Hundreds attend "illicit" Mass in St. Louis!

Kansas City Star
Posted on Sat, Dec. 24, 2005

CHERYL WITTENAUER
Associated Press

A traditionally Polish parish at odds with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis drew at least 1,500 people to its Christmas Eve Mass, the first to be celebrated by a new pastor who risked excommunication to become the church's first leader in more than a year.

Worshippers from as far away as Oregon and Washington, D.C., Catholics and non-Catholics alike, filled St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. An overflow crowd viewed the Mass by closed circuit TV in an adjoining parish center.

The worshippers, many wearing large red buttons reading "Save St. Stanislaus," said they were here to offer their solidarity to a parish they believe has been wronged by Archbishop Raymond Burke.

"It saddens me," said Pauline Dickof, 66, a British immigrant who now lives in the St. Louis suburb of Fenton. "What he's doing is very, very wrong and destructive. When my country was in trouble, many Polish airmen came over to help in the Battle of Britain. If any of them are here tonight, God bless them."

Burke has said it would be a mortal sin for anyone to participate in a Mass celebrated by a priest who last week was excommunicated - the Catholic Church's most severe penalty. Burke, who was helpless to stop the Mass, said it would be "valid" but "illicit."

That didn't stop dozens from contacting the parish asking for directions. Their interest seemed piqued by news that Burke had excommunicated the Rev. Marek Bozek and the parish's lay board.
Matt Morrison, 50, an Irish immigrant to St. Louis, said he did not believe Burke's warning that worshippers were in danger of mortal sin by attending Saturday night's service.

"I'm not worried about mortal sin," Morrison said. "I'll take a stand for what I believe is right."
When Bozek entered from the rear of the church, the congregation rose and greeted him with thunderous applause.

"It was magic," said JoAnne La Sala of St. Louis, a self-described lapsed Catholic who attended to show her support for the parish. "You could feel the spirit of the people."
Madelyn and Steve Belosi drove more than an hour from Lake St. Louis to attend the mass, even though they said they, like La Sala, are not practicing Catholics.

"They took a bold stand against the archbishop and the Vatican," Steve Belosi said. "What a statement. This makes this Christmas really special."
Burke said Bozek and St. Stanislaus' six-member lay board committed an act of schism when the board hired Bozek after he left the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on Dec. 2 without his bishop's permission. He had sought a leave of absence.

The penalty was the latest wrinkle in a long dispute over control of the parish's $9.5 million in assets.
The rift involves control of the parish's property and finances, which have been managed by a lay board of directors for more than a century. Burke has sought to change that to make the parish conform to the same legal structure as other parishes in the diocese. As a result, he removed both the parish's priests in 2004.
Bozek, a Pole who arrived in the U.S. five years ago, said he agonized about leaving Springfield but wanted to help a church that had been deprived of the sacraments for 17 months.

To be Polish is to be Catholic, he said, and to be Catholic is to receive the sacraments.
"I will give them the sacrament of reconciliation, the Eucharist. I will visit the sick and bury the dead," he said. "I will laugh with those who are laughing and cry with those who are crying."

Bozek said he doesn't believe that receiving sacraments at St. Stanislaus, especially Holy Communion, puts a Catholic at risk of mortal sin.

The Rev. Charles Bouchard, moral theology professor and president of Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, said Burke was following canon law "to the letter" in excommunicating Bozek and the board.

But he noted some canon lawyers have argued that St. Stanislaus' more than century-old governing structure holds the same authority as church law and lacked merit for imposing excommunication.
"Whether the parties should have reached this impasse in the first place," he said, "is another matter."