St. Stanislaus letter to Carlson clouds Sunday's vote..

By Tim Townsend

A letter addressed to St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson from the chairman of the lay board of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church makes it clear that regardless of how parishioners vote Sunday on Carlson’s proposal, the seven-year battle may not be over.

“We remain hopeful for a mutually agreeable resolution,” board chair Richard Lapinski wrote, “but we have a duty to achieve the best possible solution for our Parish community.”

Last week, Carlson published his proposal to St. Stanislaus parishioners on the archdiocese’s website.

The legal structure of the church has always been at the foundation of the dispute, and it remains so today. On Saturday and Sunday, St. Stan’s members – itself an issue of hot debate (i.e. Who’s a member? Who decides the names on the rolls? Can members who left the church in support of the archdiocese vote?) – will take part in a “survey” to their board and attorneys how to proceed in negotiations with the archdiocese.

According to Lapinski’s letter, parishioners have three points of contention:

Lapinski says that the archdiocese has refused to promise a priest who speaks Polish, and the board wants that promise in writing. Carlson wrote last week:

To the best of my ability, I will assure that there is always a priest available and will work to get a priest, either a diocesan priest or a priest from a religious order, who speaks both Polish and English.

Parishioners also want a promise that neither Carlson, nor his successors, will ever close the church. Lapinski writes:

As you may know, there is also a significant concern at St. Stanislaus with whether you will seek to close our church shortly after the settlement is implemented. We and our attorneys have tried in several ways to obtain some commitment from you that the parish will remain open. This is an issue of trust and, at this point in time, many of our parishioners lack trust in the Archdiocese due to the actions of your predecessors.

On that point, Carlson acknowledged those fears in his letter last week, writing:

…the fears expressed by many of you over the last seven years that the parish would be closed and its property sold with the proceeds being used for other purposes within the archdiocese. One of the concerns expressed again and again was that, even if an archbishop made a commitment to keep the parish operating so long as Roman Catholics of Polish heritage wanted to have a parish and were willing to support it, he could not bind his successors.

The archbishop said the new legal partnership between the church and the archdiocese – in which St. Stan’s acts as the archdiocese’s landlord – would eliminate that prospect.

Finally, Lapinski writes that parishioners fear that by allowing St. Stan’s new pastor to choose who is on the rolls of the St. Stanislaus Corporation, thereby giving the pastor – and by extension the archbishop – the ability to sell the church from underneath the parishioners’ feet.

According to Lapinski:

The St. Stanislaus Corporation is designed to insulate the property of St. Stanislaus from being taken over by the Archdiocese by requiring the members to vote on any transfer of property to the Archdiocese. If the pastor would have the unfettered discretion to remove people from voting membership, this could allow the pastor to control the outcome of that vote.

In his letter last week, Carlson said he had no such plans, writing that it was his intention that the corporate relationship between the church and archdiocese “continue in perpetuity and that St. Stanislaus always be there as a personal parish for Roman Catholics of Polish ethnicity or language.”

But parishioners have reason to be wary of such promises, Lapinski writes. Trust has been a rare commodity in this relationship over the last seven years, and parishioners are upset that Carlson has not taken them up on an offer to visit the church, according to Lapinski. He writes:

As we have mentioned in our discussions with you, these issues of trust have to be overcome for our parishioners to embrace a settlement. In an effort to build trust, we invited you to come to St. Stanislaus to meet with the St. Stanislaus parishioners face-to-face. Your decision not to accept our invitation has inhibited our ability to demonstrate to our parishioners why they should trust the Archdiocese again.

Why should St. Stanislaus get a blanket promise – given to no other church in the archdiocese – that it won’t be closed or merged with another church? According to Lapinski: because they were treated badly by Carlson’s predecessor, Archbishop Raymond Burke. According to Lapinski:

We understand you may not want to make some of these commitments because you do not make them for other parishes. The actions of your predecessors have undermined the trust that had been established over the prior century. Our parishioners feel that these circumstances require a unique, one-of-a-kind commitment from you.

So, if you’d brought the Polish Champagne up from the cellar in anticipation of a celebration this weekend, you might want to keep it corked for now. 314-340-8221

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