Large turnout expected for "illicit" Mass in St. Louis!

23:42 2005-12-24

A traditionally Polish parish at odds with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis expected a large turnout for its Christmas Eve Mass _ one to be led by the parish's recently excommunicated new pastor. 

Archbishop Raymond Burke has said it would be a mortal sin for anyone to participate in a Mass celebrated by a priest who 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 hasn't stopped dozens from contacting St. Stanislaus Kostka parish asking for directions. Their interest seemed piqued by news that Burke last week had excommunicated the Rev. Marek Bozek and the parish's lay board. 

"I've gotten calls at home from as far away as Chicago," parish spokesman Roger Krasnicki said. "They're saying, `We're coming down. How do we get there?"' 

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 (Ђ8.01 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," reports AP.