The Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) is a Christian church founded and based in the United States by Polish-Americans who were Roman Catholic. The PNCC is a Breakaway Catholic Church in dialogue with the Catholic Church and has sought full communion with the Holy See although it differs theologically in several important respects. The Polish National Catholic Church welcomes people of all ethnic, racial and social backgrounds. A sister church in Poland, likewise not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, is the Polish Catholic Church.
In 2009 the Church had some 25,000 members in the United States (although a recent census of the PNCC shows less than 10,000). There are five dioceses: Buffalo-Pittsburgh, Central, Eastern, Western and Canada.
Worship: The Mass of the Polish National Catholic Church is a very old and beautiful liturgy. There are three liturgies used 1. Contemporary Rite 2. Traditional Rite, 3. the Rite of Prime Bishop Hodur. The Contemporary is the shortest of the mass types and most used in PNCC parishes it is almost similar to the current Roman mass except some parts are from the other two masses. The Traditional is a little longer but is still widely used it is the older mass used at the time when the PNCC formed. The Prime Bishop Hodur mass is a lot longer but filled with nice prayers and litanies as well as parts of the Traditional mass are found in this rite.
Holy Communion: Polish National Catholics believe that Christ truly becomes his body and blood at the consecration. As in the Maronite church communion is given on the tongue of the communicant and the body is dipped into the blood of christ. Altar rails are common in PNCC parishes and are used for the distribution of communion etc.
Confession: The PNCC regards a humble confession of faults to Almighty God, followed by the assignment of penance and absolution given by the priest, to be the way the congregation normally obtains forgiveness of sins. The sacrament may be administered in one of two ways: public or private. Private confession is required for all members under the age of sixteen while public confession is a part of every Mass. In this form, the faithful confess their sins directly and privately to God. The entire congregation then recites the Prayer of Confession. Adults may avail themselves of private confession if they so wish. The PNCC does not believe that original sin has passed on to succeeding generations.
Birth control: The PNCC teaches that the utilization of birth control is a matter of personal judgment for husband and wife, rather than the responsibility of church authorities to instruct its members regarding issues of procreation.
Abortion: The PNCC holds that human life begins at conception and thus abortion is believed to be the ending of a life that has already begun. The church does not sanction abortion.
Marriage and divorce: The Church believes that "Marriage is the sacrament which makes a Christian man and woman husband and wife, gives them grace to be faithful to each other and to bring up their children in love and devotion to God." Unlike in the Catholic Church, PNCC deacons are not permitted to officiate at weddings. The PNCC permits divorced people to participate fully in the Mass and to receive the Eucharist. However, the Church does not recognise civil divorce, and an annulment is required for re-marriage.. Every diocese has a matrimonial commission that studies each request for marriage by persons who have been divorced. The commission presents its findings and recommendation to the bishop who makes the final decision.
Priesthood and marriage: The PNCC permits its clergy to be married, and in practice encourages them to be so, as it is commonly believed that a married priest will have a better understanding of the marital issues facing his parishioners. The Church does not permit women to be ordained either to the diaconate or ministerial priesthood.
Governance: The PNCC is governed in accordance with its Constitution. Bishops and priests possess the authority to explain and teach the doctrinal position of the Church in matters of faith, morals and discipline. The legislative authority of the Church is vested in the General Synod, the Special Synod, the Diocesan Synod and the Parish Meeting. In financial and administrative matters, the parishioners possess administrative authority. Representatives elected at the Annual Parish Meeting, and confirmed by the diocesan Bishop, exercise their constitutional authority in cooperation with the pastor.
The chief legislative body is the General Synod; each parish is entitled to send one delegate for each 50 active members.
