Taking sacraments sinful, (!!!) not schismatic!

By Tim Townsend

The lay leaders of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish were preparing for a big crowd on Christmas Eve - they ordered coffee and doughnuts for 1,000 for a post-Mass reception. In the week before Christmas, the parish office was fielding calls from as far as Chicago and Kansas City from people asking for directions to the church and details for Christmas Eve Mass.

But it wasn't a potential doughnut shortage that had many St. Stanislaus parishioners and supporters nervous last week. Instead, it was a line in St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke's Dec. 16 newspaper column publicly explaining the excommunication, or schism, of St. Stanislaus' six lay board members and their new priest, the Rev. Marek Bozek.

The line in question - "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" - left some wondering what kind of trouble they'd be in if they accepted Holy Communion from Bozek on Christmas Eve. Would they also be excommunicated?

The short answer, according to Monsignor John B. Shamleffer, judicial vicar for the archdiocese, is "no."

Excommunication means "outside the communion" of the church. Simply receiving the Eucharist from a schismatic priest does not put someone outside that communion. A person would have to take things further to become excommunicated.

Bozek, a priest in the neighboring diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, was suspended by Bishop John J. Leibrecht in early December and therefore does not have priestly faculties, or license, in the St. Louis archdiocese.

"He has the power, but no license," said Shamleffer. "He has been suspended of his right to function as a priest and doesn't have the ability to validly function as a priest. ... It is a serious matter to receive the sacraments from a priest who doesn't have that power."

So: mortal sin (and therefore the need to confess to obtain forgiveness), yes. Excommunication, no.

The only way St. Stanislaus parishioners could incur the penalty of excommunication, said Shamleffer, is if they, too, entered into schism. That might happen, he said "if they all aligned themselves" behind the board - perhaps by signing a letter or petition - showing their intent to disobey the archbishop and join Bozek and the board in schism.

At that point, Burke would need to inform each person, in writing, why their actions put them outside the communion of the church before declaring them to be excommunicated, Shamleffer said.

By Tim Townsend

Telephone: 314-340-8221

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