Monday, December 26, 2005

Robbing St. Stanislaus to pay St. Paul

The parishoners of the officially disbanded but thriving St. Stanislaus Koska Roman Catholic church in St. Louis, Missouri risk excommunication to hear Mass from an excommunicated priest:

ST. LOUIS - At least 1,500 people attended Christmas Eve Mass presided by an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest, despite warnings from the archbishop that participating would be a mortal sin.

The Rev. Marek Bozek left his previous parish without his bishop's permission and was hired by St. Stanislaus Kostka Church earlier this month. As a result, Bozek and the six-member lay board were excommunicated last week by Archbishop Raymond Burke for committing an act of schism.

Burke said it would be a mortal sin for anyone to participate in a Mass celebrated by a priest who was excommunicated — the Catholic Church's most severe penalty. Burke, who couldn't stop the Mass, said it would be "valid" but "illicit."

Despite the warning, Catholics and non-Catholics from as far as Oregon and Washington, D.C., filled the church. An overflow crowd viewed the Mass by closed circuit TV in an adjoining parish center.

"I'm not worried about mortal sin," said worshipper Matt Morrison, 50. "I'll take a stand for what I believe is right."

Many wore large red buttons reading "Save St. Stanislaus," and said they wanted to offer solidarity to a parish they believe has been wronged.

When Bozek entered from the rear of the church, the congregation rose and greeted him with thunderous applause.

"It was magic," said JoAnne La Sala of St. Louis, a self-described lapsed Catholic. "You could feel the spirit of the people."

The penalty was the latest wrinkle in a long dispute over control of the parish's $9.5 million in assets.

The parish's property and finances have been managed by a lay board of directors for more than a century. Burke has sought to make the parish conform to the same legal structure as other parishes in the diocese. As a result, he removed both the parish's priests in 2004.

Bozek, a Pole who arrived in the U.S. five years ago, said he agonized about leaving his previous parish but wanted to help a church that had been deprived of the sacraments for 17 months.

To be Polish is to be Catholic, he said, and to be Catholic is to receive the sacraments.

"I will give them the sacrament of reconciliation, the Eucharist. I will visit the sick and bury the dead," he said. "I will laugh with those who are laughing and cry with those who are crying."

Bozek said he doesn't believe that receiving sacraments at St. Stanislaus, especially Holy Communion, puts a Catholic at risk of mortal sin, in which the soul could suffer eternal damnation.

The Rev. Charles Bouchard, moral theology professor and president of Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, said Burke was following canon law "to the letter" in excommunicating Bozek and the board.

But some argue that St. Stanislaus' more than century-old governing structure holds the same authority as church law and the bishop lacked merit for imposing excommunication, he said.

"Whether the parties should have reached this impasse in the first place," Bouchard said, "is another matter."


The conflict started over the desire of the St, Louis diocese to close churches and sell off real estate in an attempt to stem the red ink from the pedophilia lawsuits. But in this instance it is not clear which entity holds title to the property. The St. Stanislaus church was established and managed by lay Catholics, yet being Catholics are subject to the authority of the church hierarchy.

I find it odd that the church would be rolling out the heavy artillery of excommunication and mortal sin for such a dispute. How many of the pedophile priests were excommunicated, or even defrocked? The modern church has to realize that its bishops, cardinals and Pope are seen by the majority of Catholics as figurehead authorities, part of the rich tradition of the church, but, like the royal family of England, very unlikely to inspire obedience to commands or edicts. With the beating that the American church hierarchy has suffered in the eyes of its lay community over their criminal negligence in the decades of abuse of minors by priests, and the subsequent coverups, you would think that they would feel some need to win back the good will of their flock. Closing a thriving community church to pay the legal bills for criminal priests will hardly do that.

14 Comments:

Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

I can understand the excommunication part, if only just.

Catholocism is hierarchical, so there is very a much a go along or get out aspect to it.

However, levying Mortal Sin for attending a Mass seems way, way, over the top; just the sort of thing that brings religion into disrepute.

December 28, 2005 4:30 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper,
If they excommunicated everyone who deserved it, there would hardly be anyone in the pews on Sunday. Just think of all the Catholics who use artificial birth control.

I really think that the Protestants have one over on the RCC in the way they staff their ministries. Let the local church hire/fire their own clergy. The more the clergy involve themselves with worldly concerns, including property ownership and bureacratic one-upmanship, the less able they are to deal with spiritual matters of their "flock", and the more they become parasitic upon them.

