One of the few constants on this blog for six long years now has been the chronicling of the folly and crash of the formerly Catholic parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka. Sitting here in front of a roaring fire on a beautifully snowy day, I intend to close out my own interest in the affair. I won't recap the timeline of the imbroglio for the two of you who may not know the facts, but instead I write of the end, of the aftermath, and of the lessons to be learned.
Like many battles the Church Militant has fought over the millennia, this one has its heroes, its villains, its fools, its cowards, and a tragic temporal defeat.
This battle in some ways mirrors the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the episcopal reign of Cardinal Burke, and the chronic near-miss of the SSPX negotiations. Good intentions and early victories, followed by tough decisions that exposed the Church to strong and unfair opposition, irresolution and internal opposition, and ending in what-might-have-beens.
First, a note about intent. I have my own opinions about this, obviously, but I don't want to give the impression that I doubt the good intentions of each Bishop who tried to address the problem. Cardinal Burke, Bishop Hermann, and Archbishop Carlson each pursued a different strategy. I favor Cardinal Burke's strategy, for reasons I will relate. But I believe each bishop did what he thought best to salvage that wayward parish in spite of the disobedience and heresy of the members and their ringleaders.
The way I see it, Cardinal Burke, who was accused of trying to seize the money and assets, was proven in the end to be concerned about the Catholicity of the parish. He employed interdict and excommunication of the rebellious Board members, and excommunicated and degraded from the clerical state Mr. Marek Bozek. These are harsh measures, surely, but the Church has always seen them as medicinal in nature. They are designed to make the sinner aware of the danger to his soul of hellfire. Tough, but true.
These measures were working, and I believe were nearly victorious when His Eminence was called to Rome. Three of the Board, and the Board's counsel, were reconciled to the Church. Bozek's support, which had early on been very strong, was greatly weakened. He came within his own tie-breaking vote of being canned and the parish reunited with the Catholic Church. And His Eminence showed that the finances were not being seized by the Archdiocese by offering the parish the option of placing the funds and assets in an irrevocable trust that was in all practical possibility immune from the reach of any future bishop.
At the pivotal moment, Cardinal Burke was called away, and the momentum was lost. Bozek called a community vote he was certain to win and he won. Why? Because what started as a nearly even split between parishioners before Bozek's hire, became more and more lopsided when faithful parishioners left. And more lopsided when disgruntled-with-Bozek's act rebels left. And most lopsided when all the fringe axe-grinders entered the parish.
Bishop Hermann accepted the efforts of the reconciled Board members and sought legal redress of the situation. Unfortunately, I think they chose the wrong vehicle. They sought to gain control of the Board by alleging the rogue Board had violated the by-laws. I said then, and believe now, that the better course would have been to have the ex-Board sue the current Board for an accounting. Legally, the big spenders would have had to show what money they had and how it was spent. If--HYPOTHETICALLY-- the Board had misused funds, or had used the parish as a private slush fund for the benefit of certain powerful members, or perhaps been involved in local graft and corruption-- HYPOTHETICALLY, that is-- then I guess you would have seen a settlement to return the parish to the Archdiocese, the resignation of the Board in favor of one selected by the Archbishop, the charlatan "pastor" sent packing, and all ending well, in exchange for pulling the veil of silence over past finances.
Again, this is merely my opinion, but do I wish it had been tried.
As it turns out, Archbishop Carlson continued the bylaw violation lawsuit strategy. And possibly at that point he had no other choice. But he certainly refused to employ any further canonical sanctions.
The problem with the lawsuit chosen, apart from any issue of the skill of the legal advocacy, is that it allowed a St. Louis County Judge to decide whether St. Stan's was Catholic or not. Because this was the most significant way it was alleged they violated the bylaws, and it was the angle the Archdiocese was most confident it could win. In yet another testimony to the failure of Catholic education and orthodoxy after Varican II, the Catholic Judge ruled against the Catholic Church's authority to decide if a parish was Catholic.
Archbishop Carlson was widely quoted as saying he would take it all the way to the Supreme Court. In the end, he settled for St. Stan's agreement not to call itself a Roman Catholic parish.
Bozek and the Board are now left to pick at bones of the corpse of that formerly great parish until there is nothing left. Then Bozek can drive that BMW of his to feed off of another host, or perhaps the Board will have it towed away.
The church will almost certainly go under, ironically enough because there is no Archdiocese to prop it up now it is no longer a personal parish. There is no umbrella group of Catholics to go there instead of to their territorial parishes. There is no financial backing from the Church. All that is left is the greying population of non-procreating heretics and schismatics who will have to decide whether it is still worth it to drive to that neighborhood to celebrate themselves while giving lip service to a God they believe doesn't ask all that much of them. And to do this without any media coverage in which to glory.
The whole thing makes me sad, and not because the Church lost. She didn't lose anything in reality. She can't. She is always whole-- One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The losers are those who separate themselves from her. They cut themselves off from the True Vine. And unlike Yosemite Sam, when they saw off the branch on which they sit, their fall is inevitable. I am saddened by the spiritual peril of so many people.
I'll close with one memory to illustrate what I mean. I came to know many of the actors in this drama, and I'll never forget talking with one person who was an early supporter of the Bozek hire. This person later repented, and bitterly so. And they tried to repair the damage. They told me of their regret, and lamented the loss of their family's ancestral parish. I heard the emotion and anguish in their voice, and I won't forget it.
So if you ever wonder why I beat the dead horse of this conflict in this space for so long, know that it was for the Catholics of that parish and for the Church herself-- not for any fixation about Mr. Bozek. I wish I never heard the name. Pray for the dispossessed Catholics, if you will.
And, thus, my final word on the matter, barring a miraculous return.