In 1963, my particular Church in the USA, the Greek Catholic Rusyn Church, had a faithful membership of 312,793 as reported in the 1964 Catholic Almanac which included the worldwide bishops’ statistics reported to Rome. In 2012, our Byzantine Catholic Rusyn Church in the USA reported our faithful membership at 83,990, a decrease of 228,803 faithful, a decrease of 73.1%. What happened?

First, a faithful membership of 312,793 would have increased to more than double to 625,586 faithful during a 50-year period through population growth and closer to 1,000,000 faithful with evangelization via an oversupply of priests and sisters. During the time period of my 3 married pastors in our coal-mining town of Pittston, Pennsylvania, Saint Michael’s Eastern Catholic Church produced seven priests and five sisters. Unfortunately, in 1935, the first of the seven priests, Father George Bonchonsky, my third cousin, upon returning from the Uzhorod Seminary in Carpatho Rus, was USA’s first Rusyn seminarian denied of his papal approved canon permitting marriage before ordination. The beginning of our end was underway. Detatils of the Roman Catholic action are noted in the website www.abcrc.us/. From 1893 with the widowed priest, Father Alexis Toth, being denied his pastoring of his Byzantine Catholic parish by Roman Catholic bishop John Ireland of Minneapolis, Minnesota because of his status as a widower, the Roman persecution of my particular Church was made publicly evident. From father Jan ------- , a married priest, and Father Chornyock, a Byzantine Catholic priest defending his two seminarians as they returned from their European studies to the Roman Bullas Ea semper of 1907 and Cum data fuerit of 1929, my American Byzantine Catholic Church was persecuted.

In 1998, our Metropolitan Judson Procyk of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania returned from a Rome meeting with Pope John Paul II with the authority to re-commence ordaining married men, only to be stopped within 3 months by the power of American Roman Catholic bishops, a classic example of persecution from within.

Instead of 1,000,000 USA Byzantine Rusyn Catholic faithful, we number 83,990 faithful with a steady annual decrease. Instead of an oversupply of priests and sisters, we have a seminary in Pittsburgh that has been in the single digit vocations for approximately 20 years. Our remaining priests are dying faster than our ordinations. Our USA Eastern Catholic bishops have tried to correct the Roman persecution but American Roman Catholic bishops have a special power relationship with Rome. In Eastern Europe, our Byzantine Catholic bishops ordain married vocations with minimal opposition by European Roman Catholic bishops.

One may accuse our American Eastern Catholic bishops of wounds self-inflicted by the comparison with their European brother bishops but our USA Eastern Church history indicates that our bishops actively pursued the proper solution but the result is our present statistical status. My personal studies and personal history is worthy of presentation.

After World War II, my Rusyn parish in Pittston indicates what could have been. St. Michael’s was served by 11 local distinct communities including Northern Pittston called the Junction. After Father George Bonchonsky’s celibate ordination in 1935, the Junction was still full of vocations and after WWII, in the Junction community, there were 9 young veterans who expressed their "calling" to the priesthood. However, they expressed the "calling" to marriage to be their canonical right, which it was. There were hundreds "called" after WWII and our Pittsburgh seminary with a deep "calling" filled the seminary to its capacity of 111 seminarians. There would have been hundreds more "chosen" if our canon was not denied. A surplus of priests would have canvassed the entirety of the USA where our out-of-work coal miners" sons were seeking employment. My personal case is worthy of presentation.

After my Industrial Engineering BS degree from Penn State and my military tour during the Korean War, my wife and one child arrived in Los Angeles, a city of millions and shortage of engineers. In anticipation of finding a Rusyn Catholic Church, the priest shortage denied my family of my canonical parish and we searched the city for the next best solution. A Jesuit priest, educated while at the Russicum in Rome, was located in Boyle Heights, 30 miles from our residence in Torrance. Our first Sunday Divine Liturgy was attended by 30 faithful who were mostly Rusyns. We were at home and thankful. Our next 30 years resulted in providing the names of Rusyn visitors who became members of the newly arrived Rusyn priest Father Eugene Chromoga. Our Russian Church, now in El Segundo, was at least 20 miles closer and we cherished the relationship with our Jesuit Russian priests including Father Walter Ciszek who is now on the way to Sainthood (we hosted him in a 30 lecture tour throughout Southern California).

Serving as parish chairman, we rebuilt the St Andrew’s Church building two times during the first ten years after the freeway devoured our Boyle Heights location. Although the Russian Catholic Church in El Segundo was comprised of mostly Rusyn and Tridentine faithful, we always supported the Rusyn Church in Van Nuys. Father Chromoga was a special missionary priest, the first Rusyn priest on the West Coast, although thousands succumbed to Latin Churches for decades of a Rusyn priest shortage. Thousands of Rusyns were lost to the circumstances. This history of our faithful was experienced in all the major cities along the West Coast from San Diego (before Father Fetch, a fellow parishioner in Pittston) to San Francisco, to Seattle, etc.

The impact of Ea semper and Cum data fuerit was the main cause of our potential 1,000,000 USA Rusyns being lost to our particular Church when it denied us of our canonical right, papal approved. On the West Coast, we are still persecuted; my Rusyn canonical Church is located 225 miles away in Sacramento. For years, my family served the nearest Byzantine Russian Church, only 125 miles away, in Oregon.

When five Rusyn families only 60 miles away, tried to start a Rusyn Catholic church in Ashland, Oregon, our Rusn bishop, George Kuzma informed us to start a prayer group. We had been praying for our bishops for 45 years as we had to retire to Mount Shasta for health reasons.

In 1985, it was decided to research our Church history and determine what action can be taken to solve our Rusyn priest shortage. During the time period, it was noted that the Roman Catholic Church was undergoing a crisis in not only America but throughout the world. The history of the first two millennia revealed a sad story of separation of Christians, wars, poverty, etc., but no greater sadness that our One Catholic Church was decreasing percentage wise and especially after 1054 (the Great Schism, where Roman Catholics separated from the Eastern Churches) and 1139 (the 10th Ecumenical Council, the second ecumenical council when no Eastern bishops were present) and its manmade mandate of celibacy which, today, resulted in our One Church possessing but 17.5% of the world's population after two millennia.

The most serious difficulty is that our Roman Catholic bishops will not even place the celibacy question on the table. Herein arises the question of Church Leadership. Our bishops are fully aware of the Early Fathers and their time of married priests. Our bishops are surely aware of the unbelievable priest shortage. Our bishops realize that the manmade mandate of celibacy is non-dogma. Our bishops are fully aware of the "loss of souls" due to the priest shortage. Our bishops are definitely aware that they possess the authority to solve the priest shortage. Our bishops are aware of the married clergy of the Orthodox Churches, the Protestant Churches and their financial management of a married clergy. Our bishops, whom we always pray for, are fully capable of solving the problem and prayerfully, our Pope Francis, the Rock of the One Church, is not obstructed when he makes the decision to ordain married men and provide an oversupply of priests.




Joseph P. Bonchonsky