On December 19, 1776, the renowned Anglo-American writer and polemicist Thomas Paine wrote in the pamphlet entitled The American Crisis: “These are the times which try men’s souls.” Though he was writing to bolster the confidence of the thirteen colonies in their nascent revolutionary struggle for independence from the British Crown, Paine’s immortal words could just as easily be used to describe the events which unfolded in the life of St. John’s Cathedral Parish during the period from 1930 through 1935. During this period, the Parish, which had soared only a few short years previously to such high and proud heights based on its prestigious designation as the cathedral church of the Greek Catholic Exarchate of Pittsburgh, was plunged into an abyss of conflict, discord and dissension. Both figuratively and literally, the Parish was engaged in a holy war, a terrible and agonizing struggle for control over the temporal assets of the church and its spiritual leadership. This holy war would prove to be devastating to the Parish. It would end friendships, tear families apart and irrevocably turn many parishioners against their pastor and their bishop.
In the wake of the stock market crash of October 1929, the Great Depression had started in earnest and began to take its toll on the local steel industry. As a result of the sudden and precipitous downturn of the economy, orders for steel dropped drastically causing massive layoffs. Since many members and their families of the Parish depended on the Homestead steel mill for their livelihoods, the sudden economic downturn in the steel industry placed untold parishioners in a precarious situation. With many of its members unemployed or reduced to simply “catching an occasional turn” in the mill, the Parish’s Sunday collections also suffered. Thus, the Parish, which had borrowed $80,000 in the space of five years from the Monongahela Trust Company in order to meet its obligations to the bishop and to finance the construction of a school building, faced severe money problems.
In addition to a deteriorating financial situation, the Parish faced an unexpected crisis in leadership. Father Alexis Holosnyay, who was entering into the thirtieth year of his pastorate, became seriously ill. Faced with the likelihood that he would be unable to take an active part in ministering to the Parish for a number of months due to his declining health, Father Holosnyay went to Bishop Takach and asked that he appoint an assistant pastor for the Parish during the time of his disability.
On January 15, 1930, Bishop Takach acceded to Father Holosnyay’s request and appointed a priest who was without a position in the Diocese to serve as the curate or assistant pastor of St. John’s Cathedral Parish. The new assistant pastor’s name was Father Peter Molchany.
Father Peter Molchany stood in marked contrast to the aging pastor whom he was sent to assist. Father Molchany was only twenty-six years old at the time of his appointment. The son of a Greek Catholic priest, Father Molchany was born and raised in the United States. He was educated at St. Bonaventure College in Olean, New York and the Greek Catholic seminary at Prešov. Thus, unlike Father Holosnyay, the young Father Molchany spoke English and was fluent in the Rusin language.
One of the first group of American born candidates to the priesthood, Father Molchany was ordained by Bishop Takach at Uniontown on July 19, 1925. His first assignment was at SS. Peter and Paul Greek Catholic Church in Warren, Ohio. In 1929, Bishop Takach transferred Father Molchany to Ascension Parish in Clairton, Pennsylvania. Father Molchany, however, never assumed the pastorate at the Clairton church. In what would later prove to be an ironic twist, Molchany was prevented from becoming the pastor because of litigation that had been initiated by certain parishioners against the Bishop Takach to prevent him from exercising any authority over the assignment of priests to the Clairton parish.
To a troubled parish, undoubtedly dishearted and demoralized by the trying economic times, the appointment of the young and vigorous Father Molchany as assistant pastor must have seemed like a breath of fresh air. Immediately upon his arrival in March 1930, Father Molchany launched a number of efforts to improve the overall condition of the Parish. To deal with the Parish’s difficult financial situation, Father Molchany initiated an envelope system for church collections. As a result of this innovation, church collections, which were averaging around fifty-five to sixty dollars a week, more than doubled. With the increased revenue, Parish debts, including the two mortgages on church properties, were able to be promptly and regularly paid.
More importantly, Father Molchany spiritually rejuvenated the Parish. Attendance at the Parish’s two Sunday Liturgies, which were referred to at the time as “the High Mass” and “the Low Mass,” increased dramatically. Much of the increased attendance was directly attributable to the return to church of younger Parish members. Younger church members returned to church to hear Father Molchany’s stirring sermons which were preached in English, an event without precedent in the history of the Parish. In addition to increased attendance at Sunday and Holy Day liturgies, more and more parishioners went to confession and received Holy Communion. Father Molchany also improved the Parish’s “Rusin School.” Unlike the pastor, Father Molchany personally taught the three hundred children who attended the Parish’s after-school program of religious instruction and education.
