Monday, August 11, 2008

Board Results At St. Stan's, And Other Thoughts

Two more face excommunication at St. Stan
By Tim Townsend

08/11/2008ST. LOUIS — Two more parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church face excommunication after being elected to the church's lay board Sunday.In letters hand-delivered Saturday night, Bishop Robert Hermann, the Archdiocese of St. Louis' interim leader, warned eight parishioners who were running for positions on the board of their possible fate. Some of the parishioners returned home in the evening to find the letter taped to their front doors. In the letter, Hermann noted that a Vatican decree in May said holding a seat on the St. Stanislaus board "constitutes an 'evident' act of schism. " Schism is defined in church law as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him." (Probably the work of the same people who secretly video taped the women's ordination ceremony that brought Sr. Louise Lears her letter of excommunication.)

Hermann asked all the candidates to withdraw their names from consideration for the election.

"You are in danger of losing the eternal salvation of your soul, jeopardizing the salvation of other innocent faithful and inflicting a most severe wound to the communion of the Roman Catholic church," he wrote.

The archdiocese had filed a motion in St. Louis Circuit Court to try to stop the elections but dropped that demand last week as part of a compromise with St. Stanislaus. The church agreed to cancel a second vote scheduled for this weekend that would have amended its bylaws for the third time in seven years. Each of the previous bylaw changes further distanced St. Stanislaus from the authority of the St. Louis archbishop. The new bylaws would have made it more difficult to fire St. Stanislaus' pastor, the Rev. Marek Bozek, an action the church's most recent board had taken up.

In June, the church's six board members deadlocked twice on the question of firing Bozek. At a third meeting, Bozek broke the deadlock himself, dissolving the board.

St. Stanislaus parishioners voted over two days this weekend to elect a new board, and on Sunday announced that four former board members — John Baras, William Bialczak, Stanley Novak and Joe Rudawski — had all been re-elected. Baras, Bialczak and Rudawski were the three board members who had voted to retain Bozek as pastor in June. Novak served an earlier term on the board. All four of their excommunications were upheld by the Vatican in May.

Richard Lapinski and Janice Merzweiler were the two new parishioners voted onto the new board Sunday. According to Hermann's letter, they now face excommunication.

"I thought the outcome of the court meeting last week was that everyone was going to play nice and that the archdiocese would allow this election to go on," said Lapinski after his election to the board was announced.

"Then they come like a thief in the night and deliver this letter threatening excommunication? That doesn't sound to me like the archdiocese is playing nice."

Merzweiler said she was upset at first, after receiving Hermann's letter, "but then I realized this is a struggle that's been going on for a while and I feel that now I'm really a part of it."

After the board was dissolved in June, the three board members who had voted to fire Bozek were reconciled with the archdiocese. All three, along with another former board member who had been reconciled with the church, joined the archdiocese in its lawsuit against St. Stanislaus.

Elizabeth Westhoff, assistant director of communications for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese would not comment on private correspondence or on anything pertaining to the pending suit.

In December 2005, then-St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke declared all six St. Stanislaus board members excommunicated after they hired Bozek to be the church's pastor. Burke also declared Bozek excommunicated and has since asked Pope Benedict XVI to laicize, or defrock, the priest.

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." Ultimately, excommunication is considered an attempt to bring an offending Catholic back to the church.

If Hermann declares Lapinski and Merzweiler excommunicated, the total excommunications surrounding St. Stanislaus will grow to 11. Four have since reconciled. Among the 342 votes cast for St. Stanislaus' new board, one was cast for a write-in candidate with a name familiar to parishioners: Archbishop Raymond Burke.


And Then There Is This Article: (Taken from Clericalwhispers and edited for length)

Hero? Heretic? Parish divided
It was just before midnight on Christmas Eve 2005, and the Rev. Marek Bozek was the focus of 2,000 souls crammed in pews or standing on tiptoe in the aisles, straining to see him. They came to St. Stanislaus Kostka church to be a part of Bozek's first Mass as pastor.

He had arrived in St. Louis from Springfield, Mo., thumbing his nose at the Roman Catholic hierarchy and riding to the rescue of fellow Polish countrymen deprived of the Eucharist for more than a year by their archbishop. For many St. Stanislaus parishioners whose ancestors had built the church just north of downtown, Bozek became a hero. But more than two years later, Bozek has reshaped the church into a community that would be unrecognizable to those 19th-century founders.

