Bishops suspend priest hired by St. Louis lay-run parish.

Issue Date: December 23, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- The dispute between a Polish parish in North St. Louis and St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke escalated last month when the parish lay governing board, already under the church penalty of interdict, hired a priest from outside the archdiocese.

Polish-born Fr. Marek Bozek, a priest of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., diocese took the job without the permission of his bishop, John J. Leibrecht, who immediately suspended him from priestly ministry.

Bozek was to assume his duties at the St. Louis parish for the Christmas weekend.

Archdiocesan authorities told the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper, that under church law this means any marriage at which Bozek presides is invalid and he cannot validly hear confessions. Burke said someone who participates in a Mass he celebrates sins gravely.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, founded 125 years ago to serve Polish Catholic immigrants, is governed by a lay board, a concession made to some ethnic parishes in the 19th century (NCR, Oct. 1, 2004).

Burke's predecessor in St. Louis, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Justin Rigali, set about to reorganize the parish in 2002 to give primary authority to its pastor.

Burke became archbishop in December 2003 and took up the issue. In late July 2004, the governing board took control of parish finances from the priest-administrator. In January 2005 the parish voted 299-5 against a proposal to turn over all property, funds and parish control to the archdiocese of St. Louis. In February, Burke placed the six-member lay board under interdict -- prohibiting them from receiving the sacraments.

Bozek told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his decision to flout his superiors has more to do with a situation he labels "desperate."

This is why I came [to the United States] in the first place, he said, to help people with no priest. Is there a better textbook example right now of a church without a priest? Bozek said he started talking to the church board a year ago about coming to St. Louis.

In a letter to Burke, Bozek wrote, I believe that there are serious and grave reasons existing at the time that validate this step, which omits the usual process of priestly assignment.

Catholic News Service and NCR staff
National Catholic Reporter, December 23, 2005

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