In the short period of time from his arrival at St. John’s, Father Molchany’s considerable efforts and improvements to the state of the Parish had won over the hearts and allegiance of not only the general Parish community but also the Parish’s influential Board of Curators. Thus, after slightly more than one month following his arrival, a concerted effort arose to have Father Molchany designated as the pastor of the Parish.
On April 24, 1930, John Herack, the Parish President, who was also the Recording Secretary of the Greek Catholic Union and a councilman in the Borough of Homestead, headed a twelve-person committee which personally presented a petition to Bishop Takach requesting that Molchany be appointed pastor. Over eight hundred members of the Parish signed this petition. Upon receiving the petition requesting Molchany’s appointment, the bishop gave a rather vague and non-committal response to Herack and his committee. Bishop Takach responded to Herack: “It is all right. I see that everybody wants him. I will think it over.”
After a two-month stay in a sanitarium recuperating from his illness, Father Holosnyay returned to the Parish. However, his illness still effectively prevented him from performing his duties as pastor. With Father Holosnyay still virtually incapacitated by illness, Father Molchany continued to function as the de facto pastor of St. John’s Cathedral - administering the sacraments, conducting services, writing checks on parish accounts, keeping Parish books and records and presiding at all meetings of the congregation. On May 25, 1930, a special meeting of the congregation was held at the School Hall. At this meeting, the first signs of signs of a break between the Parish and Bishop Takach over the status of the young Father Molchany began to appear.
The minutes of the May 25, 1930 Parish meeting indicate that it was called for the specific purpose of selecting a new cantor. After Mr. S.S. Koozmin was elected to the one hundred-seventy-five dollar a month position (beating out twelve other candidates for the job), discussion turned to the situation of the pastor. Those who were present unanimously requested that Father Molchany become the pastor. Based upon the action taken by the congregation at the May 25th meeting, Father Molchany considered himself to be the duly elected pastor of the Parish, with Father Holosnyay relegated to the status of “pastor emeritus.” Molchany’s election as pastor, however, was never officially communicated to either Bishop Takach or Father Holosnyay.
In August 1930, open conflict erupted between Father Holosnyay and Father Molchany. The essence of the dispute between the two priests was a simple one: Money. At a parish meeting, Father Holosnyay’s monthly salary was reduced from one hundred-seventy dollars to one hundred dollars without any intervention on the part of Father Molchany. In addition, the two priests began to openly quarrel about the entitlement to “stole fees.” Stole fees are the stipends or offerings made for the performance of certain religious or church services. For example, stole fees would be charged for such things as celebrating the Divine Liturgy, performing baptisms and weddings, conducting funerals or memorial services (Panachidas or Parastas) or giving sermons on special occasions. Since Father Molchany was performing the majority of the services, he did not share any of the stole fees with Father Holosnyay. With his salary significantly reduced and now facing the loss of a second source of income with the denial of the stole fees, the ailing and aging Father Holosnyay most likely became concerned for his own economic security especially in the midst of the Great Depression. Thus, Father Holosnyay complained bitterly and continuously to Father Molchany about the failure to pay him any part of the stole fees.
Finally, Father Holosnyay took his money disputes with Father Molchany to the bishop. On several occasions, Bishop Takach meet with both priests. Perhaps sensing the latent danger of the growing rift between the two men, Bishop Takach attempted to craft a settlement of the financial dispute which recognized the status and the situation of both priests. The compromise was set forth in a letter to Father Holosnyay dated October 22, 1930.
In his letter, the bishop acknowledged Father Molchany’s preeminent role in the administration of the Parish. Bishop Takach wrote:
Since the condition of the health of Your Very Reverence has not permitted you to personally conduct all of the duties of the Parish, the Episcopal Ordinariate was forced to take steps to appoint a person who shall be an assistant to Your Very Reverence in all matters. For this reason Father Peter Molchany was temporarily appointed assistant at the Cathedral Church, with the understanding that until the condition of Your Very Reverence’s health permits, he shall administer the whole parish and with responsibility administer the affairs appertaining to the conduct of the parish. (Emphasis added).
Given Father Molchany’s key administrative role at the Parish, the bishop declared that the parish should decide Molchany’s salary “keeping before its eyes justice and the decision which on the part of the parish was already submitted to the Episcopal Ordinariate.”
While his letter generally recognized Molchany’s role at the Parish, Bishop Takach nevertheless was supportive of the status and rights of Father Holosnyay, the long-time pastor. The bishop thus wrote:
The assistant was notified to temporarily conduct the affairs of the parish in full concord with the pastor, that he always inform the pastor of the more important events regarding the affairs of the parish, and ask the advice of the pastor in all matters, and finally in his private life always try to uphold the best connections with his pastor.