His vision for a reformed Roman Catholic faith calls for supporting female ordination, allowing priests to get married and accepting gay relationships. Bozek's stands have attracted hundreds of new St. Stanislaus parishioners who share the priest's reform-minded vision. But they have also divided the church, pitting newer members against traditional parishioners unhappy with how far the priest has gone in condemning the Roman Catholic church.

There have also been questions about the priest's trappings. He has negotiated a 143 percent salary hike, moved into a $157,000 Washington Avenue loft and leased a 2008 BMW for $450 per month. Some parishioners point to another sign that alarmed them: Bozek, while in Poland last year, bought a silver ring custom-made for a bishop there. When he returned, he showed the ring to his parish at a Sunday Mass and spoke about it from the pulpit. Because it's a bishop's ring and he is only a priest, Bozek says, he has not worn it. But he won't say he never will — he does not rule out the possibility of becoming the leader of what he calls an "underground Roman Catholic" movement.

The three parish leaders who recruited Bozek say they now regret it. St. Stanislaus "is now home to anyone who has a gripe with the (Catholic) church," said Stan Rozanksi, one of the men who vetted Bozek and a former board member.

Bozek says the people who hired him knew about his vision for St. Stanislaus. He dismisses critics who accuse him of shifting his priorities as having "selective hearing.""I came because I saw injustice being done here," he said. "There are red-button issues, and I'm daring enough to touch them. If you're sexist or homophobic, you will passionately hate my vision."

Bozek's vision ultimately led his divided parish to court. The archdiocese recently filed a lawsuit that, if successful, would allow it to regain the power to assign the church's pastor and approve its board members. Since 2001, the board has twice amended its bylaws to cement its control of church matters. This weekend, parishioners will vote to elect new board members. Bozek is confident that nearly all the candidates share his vision. His future, though, will still be in question until the lawsuit is resolved.

If the archdiocese wins, Bozek will be out. Indeed, the court case has shifted the church's landscape in a surprising way. Bozek was supposed to be St. Stanislaus' savior. But for many longtime church members, it could be Archbishop Raymond Burke — the man they've been fighting for five years — who may save it.

From 2004 to 2006, the image of a feisty Polish church standing up to the Roman Catholic hierarchy struck a chord. And St. Stanislaus gained a national reputation — the front page of the Wall Street Journal, a segment on CBS's "Early Show." For many area Catholics, the church became a proud example of the laity standing up to church authorities — with red "St. Stan's Lives!" and "Save St. Stan's!" stickers adorning car bumpers.

Burke's declarations of nine St. Stanislaus-related excommunications only enhanced the image of the church's leaders as countercultural Catholic heroes, and of St. Stanislaus as an oasis for disenchanted Catholics.

Bozek seized on that momentum and used the church's new-found fame to double its membership, to what he says is now 500 families.

As the membership has grown, so has tension among some parishioners, as Bozek continues to take stands that clash with Roman Catholic teaching. He has welcomed gays and divorced people into the church. In November 2006, he invited an openly gay pastor — the leader of a Catholic community separate from the Vatican — to celebrate Mass.

This past November, Bozek took part in a ceremony in which two women were ordained as priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The event was on the same day as St. Stanislaus's Polka Mass and church picnic. Bozek stayed for the beginning of the picnic but left to attend the ordination, taking two dozen parishioners with him.

Bozek has also taken repeated shots at the Roman Catholic hierarchy. In a sermon earlier this year, Bozek set out his vision for the Roman Catholic church, while denouncing its leaders. "The Roman Catholic family can be described today as dysfunctional, toxic or abusive," Bozek said. "For decades we have allowed the men who claim to be our shepherds to abuse us."

Richard Bach, who heads a group called the Concerned Parishioners of St. Stanislaus, said a large number of older members — about 100 families — had gradually come to oppose Bozek's leadership and the new members.

"They're concerned about the path of the church and where he's leading them," Bach said. "A lot of the old parishioners don't consider the new ones parishioners at all."

Grzegorz Koltuniak, a longtime parishioner, calls Bozek's tenure at St. Stanislaus "a disaster." "Before Bozek, we were all together," he said. "Our fight was about property, but never about religion. The people who have come here since then are here for different reasons. ... Where are they taking this church?"

Marybeth McBryan, one of the church's newer members, said she came to St. Stanislaus because it was more inclusive and accepting than her previous parish."There's a group of parishioners who have been there a long time and who don't like change," McBryan said. "They are not very fond of us who are not Polish."

Timothy Kyle, who joined the church about six months ago, says longtime members want Bozek "to break the rules important to them, but not stand up for the ideals and beliefs he has himself." "If you hire someone who doesn't follow along the dotted line," Kyle said, "you can't expect him to follow it when you want him to."

