In a move seen as a major concession to ecumenical harmony, the Vatican has accepted into the Roman Catholic priesthood a married man who was ordained as a priest in a breakaway church.
Father Melvin H. Walczak, 38, is believed to be the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States who is married but did not begin the priesthood as an Episcopalian, according to Roman Catholic officials.
Walczak, formerly pastor of St. Casimir's Polish National Catholic Church in the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit, became a Roman Catholic in a private ceremony this month.
The Vatican accepted the vows of priesthood he took in the Polish National Catholic Church, which was founded in Scranton, Pa., in 1900 by Polish-Americans who felt discriminated against in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Polish National Catholic Church has about 300,000 members, mainly in the northeastern United States and Canada. It 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," said Father Joseph A. Hart, an associate professor of theology at St. Bernard's Institute in Rochester.
Walczak, a native of Kearney, N.J., and his wife have two sons.