The bishop’s letter added this admonition:
The Episcopal Ordinariate cautioned Father Molchany (and that most seriously) to show thorough church conduct at parish meetings and never allow such resolutions which would oppose not only the laws of our church but also materially harm the infirm local pastor.
Finally, the bishop moved to definitively resolve the dispute over the stole fees. Other than certain stipends for liturgies (which were to be received by the celebrant) and for ‘mentions’ (Ektenia) and funeral sermons (which were to go to Father Molchany), Bishop Takach decreed that the stole fees should be divided two-thirds to Father Holosnyay and one-third to Father Molchany.
Bishop Takach’s personal intervention into the dispute between Father Holosnyay and Father Molchany over their respective roles, privileges and recompense unfortunately did not result in a reconciliation between the two men. Less than three weeks after issuing his October 22, 1930 letter, Bishop Takach was again forced to intervene in the conflict between Holosnyay and Molchany. Once again, the dispute centered on the matter of stole fees.
In a letter addressed to Father Molchany dated November 7, 1930, the bishop expressed his surprise over Father Molchany’s purported claim that he had never received formal notice of Takach’s prior letter concerning the roles of the two priests and the division of the stole fees. Noting that his aide had personally delivered copies of the letter, the bishop’s letter curtly stated that a copy of the October 22nd letter was enclosed and must be obeyed.
The year 1931 witnessed a steady escalation of the conflict between Father Holosnyay and Father Molchany. Father Holosnyay, who continued to function in a clearly lesser pastoral and administrative role at the Parish, resumed his complaints that Father Molchany was not abiding by the bishop’s decision regarding the division of stole fees. Father Molchany, in turn, resented Father Holosnyay’s constant harping about money and regarded his statements as unjust interference with his rightful role and prerogatives as the duly elected pastor. Finally, the split between the two men became so bitter that they purportedly stopped speaking to one another.
From his vantage point at the nearby Chancery, Bishop Takach continued to quietly observe the on-going conflict between the two priests assigned to his Cathedral. Ultimately deciding that Father Molchany had gone too far in undermining Father Holosnyay's standing among the parishioners and that he had failed to abide by his decision on the sharing of stole fees, the bishop moved to end the conflict once and for all by transferring Molchany to another parish. Thus, on December 10, 1931, Bishop Takach sent Father Molchany the following letter:
#160/1931 Blessed be Jesus Christ
December 10, 1931
To the Rev. Father
The episcopal ordinary, on the strength of [sic] attached letter, releases your reverence of the duties at the Cathedral in Homestead, PA; and appoints you pastor of the Church of St. George the Martyr at Aliquippa, PA., and that beginning with the 12th day of this month.
The official matters of your reverence will have to be turned over in the presence of the deacon of the district, the priest of the church, Rev. Father Alex. Holosnyay.
Will your reverence arrange your matters in such a way, that you may be able to take over your newly assigned station without delay? Upon your pastoral activities I implore the blessing of the All Highest.
From the Episcopal Ordinary
Upon receipt of the letter notifying him of his transfer, Father Molchany immediately went to the Chancery and requested a meeting with Bishop Takach. At their meeting, the bishop acknowledged the important contributions that Molchany had made to the spiritual and temporal life of the Parish. Nevertheless, he refused to give Molchany a specific reason for the transfer or to reverse his decision.
The news of Father Molchany's abrupt transfer shocked the Parish. On December 11, 1931, an emergency meeting of the Curators of the Parish was convened in the school to discuss what could be done about Molchany's impending transfer. The curators present at this emergency meeting included George Kicsinko, John Havrilla, Stefan Kolcun, Joseph Durkota, Nicholas Marcinchak, Michael Vasil, Andy Kasnik, John Uhrin, John Mikula, Michael Pingor, Peter Girovsky, Vasil Gulassy, George Billy, John Martin, Michael Hresko, Michael Demko, John P. Timko, Michael Bugos, Michael Brugos, A.B.Lesko, John Antalovich, Joseph Havrilla, Michael Tomko, Joseph Volkay, Andrew Scherbik, John Herack and John Pcsolar.
Unanimous in their opposition to Father Molchany's transfer, the Board of Curators quickly took two actions. First, an open meeting of the entire Parish was called for Sunday, December 13, 1931, to discuss the transfer. Second, the Curators selected a committee consisting of six members - John Herack, the President of the Board, A.B. Lesko, Peter Girovsky, Michael Brugos, John Uhrin,Jr. and Joseph Volkay - to go that very evening to meet with the bishop about the transfer. Within a short time, however, the six members of the special Curators’ committee returned and reported back to the other Curators that the bishop had purposely avoided meeting with them by hurriedly departing from the episcopal residence to a waiting automobile when the committee approached the Chancery. Angered at what they considered to be a deliberate snub by the bishop, the full body of Curators resumed their meeting and questioned whether Bishop Takach could remove a priest without giving an explanation for his actions.
