Board and priest have been excommunicated!

By Tim Townsend


St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said Friday that the six lay members of the board of directors of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and a priest they had hired to be their pastor had been excommunicated.

The church is at 1413 North 20th Street, northwest of downtown St. Louis.

In the weekly archdiocesan newspaper in which Burke made the excommunication public, he also said the parish would no longer be a part of the archdiocese.

"I will be obliged to suppress St. Stanislaus," he wrote. According to a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Sister Eva-Maria Ackerman, that means the parish would no longer be Roman Catholic.

In his St. Louis Review column, Burke wrote that by hiring their own priest, the board members had brought excommunication on themselves, and that his role was simply to "declare" it after making sure the board members "understood the gravity of their act and its most serious consequences."

Excommunication is a severe penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it "excludes the offender from taking part in the Eucharist or other sacraments and from the exercise of any ecclesiastical office, ministry, or function."

Burke's column laid out the legal cases against the board and the priest.

The offense that triggered the excommunication, according to Burke, is schism. In the Catechism and the Code of Canon law, schism is defined as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."

Catholic law says that only a bishop can appoint priests to parishes.

Hiring a priest who "is not in good standing," Burke wrote in a letter to board members, "is a formal act of schism, by which you have incurred automatically the penalty of excommunication. With this letter ... I declare the excommunication to you."

Excommunication is rare, according to Monsignor Ronny Jenkins, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

The most recent reported case in the U.S. turned up by Post-Dispatch research was in 1996, in Corpus Christi, Texas, when Bishop Rene Gracida excommunicated three people involved in abortion.

Ultimately, excommunication is considered a censure, or an attempt to bring an offending Catholic back to the church, said Jenkins.

In a statement Friday, Burke invited the board and Bozek "to be reconciled with the Church."

Control of church is issue

The dispute between Burke and St. Stanislaus stems from a late 19th-century arrangement that gave the parish board control of the church property.

Since he arrived in St. Louis in January 2004, Burke has demanded that the church conform to the same legal structure as other parishes, where the bishop oversees finances.

"This is just the last of the shameful actions done to us in the last couple years," said board member Bob Zabielski.

"He wants the property and that's it, and he's using every weapon in his arsenal."

Burke removed St. Stanislaus' priests in August 2004. In late November, the parish board of directors hired the Rev. Marek Bozek, a priest in the neighboring diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

Bozek is scheduled to celebrate his first Mass as St. Stanislaus' new pastor on Christmas Eve.

Reached in Peru where he is on vacation, Bozek said he was "shocked and surprised at the speed with which Archbishop Burke is moving."

Reaction among the board and St. Stanislaus faithful was exasperated acceptance, tinged with defiance.

Anthony Kaminski, a St. Stanislaus parishioner, said Bozek's sacrifice was admirable

"He has taken this job to nurture the congregation," Kaminski said.

"He deemed that we were ignored and threatened by our bishop, and he came to the rescue. I admire him."

Another parishioner, Stan Rozanski, said the excommunications were "something we knew was going to happen." But he said he was still amazed that a situation that "started as property dispute" could end up with people excommunicated.

"This is one more example of medieval tactics placed on people who are just trying to be good Catholics," he said. "He might as well excommunicate the whole parish ... We're not going to change."

In his column, Burke tried to dispel many of the notions frequently mentioned by St. Stanislaus supporters as his motivation in the dispute.

"Some have understood the object of the conflict to be power and money. Such is ... clearly not the case," he wrote. "The object of the conflict is obedience, the obedience we all owe to the Apostolic teaching and discipline of the Church."

Bozek has said he decided to come to St. Stanislaus because of the importance of the sacraments and the "desperate" situation at St. Stanislaus in which, without a priest, its parishioners were not able to receive them.

The sacraments are the seven liturgical rites - baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, penance, anointing of the sick, marriage and holy orders (or ordination to ministry) - through which Catholics believe they experience God's grace. Jenkins called the sacraments "the most fundamental aspects of being Catholic."

Bozek can still offer parishioners Holy Communion, but it will be considered illicit by the church.

Burke warns St. Louis Catholics that their souls could be in mortal danger if they receive Communion from Bozek at St. Stanislaus.

"The faithful who approach a schismatic priest for the reception of the sacraments, except in the case of danger of death, commit a mortal sin," he wrote.

Bozek said he was spending time in Peru preparing for his Christmas Eve Mass, and adjusting to the idea of life outside his church, but not outside his faith.

"Our intention is to remain a Catholic parish and we won't do anything to be unfaithful to the Catholic church," he said.

"The issue is not us leaving the church, but the hierarchy of the St. Louis Archdiocese leaving our parish behind."

By Tim Townsend 

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