By Angie O’Gorman.

The pastor's office at St. Stanislaus Kostka is filled with the usual sturdy, well used, masculine furniture. On the wall behind the huge desk hangs a triptych of the Rev. Marek Bozek (who was born in Zagan, Poland) with Pope John Paul II. Another photo shows the newly ordained Bozek with his beaming family. He was ordained three years ago, on his 28th birthday, in the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. It was in this office, at this heavy wooden desk, that Bozek opened the letters from Archbishop Raymond Burke announcing the suppression of St. Stanislaus (for continuing to control its own deeds and assets) and Bozek's excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church on charges of schism.

Q. Why leave the comforts of cathedral life in Springfield for the heat of a boiling dispute.
A. Probably I would not have made the decision if Archbishop Burke had not involved the sacraments. It enraged me that the Eucharist became part of the conflict. The dispute is over property issues and an administrative rule. To use sacraments to achieve a very earthly goal is outrageous.

Q. St. Stanislaus has controlled its own assets for 125 years. What changed?
A bishop changed his mind. On our side, nothing has changed. We are still paying our fee to the Archdiocese as a parish. The parishioners didn't ask their priests to leave. They left in the middle of the night, without a word to anyone. 

Q. On Christmas Eve you celebrated the first mass at St. Stanislaus in 18 months. What where you feeling as you entered the church?
A. Overwhelmed. The church was so crowded we couldn't get from the sacristy to the front door, and so the altar servers and I, with our candles and incense and liturgical clothing, were driven around to the main entrance. When I opened the door, there was thunderous applause. These people had waited for this Mass for 18 months.

Q. How did you make your decision?
A. During my 2005 retreat at Mercy Center in Stylus, I walked the labyrinth prayer garden, asking God for guidance. After I finished my prayer, a parish-board member asked me to dinner. He said, "Father, don't you want to be our pastor? Please think about it. That night I thought, "Well, I was just praying for God to guide me ... “

Q. What did you do next?
A. In November, I asked Bishop John Leibrecht for a leave of absence from Springfield.
I explained that I felt called to serve these people without sacraments. A few days later he called back and said the archbishop didn't want me in St. Louis. On December 2, 1 told Bishop Leibrecht that I needed to follow my conscience.

Q. When did bishop Leibrecht suspend you.
A. Actually, I was shocked to see the church act so fast. It happened either the evening of December 2 or the next morning.

Q. Two weeks later, archbishop Burke announced your excommunication – on what grounds?
A. Rejection of the authority of the pope and the local ordinary. We are not rejecting their authority. We are arguing about one administrative rule and a property issue. There are canon lawyers who do not agree that my actions meet the standard of schism.

Q. Is the real issue one of obedience?
A. In a way, yes, because we disagree with the archbishop's interpretation of unity as uniformity. For goodness' sake, if there are multiple rites and liturgical differences within the church, there are multiple ways of resolving property issues. In Catholic moral theology, obedience is not a virtue by itself. It must serve the higher virtues: justice, truth and love.

Q. I understand that at least one catholic school has barred a student who attends St. Stanislaus from receiving the sacrament of confirmation with her classmates?
A. Yes, and recently the archbishop refused to give Communion to a high school senior because he had received Communion at St. Stanislaus and had not confessed that and received absolution. Archbishop Burke is a wonderful scholar, one of the best canon lawyers in America. But his 
pastoral experience is extremely limited. To involve teenagers in this dispute shows no understanding for teenage psychology.

Q. What was your hope on the day of you ordination?
A. To be a good priest-nothing less, nothing more. I loved working in Springfield because the Catholic population is a tiny minority, 5 or 6 percent. I come from a place where Catholics are 96 percent, but I prefer the situation in southeastern Missouri because it forces the church to 
be more humble and honest, more human and less royal.

Q. What is your hope for St. Stanislaus?
A. That we continue growing as a Catholic parish. We Poles are very strong and a sometimes stubborn people. We have lived through 200 years of slavery, through years of Hitler, decades of Stalin and Communism, and we survived. We can live through a few years of this conflict. I believe that, with goodwill on both sides, there is a solution.

By Angie O’Gorman.
April 2006, Stlmag.com 

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