Saturday, February 02, 2013

Dispute raises constitutional questions for Polish National Catholic Church

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Sylvester_Bigaj_a001.JPGThe Polish National Catholic Church's decision to remove its Canadian bishop from the clergy has stirred a backlash in the leadership of the Canadian diocese, which has resolved to stand behind him.
 
Prime Bishop Anthony Mikovsky and the bishops of the church decided on Jan. 7 to depose Bishop Sylvester Bigaj, saying he fostered a splinter church in Poland and ignored instructions to stop.

The Polish National Catholic Church, which was founded and maintains its headquarters in Scranton, lists about 130 parishes in the United States, Canada and Italy and is in communion with a church it established in Poland called the Polish Catholic Church.

The new congregation shepherded by Bishop Bigaj was essentially a rival to the PNCC's official partner in Poland, Prime Bishop Mikovsky said.

Supporters of Bishop Bigaj dispute that he formally established the parish or overstepped his role.

In a 9-1 vote with two abstentions, the council of the Canadian diocese resolved last week to reject the prime bishop's action as "utterly unconstitutional" and retain Bishop Bigaj as the head of the Polish National Catholic Church of Canada.

"The Council and all the faithful of the Church in Canada continue to consider Bishop Bigaj as their continuing and lawful leader," Tony Jasinski, the chairman of the Canada council, wrote in a letter to church members on Tuesday, which also cited the council's "deepest concern for the future of continued unity between the USA and Canadian branches of PNCC."

The Polish National Catholic Church has a democratic structure, with both lay and ordained members filling key roles in its governance and legislative meetings at which priests' and parishioners' votes are counted equally. 

In a church founded by immigrants intent on creating a Catholic and democratic denomination, the current dispute has spurred a constitutional debate.

"He's turned himself into a pope," Mr. Jasinski said of Prime Bishop Mikovsky. "What he's done is very wrong. It sets a very dangerous precedent."

Prime Bishop Mikovsky cited a passage in the church constitution that gives authority to the prime bishop, bishops and clergy in matters of faith, morals and discipline.

"This is a matter of discipline," he said.

His office has not yet officially responded to the Canadian diocese's resolution, but he said it raises another constitutional question - whether Mr. Jasinski had the authority to call the meeting for the resolution at all, given that the duty is reserved for the bishop.

Until an interim administrator is chosen to lead the Canadian diocese, Prime Bishop Mikovsky is filling that role.

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