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Polish National Catholic-Roman Catholic Dialogue Discusses Steps toward Communion, Local Misunderstandings

 
April 18, 2011

WASHINGTON—A meeting of the Polish National Catholic-Roman Catholic dialogue took place at St. Paul’s College in Washington on April 5 and 6. Bishop Edward U. Kmiec of Buffalo and Bishop John E. Mack of the Central Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) in Scranton, Pennsylvania co-chaired the meeting. Originally planned for November 2010, this was the first meeting since September 2009.

The members heard a report on the PNCC General Synod, and also examined a document that was adopted by the Synod, “Requirements for Communion with the Polish National Catholic Church.” This document was drafted for the benefit of groups in Scandinavia and elsewhere who have recently petitioned for full communion with the PNCC.

In addition, two documents pertaining to the relationship between the two churches were discussed. Msgr. Thomas Green of the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America in Washington presented the November 2009 Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and the accompanying norms especially in view of the level of autonomy the new Anglican ordinariates will enjoy. Bishop John Swantek then commented on the May 2009 report of the International Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue Commission, entitled “The Church and Ecclesial Communion” and the extent to which it applies to the relationship between the Polish National Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The members also discussed several cases of local misunderstandings, most of which had to do with a perception by Roman Catholic authorities that PNCC clergy, in an effort to make converts, had taken advantage of situations where Roman Catholic parishes had been closed. For their part, the PNCC members stated that their clergy had responded to people in those

congregations who, in their judgment, had decided in good conscience to join the PNCC. These differing perspectives on local problems will be discussed in more detail at future meetings of the dialogue.

The meeting also included a progress report from the Roman Catholic members on a proposal to ask the Holy See if the PNCC could be considered to be in the same position as the Orthodox on two matters. First, PNCC faithful would be allowed to act as godparents at Roman Catholic baptisms in addition to a Roman Catholic. Second, mixed marriages performed in the PNCC without a dispensation from canonical form, even if not lawful, would be considered valid by the Roman Catholic Church. This proposal is still under consideration by USCCB committees.

The dialogue has also been examining the difficulties that arise when a clergyman leaves one of the churches and joins the other. The members are acutely aware of the sensitivity of this question. Neither church can sanction in any way the abandonment of the ministry or the ordination commitment by any of its clergy. Such a decision entails serious canonical consequences such as excommunication and dismissal (Roman Catholic) or suspension and deposition (Polish National Catholic). In view of possible misunderstandings, the members determined that it would not be appropriate to offer recommendations on the handling of these cases at the present time. In the course of their discussion, however, the members sought to identify ways in which these situations could be handled that would minimize the amount of scandal they cause.

In particular, the members considered the official agreement reached in 1999, between the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Old Catholic Diocese of Germany. They believe that this agreement offers wise counsel on this question to the leadership of their churches. (The agreement is available in the German original with an unofficial English translation online: http://old.usccb.org/seia/German-Agreement.pdf) More specifically, the agreement calls for consultation between the bishops of both churches, which would be particularly useful in determining the individual clergyman’s moral and psychological suitability for public ministry. It also provides that the clergyman, after the transition takes place, will not be assigned in the same region where he served in his previous church. The members are convinced that such cooperation will do much to reduce the problems caused by these transfers.

Since the last meeting, there were changes in the PNCC membership. In October 2010, the PNCC General Synod elected Most Rev. Anthony Mikovsky, the PNCC co-chairman of the dialogue, to the office of Prime Bishop. He in turn named Most Rev. John Mack, the bishop of the Central Diocese, as the new PNCC co-chairman. In view of these changes and the retirement of the Very Rev. Marcell W. Pytlarz, the Prime Bishop named Prime Bishop Emeritus John Swantek and the Rev. Bernard Nowicki, pastor of the Heart of Jesus parish in Bayonne, New Jersey, as new PNCC members of the dialogue.

Bishop Kmiec also informed the members that, in view of his impending retirement, he would be concluding his service as Roman Catholic co-chairman of the dialogue. He announced that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, had named Most. Rev. Mitchell Rozanski, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and a member of the dialogue since 2008, as the new co-chairman.

The next meeting of the dialogue was set to take place in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on April 18 and 19, 2012.

The Polish National Catholic-Roman Catholic dialogue was established in 1984. Current PNCC members include Bishop Mack (Co-Chairman); Prime Bishop Emeritus John Swantek; Very Rev. John Z. Kraus of West Allis, Wisconsin; Very Rev. Paul Sobiechowski of Davie, Florida; Father Bernard Nowicki; and Father Robert M. Nemkovich Jr. of Fall River, Massachusetts. Prime Bishop Anthony Mikovsky also attended the meeting. Roman Catholic members include Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski (Co-Chairman); Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami; Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Matthew Ustrzycki of Hamilton, Ontario; Msgr. John Strynkowski, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in Brooklyn, New York; Msgr. Thomas J. Green; Father Phillip Altavilla, ecumenical officer of the Diocese of Scranton; and Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson (staff).

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Keywords: Polish National Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Polish National Catholic-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Bishop Edward Kmiec, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, PNCC, Bishop John E. Mack, clergy, godparents, marriage

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