Church board members still loyal to Bozek credit him for bringing in the new parishioners, saying he has kept the church afloat financially. They also feel he remains critical to St. Stanislaus' future. So when Bozek had to return to Poland last year to reapply for a work visa, the board paid an immigration lawyer $80,000 to help with the process, according to some church leaders.

Bozek said it was more like $55,000."I think it's worth it to keep him there, because who else are we going to get as a priest?" asked William Bialczak, chairman of the St. Stanislaus board. "We don't have six other priests knocking on our door asking to get in there."

But longtime parishioners were further put off when Bozek negotiated a new contract with the board. Bozek's contract was up last December, and he had several demands. He wanted to move out of the rectory. He wanted a big salary bump. And he wanted a new car. He got what he wanted.

He moved into a downtown loft; he started driving a new BMW; and his salary jumped to $56,000 from $24,000. The average income for diocesan priests in Missouri is $40,670, which includes everything from Mass stipends to food and housing allowances, according to a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit research institute at Georgetown University.

Bozek said he was paying for the car himself. And, he said, the $31,400 down payment for the loft came from his savings. Bozek said he needed to move out because it was "exhausting mentally" for him to live in a busy rectory, where he rarely had time to himself.

"It was not good for my physical health," he said. "My blood pressure was up." People also need to understand that "ministers are normal people," he said. "We need food to eat, cars to drive, places to live."

Even board members who still support Bozek acknowledge that they have been annoyed by some of his actions, but they believe the priest deserves their loyalty for sacrificing his career so St. Stanislaus could survive.

Because of Burke, "many Catholics have fallen away," Bialczak said. Bozek "has a way of bringing them back."

The divisions have played out on the church board, where three of the six members have now turned on Bozek and reconciled with the archdiocese. The pending lawsuit leaves his fate in question, even as Burke is preparing to leave St. Louis for a position at the Vatican. In asking a judge to return St. Stanislaus to its 1891 bylaws, the archdicoese is compromising. It will give up on Burke's demand that the church conform to the structure of other parishes. In exchange, it wants to regain the ability to pick the pastor and board members. That would mean the ability to oust Bozek.

And longtime members who yearn to return to the days before the battle with the archdiocese would get their wish. But that could take years. In the meantime, Bozek awaits word on whether he will be laicized — or defrocked — by Pope Benedict XVI. Burke began the process of laicizing Bozek after the priest took part in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests event.

The Vatican has not yet ruled on the matter. But Bozek has already been planning for a St. Stanislaus whose ties to the Vatican could be severed. In May, he said he'd been in talks with Married Priests Now! representatives. The organization is led by Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, an excommunicated Zambian archbishop who is married. The group, funded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, promotes a married priesthood.

News of the Milingo talks angered some parishioners, and Bozek backed away. He now insists that the church will remain Roman Catholic. But if the archdiocese refuses to make peace, he said, St. Stanislaus could join with other "independent" churches — inside and outside St. Louis — to form an "underground Roman Catholic church.""No one has an ambition to create a new denomination," Bozek said. "My vision is to be Roman Catholic and wait for the regime to collapse."

For example, he has been in discussions with Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath, the two women ordained as Roman Catholic Womenpriest clerics. They are co-pastors of a congregation of about 25 people called the Therese of Divine Peace Inclusive Community in St. Louis.

Bozek also has spoken with the Rev. Frank Krebs — pastor of the 90-member Sts. Clare & Francis in Webster Groves, which is separate from the Vatican — about joining Bozek's "underground" network.

Bozek said he had heard from groups in California, Florida and Wisconsin who wanted to join "an alternative Roman Catholic" organization."I tell them to organize and let me know," he said.

Bozek said that he had been offered a bishop's position in two independent Catholic denominations, but that he wasn't interested in other groups. He wants to continue leading St. Stanislaus — and perhaps a movement with St. Stanislaus at its center.

"If the hypothetical happens and if the people elect a bishop — and that's the way it should be done — then whomever is asked by the people to be bishop should do it," Bozek said.

For now, he hangs on to the silver bishop ring he bought while in Poland last year. He spotted it at his favorite jeweler in his hometown, and it was made for a former teacher of his, an auxiliary bishop in a Polish diocese. That bishop actually asked for two rings to be made. He kept a gold version, but left the silver ring — adorned only with a Jerusalem cross — behind. Would Bozek accept a call to be the bishop of an "underground" Roman Catholic church?"Yes," he said. "I would do it."