On Sunday, December 13, 1931, the parish community of St. John's Cathedral
assembled at 12 o'clock noon in the school auditorium. At this fateful meeting, both Father Molchany and a great majority of the Parish would cross the line into open defiance of Bishop Takach. After opening the meeting with the prayer "O Heavenly King," the president of the Parish Curators, John Herack, greeted his fellow parishioners and recounted the recent events surrounding Father Molchany's transfer and the Curators' frustrated attempt to meet with Bishop Takach and to get him to change his decision. After some preliminary discussion, President Herack placed before the assembled parishioners the question whether they wanted Father Molchany to stay at St. John's as the pastor. By a unanimous vote, the parishioners present voted to keep Father Molchany at St. John's. In addition, the assembled parishioners unanimously approved that the Curators should offer Molchany a five-year contract to serve as pastor at a salary of $175 per month.
Following the approval of these motions, Father Molchany was sent for and informed by President Herack of what the Parish had decided. Father Molchany responded by sincerely thanking the parishioners for their support. Father Molchany then told the assembly that he was always ready to stand by the truth and Greek Catholic Faith. Father Molchany pledged to the parishioners of St. John's that by defying Bishop Takach the Parish would not giving up their faith and become a new sect of some independent denomination. Molchany's impassioned and emotional remarks were received with thunderous applause from the parishioners in attendance.
The meeting concluded with the passage of some mean-spirited resolutions regarding Father Holosnyay. First, the congregation unanimously approved a motion forbidding Father Holosnyay from interfering with Father Molchany’s administration of the Parish. Second, the congregation unanimously moved to discontinue the payment of Father Holosnyay’s salary. Third, the congregation unanimously moved that Father Holosnyay should vacate the parish house on Dickson Street in favor of Father Molchany. This final action was even too much for Father Holosnyay’s bitter rival, Father Molchany, who protested that he was satisfied with his present home on Tenth Avenue across from the school and had no desire to have Father Holosnyay leave at the present time.
News of the provocative actions taken at the general Parish meeting quickly made its way to the episcopal chancery. Bishop Takach responded to the actions taken with two pointed letters to Father Molchany.
In his first letter, dated December 16, 1931, Bishop Takach noted that Father Molchany was still continuing to hold office at St. John’s despite the prior transfer order. The bishop declared:
I revoke from you all right to hold services in the Cathedral Church of St. John, Munhall, PA., and from the moment of receiving this letter forbid you to hold any service whatever in the territory of the parish of St. John’s Greek Catholic Cathedral, of Munhall, PA. Simultaneously, I command you to take over the pastorate of the church in Aliquippa, PA., not later than the 18th of December, 1931.
Takach’s second letter to Molchany, also dated December 16, 1931, warned of the
serious ramifications which would befall Molchany if he entered into a contract with the Curators of St. John’s to serve as pastor. The bishop declared:
The question of appointing, removing a priest, establishing his salary, etc., does not belong to the competence of the Board of Trustees, but is the exclusive right of the Ordinary-Bishop of the Diocese. For this reason, the Episcopal Ordinary is bound to inform you of this attempt of the trustees and solemnly proclaim that the making of such contract is absolutely illegal. At the same time, it deems it its duty to warn you of the possible sad consequences of such act, which is usurpation of the rights of the Ordinary and for which Canon Law severely punishes the guilty.
Despite the explicit nature of the two letters, both the Parish, through the Board of Curators, and Father Molchany ignored Bishop Takach’s admonitions. On December 19, 1931, a contract was signed by Father Molchany and by the top officers of the Parish: John Herack, the President of the Board of Curators, John Timko, the Board Secretary, and John Antalovich, the Board Treasurer. Under this contract, Father Molchany formally agreed to serve as pastor of St. John’s for a term of five years. With the execution of this agreement, the first shots of the holy war for the spiritual and temporal control of the Parish had been fired!
Bishop Takach’s response to the execution of the contract was swift and two-fold. First, the bishop immediately dispatched a letter to Father Molchany notifying him of his suspension for “gross disobedience” for his defiant refusal to leave St. John’s and to assume the pastorate in Aliquippa. Second, Bishop Takach decided to take the unprecedented measure of having the civil courts reestablish his control over the rebellious Cathedral Parish. Thus, on December 26, 1931, Bishop Takach filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County asking that an injunction be issued to bar Father Molchany from preaching, teaching or conducting services at St. John’s Cathedral Parish. The holy war launched by Father Molchany and his supporters in the Parish was now in full swing.
