After Vatican defeat, St. Stan's looks to the fringe...

By Tim Townsend

The feisty, stubborn members of the Polish church believed their long, rich history would save them. But the Vatican saw things differently, and now the congregation, which still celebrates Mass in Polish once a week, is set to follow a renegade priest into the fringes of the church.

The Vatican has upheld the excommunication of the board members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, and also has hinted that the church's pastor, the Rev. Marek Bozek, would soon be laicized, or stripped of his priesthood.

If Bozek is laicized, he said he will ask a different bishop to oversee St. Stanislaus, and the board's chairman says the congregation will support him.

One option is worshipping under the authority of an excommunicated Zambian archbishop who is married to a Korean acupuncturist, and whose organization funded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon promotes a married priesthood.

In a decree dated May 15, the Vatican's powerful office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, upheld St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke's December 2005 declaration of excommunication of Bozek and the six lay board members of the parish just north of downtown.

The board members were declared excommunicated by Burke after they hired Bozek, who had been suspended by his own bishop in the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

St. Stanislaus' cornerstone was laid in 1880, and in 1891, St. Louis Archbishop Peter Kenrick agreed to a parish structure in which the laity, in the form of a corporation, would help govern the financial life of the parish. The board has always included the pastor, who served as the board representative to the archdiocese.

Through more than a century, three St. Louis bishops tried to get St. Stanislaus to change its structure, which allows the lay corporation to retain control of its finances. Since he arrived in early 2004, Burke has worked to persuade the members of St. Stanislaus to conform to the same legal and financial structure as every other parish in the archdiocese. Burke removed St. Stanislaus' pastor in the summer of 2004 after the lay board had taken away the priest's access to church coffers.

Since Burke declared him excommunicated in 2005, Bozek has been anything but low-key. Last fall he participated in an ordination ceremony for two women at a synagogue. The women became priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The Roman Catholic church does not ordain women as priests.

Burke has said he is concerned that Bozek is performing marriages, hearing confessions and celebrating confirmations at St. Stanislaus while he is suspended from the priesthood. All those sacraments would be invalid under church law.

In the May 15 decree, the Vatican's orthodoxy office, headed by American Cardinal William Levada, rejected the St. Stanislaus board's appeal of the excommunications, agreeing with Burke that the board had committed schism by hiring Bozek.

"It is evident that the Board Members have committed the delict of schism by constituting St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish as an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church," wrote Levada.

Schism is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."

Burke also had asked the Vatican to investigate Bozek on the charge of "prohibited communicatio in sacris," which, according to canon law, means that "Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church."

Bozek and the board members were given 30 days to appeal the Vatican's ruling.

Burke was not available for comment, but according to a column he wrote, to be published Friday in his archdiocesean newspaper, the St. Louis Review, the Vatican has asked the archbishop to order Bozek to back down. If Bozek refuses, the Vatican office will "present his case to the Holy Father" to dismiss Bozek from the priesthood, according to Burke's column.

"Once you're ordained, you're ordained and nothing can change that," Bozek said Wednesday. But the priest also said that if Pope Benedict XVI did laicize him, he would "be forced to find another Catholic bishop. If and when it happens, I will be left with no option."

Bozek said he had met with bishops ("more than two, less than 10") but would not reveal their names. He did confirm that one bishop was with the Married Priests Now! Roman Catholic Prelature, an organization led by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo.

Milingo is a former Zambian archbishop who was excommunicated in 2006 after consecrating married priests as bishops. In 2002, Milingo married a Korean acupuncturist, chosen for him by Moon, in a mass wedding run by Moon's Unification Church.

Bozek said he also has talked to retired diocesan bishops in good standing with the church, and to bishops in several so-called Old Catholic churches including the Polish National Catholic Church, the American Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Catholic Church.

"I intend to lead St. Stanislaus and continue to be the pastor of this parish even if I'm laicized by the Roman Catholic church," Bozek said.

William Bialczak, chairman of the St. Stanislaus board, said Wednesday that he believed "the majority" of St. Stanislaus parishioners would remain at the church even if Bozek placed them under the authority of a bishop like Milingo.

"That would be OK for most of us," he said. "There's only one God we all pray to." 314-340-8221

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