Priest takes last stand against archbishop
By Tim O'Neil
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Fr. Marek Bozek
March 2, 2008--Fr. Marek Bozek
The Rev. Marek Bozek, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka church, refused Wednesday to appear before Archbishop Raymond Burke for a formal process that is likely to lead to his dismissal from the active priesthood.
"I will not subject myself to any more of this humiliating process," Bozek said in a news conference at the Polish-heritage church, just northwest of downtown.
Bozek was to meet Burke at the chancery office next to the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard. After Bozek made his intention clear, Burke said he had begun "the process for the dismissal of (Bozek) from the clerical state."
The troubles began in early 2004, when lay leaders of St. Stanislaus refused Burke's instruction to conform to the same legal and financial structure as all other parishes in the St. Louis Archdiocese. The parish had managed itself in a special arrangement dating to the 19th century. After Burke removed priests from the parish, the Polish-born Bozek left his assignment in Springfield, Mo., without permission in December 2005 to become St. Stanislaus' pastor.
Burke quickly declared that Bozek had excommunicated himself by committing "schism" from his superiors. Soon afterward, the archbishop declared the St. Stanislaus board members to be excommunicated and stripped the parish of its standing as a Roman Catholic parish.
Bozek stayed on, celebrating Mass and administering sacraments. In November, he was among celebrants at a ceremony at which two women were ordained by a group called Catholic WomenPriests. On Feb. 3, he said he would give Communion to anyone, including people who weren't Catholics.
"Some laws are unjust and abusive and need to be changed and need to be broken to bring about reform within the institution," he said, comparing his actions to those of suffragettes and civil-rights marchers. "We do not violate any church dogma."
Bozek said his complaints were only with "church discipline and tradition." Burke strongly disagreed.
"For him to make this distinction between dogma and discipline is a bit disingenuous," Burke said in an interview at the chancery. "He is knowingly and deliberately celebrating sacraments that he knows aren't valid. He has led people to believe he can forgive their sins, and he cannot. He is messing with very serious matters, and that's what makes this so sad."
Bozek said he had communicated with other bishops, none of whom he would identify, who might be willing to accept him and St. Stanislaus within their authority. "In the Catholic theology, there is no such thing as an independent priest," Bozek said.
He said his contacts were with "valid Catholic bishops" and expressed confidence that he could associate with one of them.
But Burke said Bozek's first problem was with Bishop John J. Leibrecht, of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese, who never released him from his assignment at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield.
"Given Father Bozek's canonical situation, (Liebrecht) isn't going to release him, and no bishop who is part of the Roman Catholic church is going to take him until he is reconciled with the church," Burke said. "It's just false for (Bozek) to say he's going to do this."
Standing next to William Bialczak, St. Stanislaus parish board chairman, Bozek said he would continue serving the parish.
"We believe the archbishop is realizing that he is losing this battle and the people of St. Louis are standing strongly behind St. Stanislaus," Bozek said. "He is giving us free publicity, and we will continue on without his approval."
Roger Krasnicki, a St. Stanislaus member who urged Bozek to come lead the parish three years ago but is now pressing for his removal, said he wasn't surprised that Bozek would refuse a meeting with Burke. He said he believed that Bozek wanted to split the church to gain followers who have a grudge against the Catholic faith.
"I think it's disgraceful," Krasnicki said. "I think he has shown his absolute rejection of Roman Catholicism and his desire to set up his own church."
Burke called the running dispute "a profound disappointment. No bishop wants to be involved in such a thing." He said he would move forward against Bozek because "it is my responsibility to safeguard the unity of the Catholic Church and protect the souls of the faithful."
Burke said any action he took against Bozek would have to be affirmed by the Vatican.
Leah Thorsen of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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