On December 29, 1931, attorneys representing Bishop Takach presented a petition for a temporary restraining order. Based upon the allegations contained in the complaint as well as accompanying affidavits signed by the bishop and his secretary, Father Julius Grigassy, attesting to Bishop Takach’s authority to remove Father Molchany from the Parish, Common Pleas Court Judge John Egan issued an order temporarily preventing Father Molchany from conducting any services in the Cathedral church pending a full hearing on the bishop’s injunction request which was scheduled for January 4, 1932.
The filing of the lawsuit to remove Father Molchany created an instant sensation. Bishop Takach’s lawsuit was reported with a banner headline in the Homestead Messenger. With the commencement of the legal action, the Messenger carried daily front page stories extensively outlining the origins of the rift between the bishop and Father Molchany as well as the reasons why the vast majority of the congregation did not want to see the young priest transferred.
On January 4, 1932, the legal battle for control of the spiritual and temporal affairs of St. John’s Cathedral Parish resumed in the Court of Common Pleas. On this occasion, however, a new judge, Sylvester Snee heard the arguments and testimony concerning Bishop Takach’s authority to remove the rebellious young Father Molchany.
While it was expected that the hearing would attract a lot of attention, no one was prepared for the hordes of people who descended on the Pittsburgh City-County Building attempting to gain admittance to the hearing. So many people came to Pittsburgh from the Homestead area by specially chartered buses and by streetcars for the hearing that the entire force of tipstaffs working for the Court was needed to control the massive throng of would-be spectators. In addition, a special unit of police had to be mobilized just to recreate a pathway in the large corridors of the seventh floor of the City-County Building in order to get to Judge Snee’s courtroom. Due to the vast crowd, Judge Snee was forced to ban all but the parties, their attorneys and important witnesses from his courtroom.
Most of the people attempting to gain entrance to Judge Snee’s courtroom were supporters of Father Molchany. To show their support for Molchany, many wore American flags on the lapels of their coats.
Testimony on Bishop Takach’s injunction request lasted for several days. During the hearing, Judge Snee heard from a number of witnesses, including both Takach and Molchany. The hearing itself, which went into excruciatingly tedious detail on a number of points of civil and church law, was slowed considerably because of the need to have a specially appointed interpreter translate the testimony of several of the witnesses, most notably Bishop Takach and Father Holosnyay, into English.
As the Parish awaited Judge Snee’s decision, the Christmas holy day (as then celebrated by the Parish in accordance with the old Julian calendar) approached. The Parish’s “celebration” of this sacred holyday demonstrated the extent of the bitterness which prevailed throughout much of the Parish against the bishop. Since he was still barred by Judge Egan’s temporary restraining order from holding any services at St. John’s, Father Molchany could not celebrate the Christmas liturgy in the church. As a consequence, Father Molchany and his supporters organized an alterative Christmas celebration away from the Cathedral church. Obtaining the use of the music hall at the nearby Carnegie Library, Father Molchany celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day, January 7, 1932 before an estimated crowd of 2,000 worshipers. In sharp contrast, the hierarchial Divine Liturgy celebrated by Bishop Takach himself in the Cathedral Church was attended by no more than seventy-five people, many of whom were not members of the Parish.
At noon, January 12, 1932, Judge Snee at last issued his eagerly awaited decision on Bishop Takach's injunction request against Father Molchany. In his opinion, Judge Snee wrote that the "undisputed testimony in the case" showed that the Father Molchany had been successful in building up the church both spiritually and financially. Further, Judge Snee found that the overwhelming majority of the congregation desired Molchany to continue in his current position at St. John's. Under such circumstances, Judge Snee declared, the status quo ante should not be disturbed until there was a final hearing on all of the various complex issues raised by the litigants. Thus, in a stunning reversal of the prior decision entered by Judge Egan, Judge Snee concluded: "Accordingly, the injunction and restraining order heretofore entered by this court should be dissolved."
Reaction to Judge Snee's decision to dissolve the injunction against Father Molchany was both intense and decidedly mixed. The Homestead Messenger reported that Father Molchany was jubilant upon receiving word of the judge's ruling. Molchany stated that he intended to return immediately to St. John's and that he would be conducting services that Sunday. On the other hand, attorneys representing Bishop Takach planned an appeal of Judge Snee's order. This effort, like their initial request to oust Father Molchany from his position at St. John's, would also prove to be unsuccessful. Finally, Bishop Hugh C. Boyle, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, entered into the controversy surrounding the battle for control over St. John's Cathedral Parish. Bishop Boyle sent a letter to every pastor in his diocese informing them that Father Peter Molchany had been suspended for irregularities by Bishop Takach. Bishop Boyle warned all of his priests: "You are required, therefore, to forbid his ministry among your people, nor may you or your people in any way, by word or deed, give aid or comfort to him in his disobedience." In a written statement, the Board of Curators of St. John's denounced Bishop Boyle's letter as improper interference into their church's affairs. In addition, the Curators accused the bishop of encouraging Slovak Roman Catholics at nearby St. Ann's and St. Michael's Churches to persuade their friends at St. John's Cathedral not to attend services officiated by Father Molchany.
