable reconciliation" with Rome) approved of the election and subsequent consecration and appointments as PNCC diocesan bishops of these two men (one of whom, in his "theological examination" prior to his election, admitted that while he was opposed to the "ordination" of women to the priesthood and episcopate - to favor it would have rendered him ineligible for election to the episcopate - he supported their ordination to the diaconate).

  2. Re: "the election to their episcopate in 2005" (above) - please change "2005" to 1999.

  3. A waggish PNCC friend of mine, with a Ph.D. in History, who, alas, died young a decade ago, used to refer to Scranton as "the Fourth Rome."

  4. The story: for some reason, 100 years ago the neighborhood built a church on their own and asked the Catholic archbishop to approve it but he turned them down.

    Not even that - they formed a "parish" before acquiring property and building a church and asked the archbishop (not clear whether it was Abp. Ryan or Abp. Prendergast) to recognize them and appoint them a Polish priest; he declined. Not surprising considering that St. John Cantius was already there, as well as St. Adalbert for those living below Wheatsheaf Lane (in addition to the territorial parishes in the area!).

    Anyway, yes, they have weird views (proclaiming Holy Scripture is a "sacrament"; confession is for children, not adults; universalism to name three). It would be a mistake to consider them conservative. I can't speak to the liturgy as I've only attended one PNCC Mass, a requiem, so it was pretty restrained.

    1. They argue that the universalism has never been their doctrine. That said, Prime Bishops Hodur and Grochowski believed in it.

  5. I don't know what's so shocking about a guitar swaying priest playing sappy tunes in church. It's pretty much the norm in most of South America, Croatia, Italy, Spain and Poland from what I hear and know. I don't like it but I accept the fact that this typical Catholic praxis today.


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