Breakaway St. Louis church to elect new board members
St. Louis, Aug 8, 2008 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Parishioners at the breakaway parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka in St. Louis will elect six new board members this weekend after a circuit court judge brokered a compromise between the church and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Under the agreement, the church will cancel a second vote to amend its bylaws while the archdiocese has dropped a court motion to stop the vote, which could have further distanced the church from the archdiocese, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
On Wednesday Mary Ann Wymore, an attorney for the archdiocese, told St. Louis Circuit Judge Bryan L. Hettenbach that if the bylaw vote were to proceed, the church could “potentially affiliate somewhere else” with a non-Catholic church which would then acquire the parish’s assets. (Hasn't this been the whole issue all along. The blatant grab by Burke to acquire their assets by using Canon Law as a club to beat them into submission, when he had no standing in secular law to attempt the same take over.)
Richard Scherrer, arguing on behalf of the church, claimed an injunction on the vote would violate both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s free exercise clause and the Missouri Constitution.
The new bylaws would have made it more difficult to fire the church’s pastor, Father Marek Bozek.
The priest had left his previous position without the permission of his bishop to become the church’s pastor in December 2005. Archbishop Raymond Burke declared Father Bozek and the parish board members to be excommunicated and the parish to be schismatic, though some board members have since reconciled with the Catholic Church. (According to the St. Louis Dispatch they secretly reconciled with the Church a month before becoming part of this Law Suit. One wonders why the secrecy.)
Out of compliance with canon law, the church is owned and governed by a secular corporation. The church and the Archdiocese of St. Louis became divided over the archdiocese’s attempts to bring the church into compliance. (CNA is so deceptive. The church was deeded to the corporation by the Bishop of St. Louis in the 1890's. Burke was the only Bishop who made a big stink about it's independent status.)
Last month the archdiocese and former parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka, who included half of the church’s board of directors, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the church’s pre-2001 bylaws restored. The church’s board rewrote the bylaws in 2001 and again in 2004, eventually eliminating the archbishop’s authority.
In the original bylaws, the lay board controlled the church’s property and assets while the archbishop appointed its board members and its pastor.
St. Stanislaus Kostka parishioners had intended to vote on new board members and on new bylaws in the upcoming vote, but under the compromise agreed to on Wednesday only the board member election will take place.The parish board was dissolved after it deadlocked twice on the question of whether to fire Father Bozek. At the third meeting the priest dissolved the church’s board. (Actually he cast the vote which broke a deadlock. He personally did not dissolve the board.)
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Father Bozek claims most of the twelve parishioners standing for election to the parish board are his supporters.
St. Stanislaus Kostka’s attorneys in a statement said the parish hoped “to elect a board to manage our affairs as an independent Polish Roman Catholic parish until an agreement can be reached with the archdiocese.”Both the church and the archdiocese have agreed to meet again in court on September 2, where a possible trial date will be one of the subjects of discussion.
This isn't close to being a finished story, unless the new board members agree to fire Fr. Bozek and rejoin the Archdiocese. If Fr. Bozek is correct, and most the 12 members who are standing for election support him, then this could go on for quite some time.
The Archdiocese in agreeing to support a law suit which seeks to return St. Stan's to the situation which was intact before Burke started his canonical crusade, is tacitly admitting that it made a big mistake to attempt this takeover of assets in the first place. This turned into a much bigger media circus than I think Burke had foreseen and forced him to keep going to the excommunication card, and hence the Vatican, in order to save face. In other words he had to keep digging a bigger hole for himself. Apparently a big enough hole to propel him to Rome.
The situation with St. Stan's has to be causing some heartburn in the Vatican. It's no longer just about assets and who controls them, it's become about a future vision for the Church. Fr. Bozek has an article on the St. Stan's website which deals with the place of women in the historical early church. He makes good points about taking a second look at what the historical place of women actually was in the early church given their place in today's church. It's a good read, but I won't give you the link because I got hit with three trojan viruses when I logged on to it. I have a good firewall and a good virus program. Not everyone does. I couldn't help but wonder if someone was messing with St. Stan's website.
I suspect the archdiocese is doing an abrupt about face on orders from the Vatican. Probably came in the same set of orders which transfer ed Burke to Rome. The Vatican does not need this schismatic virus, this trojan horse of a situation, to become widespread. They have seen what has happened in the Anglican church. They know that the unstated issue in Anglicanism is the transfer of diocesan and parish wealth, just as much, if not more so, than oppositional scriptural attitudes. St. Stan's represents the first hi profile overt Catholic attempt to enact the liberal Episcopalian inclusion of gays and women priests, and of course it has substantial assets.
If Bozek hadn't been excommunicated, the board with him, and the parish placed under interdict, I wonder if the parish ever would have taken the turn it has. It's thriving, but it's not thriving with true believers who follow every dot in the catechism. It's thriving with the marginalized and those whose view of Church is inclusive. These are folks who don't believe adhering to the same ole, same ole, is going to solve any of the crushing problems Catholicism is facing with regards to priest shortages and the mass exodus of frustrated and angry Catholics who are tired of same ole, same ole. St. Stan's may be just one parish, but it's representative of a very strong undercurrent in Catholicism. An undercurrent which may be finding an authentic voice, finally.
It would be ironic in the extreme, but also just, if it turns out that Archbishop Burke was used by God to give voice to the vast numbers of his people who the Archbishop Burke's of the Church have turned away.
I don't think it's an accident that this is a Polish church. For whatever reason God seems to have settled on the Poles to deal with 'isms' which demean His people and take away their dignity. My hope is that the new board sticks with the new vision for the Parish. A vision of inclusiveness and dignity for everyone is worth praying for, it's worth sacrificing for, it's what Jesus taught. May the Spirit inform the voting members of St. Stan's.