The failure of Bishop Takach's efforts to restrain Father Molchany from continuing to serve at St. John's Cathedral Parish had the unintended effect of preventing the pastor, Father Alexis Holosnyay, from celebrating the Divine Liturgy or conducting any services in the church where he had served for more than thirty years. With Father Molchany and the Board of Curators now in firm control of the Parish, Father Holosnyay and the forty-five or so families who continued to support him and the bishop were forced to find a new venue to hold services. At first, Father Holosnyay and his small band of supporters obtained permission to use St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Homestead for services. Later, Sunday and holy day liturgies as well as other services were conducted by Father Holosnyay at St. Elias Hungarian Greek Catholic Church on Ninth Avenue in Homestead.
Although they were small in number, the supporters of Bishop Takach and Father Holosnyay in the Parish were nonetheless quite vocal in their views. Undoubtedly with the aid and support of the bishop's attorneys, this "loyalist" group of parishioners lead by Curators Joseph Durkota and George Kicsinko and numbering some seventy-six individuals, filed a petition with the Court of Common Pleas urging that they be permitted to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of Bishop Takach. The attempt of the parishioners loyal to the bishop to intervene in the case was strenuously opposed by Father Molchany and the officers of the Parish. They accused the intervening parishioners of being delinquent in the payment of their church dues and therefore lacking legal standing or voice in the affairs of the Parish.
After a delay of nearly six months, Bishop Takach's lawsuit against Father Molchany returned to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County for hearing. A third judge, George V. Moore, was assigned to preside over the case.
Beginning on September 28, 1932, Judge Moore conducted extensive hearings on the matter. During these hearings, which were conducted over a period of almost two months, Judge Moore heard testimony from thirty witnesses. In addition to Bishop Takach, Father Molchany, Father Holosnyay, and various members of the Board of Curators, some of the notable witnesses who testified before Judge Moore included: John Pido, one of the last remaining founders of the Parish; Father Julius Grigassy, the bishop's secretary and an expert on canon law; Dr. Peter Ivan Zeedick, a practicing physician who translated historic church documents such as the famous Union of Uzhorod as a hobby; and Fathers Orestes Chornock and Stephen Varzaly, two outspoken priests who were bitter opponents of Bishop Takach and the infamous Cum Data Fuerit Decree, the 1929 directive from the Holy See which imposed celibacy upon the Greek Catholic clergy serving in North America. In addition to the numerous witnesses, Judge Moore received countless documents supporting the various contentions of the parties. These documents ranged from the basic organizational documents of the Parish dating back to 1897 to translations of seventeenth century papal bulls to excerpts from university texts on canon law and the governance of the rites of the Catholic Church.
With the submission of the hearing transcripts and the filing of legal briefs by the attorneys representing both Bishop Takach and Father Molchany, the case was now ready for final adjudication by Judge Moore. As the case moved to final determination by Judge Moore, however, a last minute effort was mounted to amicably settle the bitter conflict. This last ditch attempt to bring about a reconciliation in the matter came neither from the parties, their attorneys nor from the rival factions within the Parish. Rather, it came from the most unexpected of sources: the Vatican itself!
In early 1933, the Holy See dispatched a special representative, Bishop Peter Bucys, a bishop from Kaunas, Lithuania, to the United States with instructions to settle not only the dispute between Bishop Takach and the group of diocesan clergy opposed to the Cum Data Decree but also the dispute between the bishop and Father Molchany over control of St. John's Cathedral Parish. After consulting with a number of Greek Catholic clergy regarding the numerous troubles plaguing the Greek Catholic Church in America, Bishop Bucys arrived in Homestead and initiated a series of secret meetings to settle the dispute between Takach and Molchany.
Meeting initially with Molchany, Bucys directed the young priest, who had been excommunicated by the actions of Bishop Takach, to present a written petition to the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, requesting pardon and the lifting of the sentence of suspension and excommunication. Father Molchany immediately agreed to Bishop Bucys' order and wrote the following letter:
To His Holiness, Pope Pius XI in Rome
I, the undersigned bend my knee before your Holiness and ask your Holiness to act kindly towards me and forgive me, that I as a pastor of a Greek Catholic parish, for my disobedience to my bishop was suspended and excommunicated.
