St. Stanislaus appears close to reconciliation
by Tim Townsend
ST. LOUIS — In the strongest evidence yet that the long legal battle between the St. Louis Archdiocese and St. Stanislaus Kostka Church could soon be resolved, the church's pastor, the Rev. Marek Bozek, told parishioners Sunday that he may be leaving within months to start his own church.
"I told them that I, and the board, have been working hard to reach a settlement (with the archdiocese) that is acceptable to both parties," Bozek said in an interview Monday. "And that if and when we do, I most probably will not be part of the picture at St. Stanislaus."
Bozek said he could not discuss the details of the settlement negotiations, but he said they were "moving forward." He said he was hopeful that "a happy ending" would occur for St. Stanislaus "within months."
"I don't want to be the last standing impediment to those negotiations," he said.
In November, Bozek made a similar announcement to the parish, saying if his departure would be better for the church, he would step down.
Bernard Huger, an attorney for the archdiocese, did not return a call for comment. But in November, Huger said Bozek's presence was not the only obstacle the archdiocese faces in regaining the church.
"The rest of the parish would need to want to get back in communion with the church," Huger said at the time.
St. Stanislaus was founded in the 19th century with a unique structure that allowed it to manage its own finances and property. Tension between church members and the archdiocese heightened in 2004, when former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke demanded that the church conform to the same legal and financial structure as all other parishes.
The church's lay board refused and changed its bylaws to eliminate the archbishop's authority. Burke responded by pulling the church's priests.
In 2005, the lay board named Bozek — then a priest in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese — as its pastor, something only bishops can do.
Burke excommunicated Bozek, along with a succession of lay board members, and stripped the Polish church of its standing as a Roman Catholic parish.
The Polish-born Bozek was hailed as a hero by St. Stanislaus members in 2005 for risking his vocation to lead a church some Catholics felt had been abandoned by the archdiocese. But over the last four years, Bozek's version of Catholicism drove away many of the church's traditional members.
At the same time, his support for homosexuality in the church and women's ordination brought in a new group of parishioners.
In 2008, some of the original excommunicated board members turned against Bozek, and he engineered their removal from the board. A few of them reconciled with the church, then joined the archdiocese in its lawsuit against Bozek and the current board. Pope Benedict XVI laicized Bozek in 2009.
Bozek said Monday he intends to start a new church "that will be Catholic, but not Roman Catholic — not Vatican Catholic — somewhere in St. Louis."
"There's a need among St. Louis Catholics who have been disenfranchised by their church and who are disappointed with their Catholic leaders," Bozek said. "This church will be Catholic, but without Roman Catholic limitations."