Monday, December 26, 2005

1,500 mortal sins

The continuing saga of St. Stanislas Kostka Parish in St. Louis, Missouri got more interesting when 1,500 people gathered for Christmas Mass, despite the excommunication of the parish's lay board and the pastor they hired last week. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke warned those attending that to do so put them in a state of mortal sin.

Burke has been in a months-long escalating dispute with the parish over its $9.5 million in assets. St. Stanislas, like many early American parishes, has been governed by a lay board for more than 100 years. Arguing that the arrangement violates current canon law, Burke demanded the parish's assets and the dissolution of governing board; he also withdrew diocesan clergy and placed the parish under interdict, meaning liturgy cannot be celebrated there, including weddings and funerals. The parish has refused to comply and has been without the sacraments for 17 months.

In an interesting twist, a Polish-born priest from the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Marek Bozek, left his current assignment without permission to become pastor of St. Stanislas, a traditionally Polish parish.

Don't know if Bozek is an opportunist, but I'm behind the parishioners. Their arrangement long ago qualified as a protected custom, and I don't blame them for not wanting to surrender their assets, especially to a tyrant like Burke, who made headlines during the 2004 elections for saying he would deny pro-choice Catholic politicians communion and more or less saying that Catholics shouldn't vote for Democrats.

Quite frankly, in this age of sex-abuse lawsuits, having parishes govern their own finances in consultation with the diocese makes good sense to me. Most dioceses currently hold all property in the bishop's name, leading many bishops to behave as if the church's assets really belong to them personally. That arrangement may have made sense at one time, but it certainly doesn't now, especially in light of the $1 billion U.S. Catholics have paid out in lawsuit settlements.

The money comes from the people, and the people ought to have a say in how that money is used.


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