This posting comes well after the fact as these excommunications took place in December of 2005. This article appeared in the February 2006 issue of Catholic World Report, however it wasn't put on the web. I think it has some import, so I'm making it available here.
Excommunications in St. Louis
By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz
It’s not often that seven Catholics are publicly excommunicated from the Church on a single day. So when Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis proclaimed “with heavy heart” in December that the six members of the board of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in St. Louis and the priest they hired to be pastor were excommunicated for an act of schism, it made national news.
Father Marek Bozek, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and a native of Poland, left his post as associate pastor of St. Agnes Cathedral in his diocese against the express wishes of Bishop Joseph Leibrecht, and took up an offer from the board of directors of St. Stan’s Parish to become their pastor. By this act, both the board and the priest committed an act of schism and ruptured their communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
This was not what Archbishop Burke wanted. Pundits have wagged their tongues over the controversies that follow this shepherd wherever he goes. From his decisions to build a multi-million dollar shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Diocese of La Crosse, to his ban of CROP Walk there, forbidding that diocese’s AIDS Ministry from participating in a fund-raising walk with gay-rights groups, telling pro-abortion Catholic politicians after years of dialogue with them that they could not receive Communion until they publicly repented their position, and then when he moved to St. Louis telling Senator John Kerry that he could not receive Communion in his archdiocese while the presidential contender was campaigning there and putting the members of the St. Stanislaus board under interdict, Archbishop Burke is not one to shrink from difficult decisions.
In an interview with this writer back in June of 2004 during the heat of the presidential election, he said, rather bemusedly, “I always seem to be getting myself into trouble.” But this controversy with St. Stan’s was not one he relished or found in any way humorous. In fact, in his weekly column in the St. Louis Review, he wrote, “I write, with heavy heart, about a situation which I, as bishop, had hoped I would never have to address.”
St. Stanislaus Kostka, on the city’s north side, is in an anomalous situation. It was founded in 1880 as a regular ethnic parish to serve the Polish immigrants in the area. But the historical circumstances of the time would lead to then-Archbishop Peter Kenrick, who was toward the end of his life and, according to local historians, not in the soundest of mind, to forge a compromise with the parish.
At that time in the nation’s history, the Catholic Church was coming out of the throes of trusteeism, the movement that put “jus patronatus” in the hands of the common laity. The concept of “jus patronatus” came from Old Europe where royalty or nobles established churches or dioceses and had the right to name the priest or bishop to those. To use modern American terms, whoever paid for it had the naming rights.
When the emigres came here in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this concept with them and applied to themselves in the land where no nobility existed. They paid for the purchase of the land and the building of the church, schools and convents, so, they figured, they had the right to own it themselves, not the Church. (See Catholic World Report, October 2005)
At the same time this was going on, Polish immigrants were feeling slighted by their primarily Irish and German bishops. This caused feelings of resentment and bitterness to rise up and eventually brought about the schism in Pennsylvania that resulted in the rise of the Polish National Catholic Church. Numerous Polish parishes around the country were either going or threatening to go the same way.
Enter St. Stanislaus Parish in St. Louis, Missouri in 1891. Archbishop Peter Kenrick was most likely facing a similar situation, according to local historians. It is quite likely that this parish was wanting to break for the PNCC, though no one today is fully sure of the circumstances of the time. Many believe the archbishop was not in the soundest frame of mind at the time a deed was signed and a lay board of trustees took control of the buildings and land. He still retained control over the naming of priests to the parish and the pastor was the chairman of the board. But the laity now had a firm grip on what happened there.
Through the years, there had been various moves to try to bring this parish into line with canon law, according to Msgr. Vernon Gardin, the vicar general for the archdiocese. “It was still an irregular situation back then,” he said, and during the 40's and 50's the chancellor tried to do something, but was unsuccessful. It was let go during the 60's, but it arose again in the 1970's from the most unlikely source – Pope John Paul II.
At that time, he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, but he was visiting the U.S. in 1969. Being that this was a Polish parish, he stopped in to visit and celebrate Mass. That gave the parishioners a shot in the arm to believe their stand on the case was correct. Then when he was elected pope in 1978, that gave them even greater hope.
But that hope would eventually be dashed. As the board began to perceive that things were not going the way they wanted them to go, they made unilateral changes to their by-laws in 2001 and again in 2004. The original by-laws had the archbishop assigning the pastor, who would also serve as president of the board, and gave him the ability to appoint the members of the board. But the first change had the members of the board elected by the parish, an election that was then confirmed by the archbishop. The second change completely wrote the archbishop out of the picture – the word doesn’t even appear in the document – and there is also no mention of the parish being part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Instead, the document refers to the “competent ecclesiastical authority” but does not define who that is. On top of that, the pastor is no longer the top member of the board. That falls to the chairperson who is, according to the by-laws, a chief executive officer.
The 2001 changes are what caused then-Archbishop Justin Rigali to start raising the bar on the board and asking for a regularization of their situation. But he got nowhere with them before he was transferred to Philadelphia. So it fell to his successor, Archbishop Burke, to deal with it.