I am very sorry for my [sic] offence, and in the future promise to always be an obedient son of the Holy Mother Church.
Kissing the blessed Right Hand of Your Holiness,
Your most humble son,
Rev. Peter Molchany
In Homestead, PA.-6th of April, 1933
Following Molchany's preparation of the letter to the pope, Bishop Bucys brought Takach and Molchany together for an extended conference at Takach's Chancery office. During the conference, Bishop Bucys ordered Father Molchany to make a retreat at a nearby convent and to pledge fidelity and obedience to Bishop Takach. Although Molchany did not give a definitive response to the request for fidelity and obedience, Bishop Takach agreed to restore Father Molchany's status as a priest of the Diocese "pro foro interno" (meaning secretly) for a period of two months. If Molchany abided by a promise of fidelity and obedience for that period, Takach promised to restore his status "pro foro externo" (meaning openly).
Unfortunately, the attempts by the Vatican representative to secretly broker an end to the hostilities between Bishop Takach and Father Molchany resulted in failure. Upon his return from an eight day retreat ordered and conducted by Bishop Bucys, Father Molchany again met privately with Bishop Takach. At this meeting, the bishop presented Father Molchany with a list of specfic demands which Molchany would have to satisfy before the bishop would publicly restore him to a priest in good standing in the Exarchate. Bishop Takach's new demands included:
1. A public restatement of his priestly vows;
2. A denial of his court testimony that the bishop had
no authority to appoint and remove priests from a parish
or that the pope had no authority over the customs of the
Greek Catholic Church;
3. A statement of sorrow for taking the Cathedral Parish
into independence and for causing grave scandal and shame
to the Church and to episcopal authority;
4. A request for discharge from the Cathedral Parish and
reassignment at the discretion of the bishop.
Finding Takach's demands to be well beyond the requirements outlined by the papal legate, Father Molchany rejected them in their entirety. As a result, Bishop Takach sent Molchany the following letter:
P.O. Box 383
No.95/1933 Glory be to Jesus Christ
Mr. Peter Molchany
On the 10th day of April, 1933 upon the request of His Excellency, Peter Bucys, the bishop of Olympic, the personal representative of His Holiness, the Pope of Rome, I, as the ordinary bishop, freed you from church censures "pro foro interno" and gave you two months to obtain freedom "pro foro externo."
Because you did not fulfill the requirements of His Holiness, therefore I am letting you know, that I have withdrawn the freedom given on the tenth day of April, 1933, and so in all the "status ante quo" remains.
From the Episcopal Ordinary
+ Basil (m.p.)
When Father Molchany again approached Bishop Takach in June 1933 about restoring himself to good standing in the Exarchate, the bishop reiterated his specific demands for Molchany's restatement. Once again, Molchany rejected the bishop's conditions for reinstatement. Thereafter, all negotiations for a possible settlement of the litigation over the control of the Parish or Molchany's reinstatement as a priest in good standing were conclusively abandoned.
More than one year after the efforts of the Vatican's representative to settle the litigation over the control of the Parish and almost nineteen months following the close of the record in the case, Judge Moore handed down his decision. In a sixty-two-page opinion, the judge rejected all of the arguments advanced by Father Molchany that Bishop Takach had no authority to remove him from St. John's Cathedral Parish.
First, Judge Moore rejected the claim that Father Molchany should be permitted to remain at St. John's simply because he had done good work and the majority of the parishioners wanted him to stay. Judge Moore declared: "[N]either the desire of the majority of the membership...nor any apparent success in defendant's pastoral leadership, is the gauge of right regard to his legal standing as pastor of this church..."
Second, Judge Moore dismissed the argument that Bishop Takach had no authority over Father Molchany because he had not been elected as bishop by the members of the Greek Catholic Church as provided by the Union of Užhorod. While admitting the one of the three specific conditions in the seventeenth century document under which the Greek Catholic Church returned to unity with Rome provided for the election of bishops by the Church and confirmation of the choice by the Holy See, the judge concluded that this specific right had been historically ceded by inaction to the monarchs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ultimately to the pope himself. Therefore, Bishop Takach, as the appointee of the Holy Father, universal pastor of the Catholic Church, had complete authority to govern the affairs of the churches under his jurisdiction, including the power to appoint and remove priests.
Third, the judge took issue with the contention of Father Molchany that the power to appoint priests remained with each local parish under an ancient legal principle known as jus patronatus or right of the patron. According to this principle, the privilege of picking a pastor was said to rest with the patrons of the church, i.e.- the person or persons who supported the local parish. The judge rejected the claim that the principle of jus patronatus was controlling because this right was not one of the ecclesiastical immunities reserved by the Union of Užhorod. According to the judge's view of the voluminous expert testimony presented during the case, the ecclesiastical immunities referred to in the pact of union had nothing to do with the right of a parish to pick and chose a priest.
