Schismatic St. Louis parish loses appeal to Vatican

Schismatic St. Louis parish loses appeal to Vatican

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis
Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis


The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has confirmed Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke’s decree excommunicating the board of directors of a schismatic parish.  Archbishop Burke had excommunicated the leaders of the breakaway ethnically Polish parish for hiring a suspended priest to celebrate the Sacraments and sacramentals. 

The priest could be defrocked for remaining in schism, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has warned.

St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish had operated under a structure in which the pastor is subject to the authority of the parish governing board, in violation of canon law.  Archbishop Burke sought to bring the parish into line with canon law, but the parish resisted his efforts.  In August the archbishop removed priests assigned to St. Stanislaus and moved Polish language masses to a nearby parish.  In January 2005 parishioners voted 299-5 to retain full control of the parish.

In December 2005 Archbishop Burke issued a decree of excommunication condemning the church’s board of directors and the priest they had hired to celebrate their sacraments at the church.

According to Archbishop Burke’s May 30 column in the St. Louis Review, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has taken two actions.  First, it has rejected the recourse (appeal) presented by the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation, including the recourse of suspended priest Reverend Marek B. Bozek. 

“In other words, it has found the recourse to be without foundation,” Archbishop Burke said.

The Congregation communicated its decision in a May 15 letter signed by its head, Cardinal William Levada.  The archbishop said the Congregation has confirmed his December 15, 2005 decrees declaring the board of directors had incurred the penalty of excommunication because of “persistence in schism.”

Archbishop Burke said the Congregation gave two reasons for its decision. First, the board of directors did not observe the time limits set for recourses and neglected to fulfill the formal requirements for a recourse. Second, it said the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation have committed schism and continue to persist in it.

The Congregation said in its letter that the board of directors had turned the former St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish into “an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church,” gradually removing it from the “jurisdiction of the local ordinary.”

Archbishop Burke regretted that the controversy surrounding the board of directors had been presented by the media as a personal conflict between the board members and the archbishop.  

“As their pastor, I have been obliged to call them to reconciliation and repentance for the good of the salvation of their souls and the good of the whole Church. In doing so, I have acted in accord with what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church require. My actions have nothing to do with any personal conflict but, rather, with the integrity of the Catholic faith and its practice, which I have the solemn responsibility to safeguard and promote,” he said.

The archbishop said that members of the church’s board of directors could appeal the Congregation’s decision to its Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops, or they could reconcile with the Church and “withdraw from the state of schism.”  The Congregation’s letter said “reconciliation with the Church necessarily includes repentance for the grave harm which their schismatic actions have caused to individual souls and to the whole Church.”

Archbishop Burke pledged to offer the board of directors “special pastoral care and kindness” if they accept the Congregation’s decision.  He expressed his commitment to reconciliation and said he will continue to act on that commitment.

In a separate letter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed the case of Father Marek  Bozek, saying he could be defrocked if he does not renounce his schismatic acts and continues to celebrate the sacraments illicitly.  Unless the priest reconciles with the Church, the Congregation said it will “present his case to the Holy Father for his dismissal ex officio from the clerical state.”

Father Bozek is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.  He had left his priestly assignment to join St. Stanislaus against the expressed will of his ordinary, Bishop John Leibrecht.

Archbishop Burke said the situation was “profoundly sad” and had caused “great spiritual harm” to the archdiocese.  He finished his column by asking for prayers from the faithful.