Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A General Convention Prayer

Good Christian people, I bid your prayers for the Polish National Catholic Church, which is currently having its 22nd General Synod, at which it will elect four bishops. Theologically, the PNCC (as envisioned by Bp. Franciszek Hodur) was intended to present a non-Roman catholicism. Founded near the turn of the 20th century, the new denomination rejected the idea of "original guilt," expunged the Filioque from the Nicene Creed, prayed in a language "understanded of the people," and allowed priests to marry. The PNCC also retained the traditional Roman Mass and another liturgy of Bp. Hodur's editing, which I'm told reflected the old Mass.* (Other changes were not so in keeping with tradition: many believed in universal salvation; general confession largely replaced private confession among adults; once-vernacular "Polish became the new Holy Latin"; they early replaced the altar with a table; and bishops were allowed to marry.) However, having read Bp. Hodur's vision, his view of the Roman church, if at times reactive and harsh, often tended toward Orthodoxy.

Not so many years ago, the PNCC (then the only genuine "Old Catholic" body in North America**) became a partner to the Orthodox-Old Catholic theological dialogue. From these discussions, a remarkably hopeful document would be crafted: The Road to Unity (still available from the PNCC, at last I knew, for $5). The rapprochement envisioned by Dr. J.J. Overbeck a century earlier seemed imminent. Discussions also began between the PNCC and the Western Rite, which in time fizzled. The PNCC adopted a number of reservations to the Orthodox-Old Catholic dialogue, though none appeared insurmountable.

However, the PNCC also remained in dialogue with the Papacy, ascribing to those talks a higher priority. A well-placed PNCC priest once told me Pope John Paul II initiated the talks with a letter, then denied writing it; whatever the truth, the PNCC has ultimately reunited with neither church and indeed, because of the European churches' growing modernism, broke communion with the Union of Utrecht.

Under Bp. Hodur's most recent successors, former Romans almost to a man, the church increasingly reflects the Roman take on everything, including the development and increasing use of its "Contemporary Mass," modeled closely on the Novus Ordo. Independent observers say the PNCC's tenor has changed dramatically within the last two decades. And I'm told in terms of numbers, it is dying from attrition: former members no longer sensing any difference between itself and the PNCC (and expressly invited by the front of the RCC missalette) simply go Roman; if they move, they often go with their pastor's approval, though Rome seems not to reciprocate.***

The recent reception of a former Roman priest in Toledo, Ohio, has apparently strained relations with the U.S. Roman Catholic church. Perhaps personal fallouts will snap the PNCC from its deathspin. Perhaps they will hasten it. However, it seems tragic for a church that once blazed a courageous path toward becoming a Western expression of the Orthodox faith to end with a whimper of bewilderment, isolation, and indifference.

May God so bless these good Christian people with bishops who will gently lead them to the fulness of the Truth so ardently sought after by Bp. Hodur and embrace the unity of the Orthodox faith.

* - If anyone has a copy of this text, I would be most interested in getting a copy. I understand these went through more than one printing, each slightly changed.
** - That is, the only church recognized and in communion with the Union of Utrecht.
*** - The Anglican Church in America also enjoys a cozy relationship with (and part of its "line of apostolic succession" from) the PNCC; that one, however, results in mutual referrals.


Blogger Deacon Jim said...

Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for your prayers. For a copy of the Synodal prayers, please visit my blog.

For books and pamphlets, please contact the PNCC bookstore directly at 570-346-9131.

On the dialog issue, I think that you are a little off on your assessment as to who has priority over whom.

My take is that the Church engages in dialog to engender mutual respect and to do problem solving (e.g., R.C. Bishops re-ordaining validly ordained PNCC priests who might leave the PNCC).

Of course we all long for unity - that is our duty, but as I previously quoted in a document from a R.O.C. publication, unity begins with a respect for the Traditions of those seeking it and the ability of the Orthodox Church to accept others economically while leaving their Tradition in place.

I concur that the PNCC is closer to Orthodoxy than Rome - and that won't really change. The question is: How can we achieve economic unity? Must a Church morph into another (which I think is a wholly Roman view)?

As to the Bishops issue, the N.O. issue, or your statement:

However, it seems tragic for a church that once blazed a courageous path toward becoming a Western expression of the Orthodox faith to end with a whimper of bewilderment, isolation, and indifference.

These infer something that is not wholly accurate, or speaks to the manner in which the Church lives out its vocational and liturgical life. Based on my closer affiliation, I would say they are incorrect in that they, at a minimum, do not expose the issues fully. I do however support your right to dislike the way the PNCC lives its life.

The bottom line is that the PNCC is not W.R.O., E.O., or R.C. in its application. That being said, I have found, and others respect the fact, that the PNCC embodies the "fullness" of its Catholicity in its life. As I said, while unity in essentials (St. Vincent of Lerins) is achievable, it must start with a respect for each other's embodiment of those essentials.

As to the Toledo issue, I know of no R.C. priest from the Toledo R.C. Diocese becoming a PNCC priest. There is a group of disaffected former Roman Catholics (they experienced three church closings in a row - being sent from one church to the next - and walking away after the 3rd church they joined closed) who are being served by a PNCC priest from Hamtramck. This of course ticks off Bishop Blair – but that’s not a real concern.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

A sad note on the beginnings of the PNCC. One of the first things done was the elimiation of monasticism. I think this is something that has limited growth of the PNCC and the Old Catholic movement.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Dn. Jim,

Sorry for posting this late; I'd overlooked my new comments. Please feel free to call me Ben. I see you've now elected bishops; God bless and guide them.

I have a copy of The Road to Unity, along with printouts of the PNCC's reservations, direct from Lawrence Orzell. The gap could certainly be bridged with time and patience, were that so desired.

In terms of dialogue, the Orthodox Church has established the Western Rite to accept people economically while leaving valid Western traditions in place.

One Church need not "morph" into another: ideally, the two churches must realize they are but one Church and share the practices of that One Church. Most Orthodox indicate this requires us to share catholic faith, worship, and ecclesiastical authority (e.g., recognize the same bishops).

Some Orthodox, as with the PNCC, speak of the Word of God as a sacrament in a loose sense, or at least leave open the possibility. But surely, the ancient and venerable practice of spiritual guidance through "private" confession is one Orthodoxy cannot be expected to give up. And She can't be expected to recognize a married episcopate when She expelled Abp. Aftimios Ofiesh for getting married not that long ago. Finally, the Orthodox Church has not Herself recognized the NO Mass as a sufficient vehicle to worship the Almighty; Cardinal Ottaviani warned as much when Rome was debating its adoption. True unity can come about, but it must respect the historical norms of the Church.

I should note the assessment that the growing use of the NO Mass and influx of NO-trained fmr. RCC priests already has tipped the PNCC closer to Rome (and in a sense, closer Rome than its own history) comes from well-placed observers and clergy (and one potential priest) within the PNCC.

I think the historical PNCC was quite close, indeed, to WRO (and a few similar Polish parishes converted to WRO around the same time). But I daresay Bp. Hodur never foresaw the unprecedented situation of his church not being in communion with any ancient See. I admire the steps the PNCC took to uphold the traditional marriage and pray for the day we will find ourselves in the same Church.

On the Toledo matter: it has now been corrected. I always try to correct any public error publicly, which is only right.

God bless,

11:08 PM  

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