Finally, Judge Moore concluded that Bishop Takach properly removed Father Molchany by even if he was legally appointed as pastor of St. John's by the Board of Curators. Contrary to the testimony of the various lay witnesses who stated that the bishop gave no reasons for removing Molchany, the judge stated that ample reasons existed for the bishop to remove Molchany. Such facts found by the court to constitute grave and weighty reasons for Molchany's removal included the dissension over the division of stole fees; Molchany's "hasty action" in having himself elected as pastor when he was sent only to be a curate or assistant priest; Molchany's lack of loyalty to the bishop; and Molchany's glaring lack of conformity to Greek Catholic ritual: the omission of the bishop's name during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Furthermore, Judge Moore declared that Bishop Takach's failure to state a specific reason for his reassignment of Molchany or any vacillation on the bishop’s part when informed of the Parish's election of Molchany as pastor was inconsequential and did not affect his power to remove Molchany in the slightest.
Judge Moore's decision, which amounted to a resounding victory for Bishop Takach and complete vindication of his authority as bishop, was immediately appealed by Father Molchany's attorneys to a “court en banc,” a panel of three judges. However, the three-judge panel, which consisted of Judge Moore, the trial judge, and Judges McNaughter and Musmanno, quickly dismissed Molchany's legal exceptions to the decision. Thus, on August 28, 1934, a final decree was entered preventing Father Molchany from acting as a priest at the Parish.
Molchany's last resort in reversing the decision removing him from St. John's Cathedral Parish was to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On January 28, 1935, the state's highest court heard Father Molchany's appeal. While the Supreme Court pondered the appeal, events were rapidly unfolding which threatened the survival of the once proud and prosperous Parish.
During the seemingly endless legal battle for control of the Parish, the mortgage on all the church properties fell into serious delinquency. As a consequence, the Monongahela Trust Company, which held the mortgage on the church building, the school and the priest residences, initiated foreclosure proceedings. On February 4, 1935, all of the properties were exposed for Sheriff's sale. Fortunately, Union National Bank, which was acting at the behest of Bishop Takach, purchased all of the Parish properties at the Sheriff sale. With financial assistance secured by mortgages on the personal residences of the Supreme Officers of the United Societies, one of the Greek Catholic fraternal organizations, the bishop immediately made arrangements with the bank to have all of the Parish properties transferred to his legal control.
On March 25, 1935, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Judge Moore's decision in favor of Bishop Takach. The high court ruled that Judge Moore had not abused his discretion in finding that Bishop Takach had authority to remove Father Molchany. Based on the record presented to the trial court, especially as found in the Parish's charter and other organizational documents, the Supreme Court stated that St. John's was always a church "united with Rome" and therefore subject to the disciplines and laws of the Catholic Church. Such disciplines and canon law, the court declared, provided clear authority for a bishop to remove a priest from a parish at his discretion. Any dispute over whether a bishop's exercise of this removal power, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared, belonged before an ecclesiastical tribunal, not a civil court. Because Father Molchany had failed to file his case before the proper tribunal, according to the supreme court, the civil courts had no justification to intervene and consider the propriety of the bishop's decision.
Within a day of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision, Bishop Takach moved to take control over the Parish and its properties. Sheriff’s deputies changed all of the locks on the church and the school and turned over the keys to the bishop. In addition, the Sheriff's deputies served formal notice upon Father Molchany to immediately vacate his residence.
The abrupt turnover of the Parish properties to Bishop Takach in the wake of both the foreclosure on the church properties and the court rulings justifying his removal of Father Molchany served only to heightened the tensions between the rival factions in the Parish. Finally, the tensions poured over into violence. Following a Friday evening vesper service, opposing members of the Parish engaged in a fight outside the church. Because of the threat of continued violence, Bishop Takach requested the Munhall Police Department to maintain a twenty-four hour guard over all of the church properties. Eventually, hostilities between the two sides lessened when Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Musmanno, who decried that a house of worship should be subjected “to such unseemliness” as was displayed by the conduct of both warring factions, was able to negotiate some extra time for Father Molchany to vacate the property.
On Sunday, April 7, 1935, Bishop Takach re-entered his Cathedral for the first time in more than three years. After a reblessing ceremony, Father Alexis Holosnyay, who had only days before had celebrated his sixty-eighth birthday, was formally re-installed as the pastor of St. John's Cathedral Parish. At long last, the holy war over the Parish was over!