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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; it seeks 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 communion with the Catholic Church, is the Polish Catholic Church.
The Mass of the Polish National Catholic Church uses one of three liturgies: the Contemporary Rite, the Traditional Rite, and the Rite of Prime Bishop Hodur. The Contemporary is the shortest of the Mass types and the most used in PNCC parishes. It is similar to the current Roman Rite Mass except some parts are from the other two Masses. The Traditional is longer and is still widely used. It is the older Mass used at the time when the PNCC formed. The Prime Bishop Hodur Mass is the longest and filled with additional prayers and litanies, as well as parts of the Traditional Mass.
Polish National Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration. As in the Maronite Church and several other Eastern rite churches, communion is given through intinction, whereby the Host is partially dipped in the wine and then placed on the tongue of the communicant. Altar rails are common in PNCC parishes and are used during the distribution of Communion.
The PNCC regards a confession of faults to 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.
The PNCC teaches that the use 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.
As the PNCC holds that human life should be protected by law from the moment of conception, it opposes abortion, legal or otherwise.
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. The Church does not recognise civil divorce, and it requires an annulment before parishioners can remarry. 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.
Since 1921 the PNCC has permitted its clergy to be married, and in practice encourages them to be so. They believe that a married priest will have a better understanding of the marital issues facing his parishioners. If a person is unmarried at the time of ordination, he must remain so for a period of two years before entering marriage. The Church does not permit women to be ordained either to the diaconate or ministerial priesthood.
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. The mainly ethnic Irish and German bishops helped establish hundreds of parishes for Poles, but priests were usually unable to speak Polish, and the new immigrants had poor or limited English. There were also disputes over who owned church property, particularly in Buffalo, New York and Scranton, Pennsylvania, with the parishioners' demanding greater control. Although the majority of Polish-Americans remained with the Roman Catholic Church, where bilingual Polish-American priests and bishops were eventually 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."
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. Continued discontent led to an open rupture with the U.S. Catholic Church in 1897, when Polish immigrants founded an independent Polish body, headquartered in Scranton, with initially some 20,000 members. Fr. Hodur was consecrated as a bishop in 1907 in Utrecht, Netherlands, by three Old Catholic bishops. The PNCC considers him to be the founder and first bishop of the denomination. In 1914 another schism resulted in the formation of the smaller Lithuanian National Catholic Church; it later merged with the PNCC.
From 1907–2003, the PNCC was a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. For much of that period, it 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).
The Church began missionary work in Poland after the country regained independence following World War I. By the beginning of World War II, the PNCC had founded more than 50 parishes along with a theological seminary in Krakow. During post-war Communist rule of Poland, the Church suffered severe persecution. The Polish Catholic Church is now an autocephalous body in communion with the PNCC.(Mead 1995, p. 222)
Eugene W. Magyar was consecrated on June 29, 1963 as first Bishop of Slovak parishes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He had served previously as dean of Slovak parishes in the PNCC since 1958.
In 2002 Robert M. Nemkovich was elected by the twenty-first General Synod to be the sixth Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church.
In 2010 Anthony Mikovsky was elected by the twenty-third General Synod to be the seventh Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church. Bishop Mikovsky has been bishop of the Central Diocese and pastor of St. Stanislaus Cathedral since 2006. Before becoming bishop, he served as the assistant pastor at St. Stanislaus, the mother church of the denomination, beginning in 1997.
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 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."
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. In 2004 the cathedral of the PNCC's Canadian diocese, St. John's Cathedral, Toronto, re-established full communion with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, before being reconciled with the Canadian Diocese of the PNCC in 2009.
Although the PNCC has entered into tentative negotiations with Orthodox Churches in North America, no union has resulted due to the PNCC'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 that Laurence J. Orzell has called "limited inter-communion". What this means is that the Catholic Church recognises 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. This canon allows Catholics who are unable to approach a Catholic minister to receive, under certain conditions, the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from "non-Catholic ministers ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid", and declares it licit for Catholic priests to 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, if they ask for the sacraments of their own accord and are properly disposed. Obstacles to full communion include different understandings regarding the role of the Pope, the level of involvement of the laity in church governance and the PNCC reception of some former Catholic clergy, most of whom subsequently married.
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 within the Union of Scranton. The PNCC has also taken a former Episcopal Church in Italy under its wing.
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