Bozek finds hope in meeting with bishop.


Published Friday, February 17, 2006 
Linda Leicht 

Despite a church dispute that has resulted in excommunication, the Rev. Marek Bozek is confident that reconciliation is possible between him, St. Stanislaus parish and the archbishop of St. Louis.
Bozek confirmed that he had a personal meeting with Archbishop Raymond Burke on Tuesday, although he said a "gentlemen's agreement" prevented him from discussing the meeting.

However, the priest, who has risked his own standing with the church to serve the St. Louis parish, said he was hopeful.

"I believe there are ways to resolve this," he said of the parish and archbishop's disagreement over property ownership and church authority.

"Both the archbishop and I are willing to work for reconciliation," he said.

The response from the archdiocese to those comments is not as optimistic.

"Canon law, like any legal system, prescribes specific procedures that must be observed in the enacting of a legal process or action," the written response stated. "As far as the Archdiocese of St. Louis is aware, the Board of Directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and Fr. Marek Bozek have not completed the canonical procedures that would be necessary for the suspension of either the excommunication of Fr. Bozek and the Board of Directors or the suppression of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. Canon 1734 in the Code of Canon Law outlines the procedure that is to be followed."

The struggles between the 126-year-old St. Stanislaus and the archdiocese are centered on the parish's refusal to turn over ownership of its property to the archdiocese. In 1891, then Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick allowed the parish to incorporate with ownership of the parish in the hand of a board of trustees made up of lay members of the church.

Since then, the church in the United States has attempted to convert all trustee-owned properties to the appropriate diocese or archdiocese. St. Stanislaus has never budged on that issue.

The situation came to a head in 2004 when Burke, newly installed as archbishop, refused to appoint a priest to the parish and forbade any priest from serving the parish. He also removed St. Stanislaus' designation as the city's only Polish parish.

He put the church on notice that its members must comply or no longer be a part of the Roman Catholic Church.

After more than a year without a priest, the church hired a young priest from Springfield. Bozek, a native of Poland, was ordained a priest on Dec. 18, 2002, in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese.

Bozek's decision in early December to leave his home diocese resulted in his suspension by Bishop John Leibrecht. It ultimately led to Burke's pre-Christmas announcement that Bozek and the six members of the St. Stanislaus board of trustees were automatically excommunicated because they were guilty of schism. A few weeks later, Burke announced that the parish was "suppressed," which means it is no longer a part of the archdiocese or the Roman Catholic Church.

Bozek and the board have appealed those actions to the Vatican.

Charles W. Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation in San Antonio, an organization of canon lawyers, said the actions would be suspended until a decision is made by the Vatican.

Leibrecht said he has had no contact with Bozek or Burke regarding Tuesday's meeting.

"I just don't know what is happening," he said.

Leibrecht has consistently maintained that Bozek is welcome back into the Springfield diocese and has encouraged the 31-year-old priest to take that step.

While all sides are focused on church law and regulations, the people of St. Stanislaus are busy being a Catholic church.

The parish has added about 120 households to its membership roster since Bozek arrived in December, raising the membership to more than 500 families, he said.

"Three years ago, before all this started, there were only 260 households listed," he added.

The new priest has been busy with weddings, funerals and baptisms, and he recently started an adult education class, "The Splendor of Vatican II," and a movie club.

He has also begun training lay members to help serve Communion and read Scripture during services, and he is training youth to be altar servers.

"It's like baking a pie from scratch," he said. "It has started looking and smelling good."