The Vatican’s 1890 decree requiring all Greek Catholic priests serving in the United States to be celibate deeply disturbed the Greek Catholic clergy. Since most of them were married, they considered the decree to be an outrageous and unwarranted attack on their centuries-old tradition by both Rome and the unsympathetic American hierarchy. Meeting in Hazleton, Pennsylvania in late 1891, they strongly protested the decree and petitioned the Holy See for the appointment of a Vicar General to administer the affairs of their Church in the United States. When their protests and petitions went unanswered, the clergy unilaterally acted in 1892 and selected from their own ranks a widowed priest, Reverend Nicephor Chanat, to be Vicar General. Essentially, his role was to act as an intermediary between the Latin bishops and the Greek Catholic clergy. Unfortunately, the bishops ignored his appointment and the clergy refused to follow his leadership. Thus, in 1896, Father Chanat resigned his position.
After numerous petitions submitted by clergy and lay committees requesting the appointment of a bishop for the Greek Catholic Church in the United States, the Holy See finally acted. In May 1902, upon the recommendation of the Hungarian government, the Holy See named Father Andrew Hodobay, a canon and member of the Chapter of the Prešov Eparchy, as Apostolic Visitator for all Greek Catholics in America. Father Hodobay’s assignment was to investigate “all aspects of the religious controversy” concerning Greek Catholics in America.
Initially, however, Canon Hodobay’s mission in the United States was undermined by his public admission that he came to America as the official representative of the Hungarian government. In response to this, the Greek Catholics began to separate along national lines. People who emigrated from the Galician region of Central Europe started to distinguish themselves as Ukrainian, rejecting the more universal, if imprecise, term Ruthenian or Rusyn. In turn, the Carpatho-Rusyns split themselves into two regional factions: one from Prešov and the other from Užhorod. So then, rather than creating unity and harmony, Father Hodobay’s mission served instead to further the divisions within the nascent Greek Catholic Church in America.
Regrettably these intrigues and internal rivalries only served to weaken Church discipline, to exacerbate the problem of schism and to accelerate the exodus to the Russian Orthodox Church. Though Father Hodobay was recalled to Europe after five years, the Holy See accepted his recommendation that a bishop be named for the Greek Catholic faithful in the United States.