Like all good stories, St. Stan's is turning into a great human story. It's got a little of everything, except a good dose of adult maturity. Looking between the lines of the story, this revolves around two men who won't grow up and yet find themselves in the middle of a spiritual battle which has great significance to a whole host of disenfranchised Catholics.

First we have Archbishop Burke who, unlike his predecessors, just couldn't let a sleeping dog lie. When he woke the dog he found out it bites and just like a little bully boy, he takes out the big canonical sticks and tries to beat it into submission. Unfortunately it kept biting back and now he's run off and left the very pissed off dog to other handlers to quiet.

In the meantime Fr. Bozek rides to the rescue and has apparently let a lot of attention go right to his head. He reminds me of the class nerd who is elected president of his senior class and then in his wonder at being accepted, can't handle his suddenly inflated ego.

Yes, Father, you need a car, but a Beemer maybe wasn't the best choice, and a bishop's ring is a bit much for a man facing laicization. I own numerous Redwing jerseys, but I seriously don't entertain thoughts of the Redwing organization actually calling me up any time soon--or any hockey organization for that matter.

Forget the bishop thing, you have a very poignant human mess on your hands. You have a parish divided between old Polish families, mostly theologically conservative, and new families, mostly theologically dissident. You need to find a way to bring them together into one parish family. Being inclusive means being inclusive. You, of all people, cannot take sides.

Find a better path for theological inclusion and you will have truly done something heroic. Find the path that convinces both the conservatives and progressives that a true communion places them first and the clerical system second. Find the path that takes the anger of both sides and turns it to good. If you can do this, you deserve to wear a bishops ring. In the meantime, keep it in a drawer.


  1. "Exkommunizieren !," schrie der Kirche-Führer. (Excommunicate them !, shrieked the bishop).

    Burke may be gone, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome Herr Hermann!

    Interesting that the Excommunication notices were already taped to the new board members' doors before they even got home. Obviously the new bishop had his spies planted at the church, and they immediately reported the election results back to him. In short order the bishop writes up Excommunication notices (with no hearing) and has them taped to the doors.

    But somehow I don't think Christ intended his Church to act like a Stalinist state.

    I am disappointed to read about Fr. Bozek's BMW and his bishop's ring. The $56K salary and the loft may be reasonable, but mentioning the ring from the pulpit (rather than let it sit quietly in a drawer) speaks of ambition.

    And people drive BMW's to make a statement about their prestige. The new cardinal-archbishop of Boston drives an ordinary car, for goodness sake!

    I've been praying for Fr. Bozek and St. Stan's by name for several years now, and I feel a little bewildered and foolish by this news.

    Thanks for your perspectives, Colleen. You're probably right that all this went to Fr. Bozek's head. Well, he is in this early 30's; perhaps not yet as mature as we'd want in a priest. Still, I'm disappointed.

    --John K

  2. I get the real sense that Fr Bozek already considers himself defrocked and that he is enjoying his newfound freedom from Rome... perhaps a little too much so with the beamer. Perhaps his background in Poland and familiarity with underground movements is front and center. Do I detect some passive aggressive anger being played out in Bozek in response to Burke and the Vatican? Next, will we hear he is riding around with a hot blonde? I wouldn't be surprised. Is he letting loose? It's hard to say which direction he is going. I don't suppose he would see this as undermining all he's done that has been positive if he doesn't concern himself with uniting the parish.

  3. Butterfly, I tend to think he sees this as a permanent position. Where else is he going to make this kind of money? He's not trained to be anything but a priest. Plus he has the visa issue which means laicization could result in his returning to Poland.

    John, I couldn't believe the taped to the door thing either. I think before all is said and done, this could get very bitter. Unless Fr. Bozek and the board can bring this parish together, it may be years before the legal wrangling over who owns St. Stan's is over.

  4. Butterfly:

    At first I was concerned about the beemer until I remembered that when our priest was on vacation last month, the priest who came in to do the masses drove a new audi.

    In our area, it is not uncommon for the priests to live outside of the parish, and some of the homes they occupy are pretty pricey. These things may not be all that uncommon.

    But then, on the other hand, when you compare it to the way the bishops live, Fr. B is living frugally.

    I do pray that Fr. B does not let this go to his head. There is a great deal at stake here, the last thing that is needed is ammunition that can be used to sabotage what is happening. But then again, if the Holy Spirit is truly orchestrating this, it will all work together for the best outcome.

  5. As I reread the article, it appears obvious who the silver ring really is for, and equally obvious where Fr B wants this to go. Somewhat disappointing, but at the same time, perhaps this is part of the divine plan that is unfolding.