His first meeting with the board did not go well. He was told that they were in charge. The archbishop decided to call for a meeting with the parishioners, which turned out to be worse than the board meeting, with parishioners publicly verbally abusing him. It didn’t help that board members brought in some of his detractors from when he was in La Crosse.
It was a month after this parish meeting that the board revised the by-laws again.
Archbishop Burke was not pleased. Five months later, he temporarily moved the pastor, Father Michael Bene, and the apostolate to the Polish community to another parish, and in July of last year permanently moved the apostolate to St. Agatha Parish. That left St. Stanislaus without priest.
The board appealed that decision to the Congregation for the Clergy. But the dicastery ruled against them in rather strong terms. “Through careful and premeditated revisions of the By-Laws of the civil corporation,” wrote the Congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, “you have attempted to make the role of the pastor impotent, attempted to wrest control from the local Ordinary, and attempted to transform St. Stanislaus Parish into an entity which has no resemblance to a parish as envisioned by either the tradition or current law of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Still, the board was undaunted. All throughout this struggle, they have portrayed Archbishop Burke as a man eager to get his hands on the property and the estimated $9 million in assets the parish has in order to pay for sexual abuse claims. That’s an image the secular press has engendered by portraying this as a struggle over property rights. But that’s not the case at all, said Msgr. Gardin. As well as being Vicar General, he’s also the vicar for finances and is in charge of the Finance Committee, which he emphasized is no mere rubber-stamp group. There is the overall committee and a whole bunch of subcommittees as well, meaning, he said, he has to go to 32 meetings a year. “There are scores of laypeople on these committees” who probe every single aspect of the archdiocesan funding. In short, he said, “We don’t need the money and we don’t want the money.”
In fact, there are serious questions about the parish’s financial disclosures. While the parish is claiming $9 million in assets, the archdiocese asserts that they have not done a publicly available audit. And the area of town they’re in is not the best, according to Msgr. Gardin, so the land valuation is probably not as high as they claim.
Finally, in February of 2005, the archbishop put the board under the canonical penalty of interdict. This is not a type of excommunication, but rather a penalty meant to try and bring the offenders to repentance.
Enter Father Bozek...
After the interdict not much happened. Until the second week of Advent, that is. That’s when the board announced that it had hired a priest from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri to be their new pastor.
Father Marek Bozek is originally from Poland. How he got to be ordained in Missouri is a matter of some dispute. He had originally been studying for the Pallotine Fathers and then for the Archdiocese of Warmia. However, he did not complete his studies at either place. The former rector of the seminary in Warmia, Father Jan Guzowski, said that Father Bozek was dismissed from the seminary for homosexual activity. But Father Bozek disputed that with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“We thought he was homosexual,” Father Guzowski told the P-D. “‘We had several problems with him. He said he wasn't homosexual, but we had certain proof that this wasn't true.’ Asked what proof, Guzowski said that other seminarians told him so.”
The P-D quoted Father Bozek as saying that he has “a recommendation from Archbishop [Edmund] Piszcz which says I left by my own request.”
Interestingly, the Archdiocese of Hartford had a priest from the Warmia Archdiocese working for them for a short period who was arrested for sexually abusing a teenage girl. He has served his jail term and is currently awaiting deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to news reports in the New Britain Herald, Hartford claimed they had a letter of recommendation from Warmia, a claim Warmia disputed. Calls to Hartford seeking clarification were not returned.
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau told CWR they had received three letters of recommendation for Father Bozek from the Archdiocese of Warmia when he was applying to study for the diocese. She would not release them for review, however, saying they composed part of his confidential personnel file. She did say, however, that there was “no mention of any homosexual preferences or practices” in any of the letters.
A request for information from the Pallotine Fathers was not answered.
...Exuent the St. Stan’s board and Father Bozek
These actions – Father Bozek leaving his parish assignment and the board of St. Stan’s hiring him – left the Ordinaries of these dioceses with little choice. Upon leaving, Bishop Leibrecht suspended Father Bozek’s priestly faculties. Upon his arrival at St. Stan’s, Archbishop Burke gave pronouncement to the automatic excommunication.
When he left his post at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield, Father Bozek left a diocese very much in need of priests. The Post-Dispatch reported a claim by Father Bozek that Bishop Leibrecht had encouraged Archbishop Burke to take him, but that the archbishop refused. That claim was later denied by both bishops.
Father Bozek even claimed that Bishop Leibrecht understood why he was doing what he was doing. However, Bishop Leibrecht’s statement on the matter does not betray any kind of understanding whatsoever: “Father Marek Bozek has gone from ordination to excommunication in three short years. This descent has taken place because he has not remained a man of his word. On ordination day, he promised publicly before all assembled that he would give his life to the people of southern Missouri in full cooperation with his bishop. That has not happened. Instead, division and schism in the Church has [sic] taken place.”
The board has appealed the excommunication. The appeal first goes to the archbishop. If he denies it, it then goes to the Vatican. There it will most likely go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith given that the cause of the excommunications was schism. How the American Archbishop William Levada will respond to it will be interesting to watch.
Szyszkiewicz writes from Minnesota.