QUAERITUR: Joining the Polish National Catholic Church

From a reader:

Some relatives told me they were considering joining the Polish National Catholic Church. I see from what you have previously written they have valid sacraments (that’s good) but they don’t seem to be in union with our Pope in Rome (yikes!). Would their joining be the same as leaving the Roman Catholic Church for say a Protestant denominiation as in is this a sin? I doubt we could go from one to another without some spiritual ramification? Please explain very simply for me. Thanks for anything you can do.

Joining the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) is more dire than following priests of the SSPX. Unlike the SSPX, the PNCC is clearly in schism. To join the PNCC, especially formally, would mean abandoning the Roman Catholic Church. The person would likely incur the latae sententiae excommunication found in can. 1364.1 and could result in the eventual denial of funeral rites (can. 1184. 1.1). Mere attendance at a Mass or Masses of the PNCC would probably not rise to the level of a formal act of schism, especially if done as an ecumenical gesture, or solidarity with family. However, outside of the extreme cases mentioned in can. 844.2, a Catholic should not receive sacraments in a PNCC church.

The PNCC’s denies papal authority. The SSPX doesn’t deny it, they just don’t obey it. The PNCC does not have clerical celibacy, which is a bit quirky. Worse than than, however, the PNCC denies the dogma of original sin.

Just keep repeating “canon 1364 … can. 1184 … canon 1364 … can. 1184 … canon 1364 … can. 1184 …”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Titus says:

    I’ve always been puzzled by the Polish National Catholic Church. With most schismatics, it’s pretty easy to tell what their beef is. But what’s up with the PNCC?

  2. Alice says:

    I think the beef between the PNCC and the Catholic Church is similar to the beef between the OCA and the Catholic Church. In other words, to be Catholic one does not have to be able to speak English or do things the Irish way. Things came to a head in a property dispute in Scranton in the early 20th century and some folks started their own church.

  3. Tim Ferguson says:

    The PNCC started out as a reaction to the situation in the US at the time (late 19th c.) where most of the bishops were Irish and some did not treat non-Irish priests and parishioners kindly. Fr. Hodur, their first bishop, in 1897, led a group of disgruntled Polish priests and laity out of the Catholic Church, had himself consecrated a bishop through the Dutch Old Catholic Church, and founded the PNCC.

    As with many schisms, what started out with some legitimate complaints, once separated from Peter, drifted onto the shoals of some pretty shaky theology and ecclesiology (noted by Fr. Z above, particularly their denial of the dogma of original sin). In the ’70’s, the PNCC got a bit more conservative theologically, and so, when most of the Old Catholic Churches started ordaining women, the PNCC broke off communion and were eventually expelled from the Old Catholic circle of Churches. They had some relationship with the Episcopalian community, but that broke off as well after the Episcopalians started ordaining women.

    Since JP II’s election, there has been some steady dialogue with the Catholic Church, but that seems to have stalled since about 1995/96.

  4. kab63 says:

    Our Roman Catholic parish in Vegas has a vibrant Polish community. Mass on weekends and Holy Days are said in Polish. Confession is offered in Polish. I suspect, although I have never attended a Mass to know for sure, that the Homily is in Polish as well. Perhaps this person’s family would be fortunate to find a situation like this, instead of seeking a schismatic church.

  5. jesusthroughmary says:

    All of the Orthodox churches deny the dogma of original sin as well.

    The PNCC also reject the infallible doctrine promulgated by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae 14 that artificial birth control is never lawful.

  6. The Orthodox Church does not deny Original Sin, but rather has a different understanding of the nature of what we call the Ancestral Curse. We are not Augustinian in our understanding but would be more at home with the teaching of St. John Cassian, who was a contemporary of St. Augustine. Perhaps this is why we have not had to contend with Calvinism nor Jansenism, since we see the fall as sin for Adam and Eve and an inherited spiritual disease that keeps us out of full Communion with God until we are freed from it in the waters of Baptism. Hence we are not Pelagians.

  7. sawdustmick says:

    I have to say that I had not head of the PNCC, but anything with “National” in it’s title (whether it is Religious, secular or whatever) does tend to ring alarm bells.

  8. anilwang says:

    The Eastern Catholics believe as the Orthodox do, and it is not in contradiction with what Augustine taught. The key difference is one of terminology and emphasis, not of doctrine.

    Unfortunately the Protestant reinterpretation of what happened at the fall of man is largely responsible for this confusion. Man is not totally depraved (i.e. natural man sort of a Pelagian Superman and what was lost at the fall was the natural gifts of man, rendering us invalids). Rather the ancentral sin of Adam severely wounded us (i.e. natural man lost the supernatural gifts God granted him and became natural man which is subject to concupiscence). The difference is significant on and has profound theological consequences on what happens at baptism and the other sacraments.

    The Called To Communion web site has an excellent explanation of this. Unfortunately it’s down at the moment so I might not have the right link, but I think it was this one:

    In either case, please read what the Trent had to say about original sin and Aquinas if you want a fuller explanation.

