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Married Priest Switches From Schismatic Church

June 19, 1985

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ The Roman Catholic Church has made a gesture of reconciliation to a schismatic church founded by Polish-Americans, accepting a married priest of the Polish National Catholic Church who converted to Roman Catholicism.

The Rev. Melvin H. Walczak was accepted this week into the Roman Catholic Church and its priesthood without undergoing reordination. He was ordained in the Polish National Catholic Church, which broke away from the mother church in 1900.

Walczak is the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States who is married but did not start out as an Episcopalian, according to Roman Catholic theologians.

Twenty-six married Episcopal priests have become Roman Catholic priests in the United States since the conversions were permitted in 1981, but they all had to be reordained.

Until last week, Walczak was pastor of St. Casimir’s Polish National Catholic Church in the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit. In an important gesture of ecumenism, his ordination vows in that church were accepted as valid by the Vatican.

The Polish National Catholic Church was founded in Scranton, Pa., by Polish-Americans who felt discriminated against in the Roman Catholic Church. It has about 300,000 members, mainly in the northeastern United States and Canada. The church follows the Roman Catholic Church on most doctrinal matters but does not recognize the primacy or infallibility of the pope.

Roman Catholic theologians have been holding ecumenical discussions with the Polish National Catholic Church, and ″this will probably move the dialogue along more quickly,″ the Rev. Joseph A. Hart, an associate professor of theology at St. Bernard’s Institute in Rochester, said Tuesday.

The acceptance of Walczak’s vows has international implications, Hart said, because the Polish National Catholic Church is part of the Union of Utrecht, also known as the Old Catholic Church, a group of Catholic churches in the Netherlands, Austria, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Poland and Switzerland that have broken away from the Vatican since 1723.

By accepting the validity of Walczak’s vows, the Vatican may have signaled its acceptance of the vows of priests in the other Union of Utrecht churches who might decide to become Roman Catholics, according to Hart, who shepherded Walczak’s application through to approval.

Walczak and his wife, Joanne, have two sons - Darryl, 15, and Gregory, 12. He is a native of Kearney, N.J.

Walczak will spend a six-month period of transition at St. Joseph’s Church in the Rochester suburb of Penfield before receiving an assignment in the Rochester diocese, Hart said.

Hart said the Vatican instructed the Diocese of Rochester to play down Walczak’s move to Roman Catholicism and said Walczak himself would have no comment.

The Polish National Catholic Church has five dioceses, based in Scranton; Chicago; Manchester, N.H.; Buffalo-Pittsburgh; and Toronto.

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