December 28, 2005 8:32 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I dunno anything about the specifics of this dispute, but the first duty of bishops is to fleece the sheep. Always has been.

Peter Brown goes on amusingly about this for nearly 500 pages -- though very temperately, compared with me -- in his valuable 'Rise of Western Christendom.'

December 29, 2005 10:25 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

How do the Catholics square their argument here withe the one they made in the Diocese of Portland bankruptcy filing?

December 31, 2005 2:25 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry, they are the Catholic Church! They have hordes of theologians who can square circles, triangles, and tetrahedrons.

By the way, what was the situation in Portland?

December 31, 2005 7:06 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yesterday, the bankruptcy judge for the Portland district ruled that the 125 or so parishes of the Portland Diocese are part of the estate in bankruptcy of the diocese.

The diocese had contended that each parish, under canon law, was its own entity.

The judge said to the church: we use national law here in the United States.

The Portland bishop was the first to declare bankruptcy in order to avoid making amends to the boys his priests raped.

If there were a shred of self-respect left in the country, all the Catholics would be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

December 31, 2005 3:50 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,

I'm all for holding the Church hierarchy responsible for crimes and injustices past and present, but let's not tar all the believers. That's my mama you talkin' bout!

Why don't we retire the tar bucket and feather bag for good?

January 01, 2006 12:36 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

My mamma, too.

I bet you wouldn't make the same exception for people who support, with their money, admiration and votes, the Christian Identity movement.

Catholicism is a familiar, comfortable sort of terrorism, compared with Islam or Calvary Chapel. But it's still a terrorist organization.

January 02, 2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
With your call to a universal assault on Catholicism, you're making out secularism to be a terrorist organization of its own.

I know you don't literally intend to tar and feather all Catholics, but the point of this article is that Catholic lay people are being victimized by their own Church. I find your characterization of Catholicism as terrorism as extreme, but if it is, then it terrorizes it's own members.

Most Catholics I know are decent people, and to the extent that they find meaning in their religion I say more power to them.

January 02, 2006 2:41 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Ah, the old 'Roman Catholics as "gut Chermans" ' argument.

How about hiding mass murderers in their monasteries?

Can we accept 'decent Catholics' who do not leave the faith when they know (as they should) about that?

And all the other crimes? (fill in your favorite Vatican atrocity here)

We need to be honest about what people choose to do in their public lives.

I don't worry near as much about Catholics volunteering to be terrorized by their religion as I do about what the Church does to outsiders.

It's a package deal. The gut Cherman gave to the Winterhilfe. Does that absolve him of any responsibility for Hitlerism?

January 02, 2006 7:28 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Ignorance caveats abound, but in its modern, American, manifestation, Catholicism doesn't seem particularly sinister (absent Opus Dei types), but rather occasionally shockingly incompetent at its core mission.

I have heard that Pope Pius II excommunicated a fair number of modernist theologians during his reign.

I have also heard that Pope Pius II excommunicated precisely zero Nazis.

Given the heirarchical nature of Catholicism, the get with the program or get out approach is emminently justifiable.

But not excommunicating Nazis ...?

January 03, 2006 3:14 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I haven't had a chance to read it carefully yet (I'm trying to do some paid work), but PZ Myers has a long post on this subject today at pharyngula.org (which I highly recommend for everyday reading) about the difference between the ordinary believer who treats her faith as a comforting blanket (who even Myers, a militant atheist, is willing to give a pass) and the power-drunk exploiters in vestments.

OK. I can dig that. My mom goes to Mass every Sunday and if the priest is into child-raping, well, she just blocks that out.

At some point, though, things get so bad that being indifferent is no longer exculpatory.

Things are way past that point with the Roman church. I wasn't kidding about hiding mass murderers in monasteries.

The church is so corrupt that John Paul II, an antinazi in his youth, was complicit in keeping Craotian nazi mass murderers from the hands of civil justice, just as the Nazi Pius XII before him and the current Nazi Benedict.

Any religion that can corrupt a Polish antigerman to that extent has moved to a level of immorality and corruption that cannot simply be ignored.

And, no, I'm not arguing that with my 82-year-old mother. But active controversialists? They got a lot to answer for.

January 03, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Harry,
That sounds reasonable. Yes, the Church has much to answer for. I know some Catholics who have left the Church over the sex abuse scandals. But for most Catholics, the Church is their local parish, and what it provides for them and their community. That is why this dispute in St Louis is so strange, the Church is closing down one of it's most successful parishes to pay off its debts.

January 04, 2006 8:18 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Amen.

January 04, 2006 12:09 PM  

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