  9. jesusthroughmary says:

    Trent declares in the decree on original sin, “If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema.” So that would seem to mean that the Church teaches that man has guilt as a consequence of original sin, which – as I read the above – the Orthodox deny. I could be still misunderstanding the distinction, but it seems to be guilt vs. mere privation.

  10. TheAcolyte says:

    “The PNCC’s denies papal authority. The SSPX doesn’t deny it, they just don’t obey it. ”

    The SSPX (and other traditionalists) doesn’t obey the Modernist errors taught by the post-conciliar popes – as Catholics are required to obey the solemn condemnations against them made by *other* popes (who the post-conciliar popes are not obeying).

  11. Samthe44 says:

    I would tell the questioner to stay far away from the P.N.C.C. Though they have valid Eucharist, they are in schism. The P.N.C.C. was founded due to language and property complaints. Its founding Bishop was Consecrated by Old Catholics. By joining the P.N.C.C., they questioner would become what I call a ‘Valid Protestant’ – a member of a real and valid Church, but rejecting the authority of The Roman Pontiff.

  12. digdigby says:

    Our then Archbishop Raymond Burke had to deal with Polish (misplaced) pride here in St. Louis in the dreadful St. Stanislaus Kostka case. The same odd ‘we own the church’ property mess combined with a renegade priest and in the end the whole church board and disobedient priest were excommunicated. Google it. If you have met the gentle, soft-spoken Burke, you could not believe how tough he can be if he has to. It is frightening to me how casually a whole church in a nationalist ‘huff’ can openly cast off the venerable church of their fathers and…not care too much. ‘Father’ Bozek created a NewChurch of his own liking. Funny how it goes.
    “Bozek’s non-orthodox views include allowing priests to marry and permitting women and homosexuals to be ordained. Transmogrification of the issues from property to doctrinal issues has alienated traditional parish members and attracted new progressive congregants.”

  13. NoTambourines says:

    Polish Catholicism ultimately thrived in the U.S. with those who persevered through the politics of the day. I wonder if the PNCC ever consider they backed the wrong horse not staying with Rome? In my hometown, we had four historically Polish parishes.

  14. digdigby says:

    Polish American Catholics? Thanks for one of the loveliest churches in America:
    You can see this church (and the greatest Polish-American Catholic mother ever!) in the movie: “Call Northside 777”
    Maybe greatest cinematic American Catholic mom ever though Esther Minciotti is a close second in Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man:
    “Have you prayed, Manny?”
    “I prayed for help.”
    “Pray for strength, Manny, my son, I beg you to pray.”

  15. I don’t know how reliable this wiki page is on the PNCC, but there are some interesting things there:


  16. Oh, and I don’t mean interesting as in “good”. I mean…

    Birth control

    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

  17. Centristian says:

    I have to imagine that for most people it would be rather hard to even find a Polish National Catholic Church outside of Northeastern “rust belt” metropolitan areas, and even then, there’s something of a challenge.

    I live in a diocese that has three, but only because the Polish-American population is very significant. The PNCC used to have a grand old gothic cathedral in the heart of “Polonia” (the once predominantly Polish area of the city) but when all the Poles split for the burbs, the neighborhood fell into decay (you take your life in your hands walking through that neighborhood in broad daylight, today), so they sold the cathedral to move out to the burbs where much of the flock had relocated.

    Today the former Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral (properly pronounced “Ho-lee Mudder of da Ros-ree”) is a mosque/Islamic center. It once had two great steeples; they were removed and replaced by short domes topped with crescent moons. It would be a sad sight to see…if anyone were brave enough to drive through that neighborhood, that is.

    The new Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral is about 1/3 the size of the old cathedral, is very modern and basically looks like your average contemporary Roman Catholic suburban parish church. It is a church, rectory, and hall, all incorporated into one uninspiring suburb-friendly structure (it has all the grandeur and ecclesiastical panache of a larger New York State Thruway rest stop). To look at it, you’d never imagine it was the cathedral of anything.

    Every Summer, though, they have a very well-attended Polish heritage festival outdoors in a big tent: there’s lots of kielbasa and czarnina and pierogis, non-stop polka music, beer, beer, and more beer, raffles, craft sales, and staff standing by, incredibly, to offer tours of the small and entirely unremarkable new cathedral. The place is really more of a Polish-American cultural center than it is a worshipping community. I think that’s really all the PNCC actually amounts to, on the whole, for that matter.

    The other two PNCC churches in the area are just worship sites that offer one service on Sunday for sparse congregations; they aren’t “parishes” by any meaningful definition of the term. I can’t believe the PNCC in this area have held onto their schism for so long, to be honest. It all begins with a petty spat with the diocese over property from about the turn of the 20th century. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they reconcile with the diocese and come back into the fold. I can’t imagine the up and coming generations are going to say “sto lat” to that old grudge.

