St. Stanislaus free to elect new board this weekend...

By Tim Townsend

The parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka church will elect six new board members this weekend after a St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Wednesday brokered a compromise between the church and the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Under the compromise, the parish will cancel a second vote to amend its bylaws, an action that could have further distanced it from the archdiocese.

In exchange, the archdiocese dropped a court motion seeking to stop such a vote.

The new bylaws would have made it more difficult to fire the church's pastor, the Rev. Marek Bozek.

Bozek left his assignment in Springfield, Mo., without permission from his bishop to become St. Stanislaus' pastor in December 2005. The archdiocese quickly declared that Bozek had excommunicated himself by committing "schism," and later stripped St. Stanislaus of its standing as a Roman Catholic parish

Current bylaws allow a majority of the church's six-member lay board to fire Bozek. The proposed bylaws would have instead given final say to the parishioners.

On Wednesday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Bryan L. Hettenbach presided over a nearly two-hour hearing in a courtroom packed with 120 St. Stanislaus parishioners who had become divided over the direction of the church under Bozek.

Mary Ann Wymore, an attorney for the archdiocese, told Hettenbach that unless he stepped in to stop this weekend's vote, St. Stanislaus parishioners could "potentially affiliate somewhere else," meaning a non-Roman Catholic church, which could then take over the parish's savings.

Richard Scherrer countered that a restraining order would violate the Firs Amendment's free exercise clause and the Missouri Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Last month, the archdiocese and former parishioners, including half of the church' board of directors, sued St. Stanislaus, asking a judge to restore the church to the structure that existed before its board re-wrote the bylaws in 2001, then again in 2004, eventually eliminating the archbishop's authority. In the church's original bylaws, its lay board controlled the property and assets while the archbishop appointed its board members and a pastor.

In such an arrangement, the St. Louis archbishop would once again have authority via his board appointments over St. Stanislaus. But the church would still have a corporate structure that puts it outside canon, or church, law.

In June, the church's six board members deadlocked twice on the question of firing Bozek. At a third meeting, Bozek put forth the motion to disband the board and broke the deadlock himself, dissolving the church's board.

The parish was scheduled to elect new board members this weekend and vote to amend the church's bylaws a third time. The compromise agreed to Wednesday will allow only the board election to take place.

Bozek has said that most of the 12 parishioners standing for election are his supporters.

A statement handed out by St. Stanislaus's attorneys said that the parish hoped this weekend "to elect a board to manage our affairs as an independent Polish Roman Catholic parish until an agreement can be reached with the archdiocese."

The two sides agreed to meet again in court on Sept. 2, in part to discuss a possible trial date. 314-340-8221

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