During the late 19th century many new Polish immigrants to the U.S. became dismayed with the Catholic Church hierarchy. The U.S. Church had no Polish bishops and few Polish priests, and would not allow the Polish language to be taught in parish schools. Even though the mainly Irish and German bishops helped establish hundreds of parishes for Poles, it appears that pastors were usually unable to speak the Polish language, whereas the Polish immigrants in their turn had poor English proficiency. There were also disputes over who owned church property, particularly in Buffalo and Scranton, with the parishioners demanding greater control. Although the vast majority of Polish-Americans remained with the Roman Catholic Church, with bilingual Polish-American priests and bishops eventually being ordained, many Polish-Americans in the meantime came to believe that these conditions were a manifestation of "political and social exploitation of the Polish people."(Mead 1995, pp. 220–222)
A leader in this struggle was Fr. Franciszek Hodur (1866–1953), a Polish immigrant to the United States and a Catholic priest. Born near Krakow, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1893 and was ordained that year; in 1897, he became pastor of St. Stanislaus Cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Continued discontent led to an open rupture with the U.S. Catholic Church in 1897, when an independent Polish body was formed, headquartered in Scranton, with initially some 20,000 members. Fr. Hodur received episcopal consecration in 1907 in Utrecht, Holland, by three Old Catholic bishops. He is considered by the PNCC to be its founder and first bishop. In 1914 there was another schism which resulted in the formation of the smaller Lithuanian National Catholic Church; it later merged with the Polish church.
Following the PNCC's first synod in 1904, the vernacular (first Polish, then English) gradually replaced Latin as the language of the Liturgy. Bishops, priests and deacons have been allowed to marry since 1921. However, if a person is unmarried at the time of ordination, he must remain so for a period of 2 years afterwards.
From 1907–2003 the PNCC was a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht, and for much of that period was the only member church of the Union based outside Europe (although it was not so when the Philippine Independent Church, also known as the Aglipayan Church, briefly joined the Union of Utrecht).
Missionary work was begun in Poland in 1919, and at the beginning of World War II there were more than 50 parishes along with a theological seminary in Krakow. During post-war Communist rule of Poland, the Church suffered severe persecution, but it survived and is now an autocephalous body in communion with the PNCC.(Mead 1995, p. 222)
Robert M. Nemkovich was elected by the twenty-first General Synod in 2002 to be the sixth Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.
In the 1970s the PNCC's relationship with the Utrecht Union grew strained, as there was a gradual shift towards what was regarded as liberalism in the rest of Utrecht Union churches, while the PNCC was becoming more conservative. The PNCC in the United States and Canada entered into a state of "impaired communion" with the Utrecht Union in 1997, since the PNCC did not accept the validity of ordaining women to the priesthood, which most other Utrecht Union churches had been doing for the past several years. The PNCC continued to refuse full communion with those churches that ordained women; thus, in 2003 the International Old Catholic Bishops' Conference expelled the PNCC from the Utrecht Union, determining that "full communion, as determined in the statute of the IBC, could not be restored and that therefore, as a consequence, the separation of our Churches follows." However, in 2004 the cathedral of the PNCC's Canadian diocese (St. John's Cathedral, Toronto) was reconciled with the Union and is once again in full communion with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. In the Spring of 2009, the Cathedral in Toronto reconciled with the Canadian Diocese of the PNCC and is again the official Cathedral of the Canadian Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church.
For some years the PNCC had inter-communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States, but in 1978 the PNCC terminated this relationship in response to the latter's decision to ordain women to the priesthood.
Although the PNCC has entered into tentative negotiations with Orthodox Churches in North America, no union has resulted due to the Church's substantial adherence to the Catholic view of the sacraments and other issues.
Dialogue with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the approval of the Holy See, led in 1996 to an arrangement on what has been called limited inter-communion", a reference to recognition of the validity of the sacraments of the PNCC, making applicable to its members the provisions of canon 844 §2–3 of the Code of Canon Law, whereby in exceptional circumstances Roman Catholics may receive three of the sacraments from "non-Catholic ministers" and Roman Catholic ministers may administer the same three sacraments to members of Churches which the Holy See judges to be in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as the Eastern Churches not in full communion with it. Obstacles to full communion include different understandings regarding the role of the Pope, and the level of involvement of the laity in church governance and the PNCC reception of some former Roman Catholic clergy.
A group of Norwegians who split from the Lutheran state Church of Norway, and go by the name Nordic Catholic Church, are under the auspices of the Polish National Catholic Church. The PNCC has also taken a former Episcopal Church in Italy under its wing.
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- Polish National Catholic Church of the United States and Canada official website
- Polish Catholic Church (Poland) official website
- Nordic Catholic Church official website
- Old Catholic Union of Utrecht official website
Diocesan and cathedral links:
- Central diocese
- St. Stanislaus' Cathedral; Scranton, Pennsylvania
- Buffalo-Pittsburgh diocese
- Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral; Lancaster, New York
- Canadian diocese
- Western diocese
- Eastern diocese