    To read about it and to see a comparision of the old and new cathedrals…


  18. anilwang says:

    jesusthroughmary, please don’t read more into Trent than it actually says. Protestants believe in guilt due to original sin so there is no point in anathemizing it. What Trent did condemn, however is the view that baptism didn’t remove the guilt of original sin and that God only pretends that we’re clean because we are covered with the blood of Christ. Or in the words of Martin Luther, we are “snow covered piles of dung”.

    Also keep in mind that guilt is only one analogy of what original sin was. It has equally been said that we are in bondage to sin, and that we are in debt to sin (i.e. the treasury of merit alluded to in the doctrine of purgatory), and that we are enemies of God (see St. Paul), and that we have inherited ancestral sin (in the same way that the sins of your grand parents can hurt you, especially if your grandparent is named Hilter or Stalin) . The exact nature of original sin is a mystery as is the nature of what was lost due to original sin, namely the beatific vision.

    Keep in mind also that all of Catholic Theology hangs together. Why Christ needed to died on the cross, the what the sacraments (especially confession, baptism, and the Eucharist) do for us that pre-fall Adam didn’t need, and the nature of the Immaculate Conception all deal with Original Sin. As does the Council of Florence which affirmed that the Orthodox concept of ancestral sin and the Western concept or original sin are the same.

    Have a look at the current Catechism which describes original sin in language that much closer expresses what the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics mean by ancestral sin:
    398 ( http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s2c1p7.htm#398 ) “…Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. …”

    405 ( http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s2c1p7.htm#405 ): “Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. “

  19. chonak says:

    The Church has granted a rare permission to PNCC members: they are free to receive the Eucharist in Catholic services when PNCC services are unavailable.

    This is probably useful to PNCC members, since a lot of their parishes have folded in the past 30 years. From a peak of 250+ churches, they are down to 129.

  20. jesusthroughmary says:

    Chonak – I recall reading that on the back of a missalette when our parish used to order them. “Members of the Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these churches (canon 844 § 3).”

  21. ContraMundum says:

    I think the beef between the PNCC and the Catholic Church is similar to the beef between the OCA and the Catholic Church. In other words, to be Catholic one does not have to be able to speak English or do things the Irish way.

    This comment is so weird I wonder if it is a typo.

    The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) is the spiritual offspring of the Russian Orthodox Church. The causes of the schism between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox are a bit more involved than being “able to speak English or do things the Irish way”. Ultimately, it was a quarrel between bishops, and only bishops will be able to resolve the quarrel.

    Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who is firmly committed to healing the wound and who has the knowledge and temperament to perhaps bring it off.

  22. Alice says:

    No, it is not a typo. In the late 19th – early 20th centuries some of the Catholic bishops wanted the Church to become more American and tried to force the recent, non-English speaking immigrants to conform. The Germans, Polish, and Eastern Catholic Slavs all found themselves on the wrong side of the Americanizing bishops at one time or another and some left the Church. Archbishop Ireland’s treatment of Alexis Toth is the famous example, of course, but the PNCC is another.

  23. Titus says:

    I think the beef between the PNCC and the Catholic Church is similar to the beef between the OCA and the Catholic Church. In other words, to be Catholic one does not have to be able to speak English or do things the Irish way.

    This comment is so weird I wonder if it is a typo.

    No, it is not a typo.

    But the explanation, while accurate, doesn’t address the non-existent relationship between the OCA and the Catholic Church: if Alice meant PNCC:RCC = OCA:ROC, that would make a lot of sense. It would also suggest that the original comment contained a typo.

  24. ContraMundum:

    Alice is correct. The OCA originated from Eastern Catholics who were being treated poorly by their American bishops. The US bishops wouldn’t allow their married priests to minister to them, and tried to Latinize their liturgies. These eastern Catholics then bolted to the Orthodox Church. Over time, they became the OCA. This is the reason we now have separate Eastern Catholic hierarchies in the US (and other places). The idea of “one place, one bishop” is strong in the Church, and historically eastern catholics in the diaspora were under their local Latin bishops (and especially before the Great Schism, vice versa), but 19th century Irish-American bishops could not respect the traditions of the east.

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  26. Warmiaczka says:

    It’s a little bit surreal to read about PNCC, but not because of theological reasons. Let’s consider the name alone. In Poland the words “Polish National Catholic Church” would simply mean Catholic Church in Poland – especially understood as RC clergy and faithful attached to Polish traditions and patriotism. Catholicism in Poland was, during long years of partitions and later under the reign of communists helping not only keep the faith. It was also associated with patriotism, fight for independence, keeping the spirit of the nation alive and so on. For many it’s obvious that if one is Polish, one is also Catholic (oh, officially only 90% or so). I’m sure that most Poles are not even aware that names like “Polish Catholic Church”or “PNCC” may describe different religion than THAT Catholic Church, with the Pope as the leader (though some extremists would argue that John Paul II was more “our Pope” than Pope Benedict XVI).

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