The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 14, 2013

Former priest behind dispute had served in Seneca, Neosho

From staff, AP reports

ST. LOUIS — An excommunicated Catholic priest with ties to Southwest Missouri has settled his long-running dispute with the Catholic Archdiocese in St. Louis over his predominantly Polish church in St. Louis.

The archdiocese has ended its appeal of a judge’s ruling in favor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, the two sides said in a joint statement Wednesday. As part of the agreement, St. Stanislaus will remain unaffiliated with the Catholic Church, which has been the case since the archdiocese removed it in 2005.

“By bringing this legal dispute to an end, we pray that this will help to initiate a process of healing,” the statement read.

Messages on Thursday seeking comment from the Rev. Marek Bozek at St. Stanislaus and from the archdiocese were not returned.

Bozek was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau on Dec. 18, 2002. He served as associate pastor of St. Canera Parish, in Neosho; St. Mary Parish, in Seneca; and Nativity of Our Lord Mission, in Noel, from the time of his ordination until August 2004, when he was reassigned as associate pastor of St. Agnes Cathedral, in Springfield.

In 2005, Bozek accepted the pastorship of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in St. Louis at the invitation of parishioners. Only bishops can assign priests, and Bozek was ultimately stripped of his priesthood by Pope Benedict XVI for abandoning his assignment.

Bozek said after the Vatican decision that he would not leave St. Stanislaus but would take his orders from Phillip Zimmerman, who is affiliated with a 19th century independent church movement that has rejected the declaration of papal infallibility and some other Catholic teachings. That reform church movement later dissolved after the leader’s criminal background and other problems came to light.

The St. Louis dispute also involved a 19th century agreement that allowed St. Stanislaus to govern its own finances. In 2003, the archdiocese asked the parish to bring its structure in line with that of every other parish, but St. Stanislaus refused. A judge last March sided with St. Stanislaus.

“The archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners, but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its own property,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Bryan Hettenbach wrote.

The archdiocese originally vowed to appeal “all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” asserting that Hettenbach substituted his interpretation of church law for that of the Vatican.

The joint statement this week said the judge’s decision is now final, and St. Stanislaus has agreed not to “hold itself out as affiliated in any way with the archdiocese of St. Louis or the Roman Catholic Church.” No financial payments were made by either the parish or the archdiocese.

The parish just a few blocks from downtown St. Louis was founded in the 1890s and was then, and now, populated largely by people of Polish heritage.

The disagreement escalated in 2003 when the archdiocese asked St. Stanislaus to conform on its financial structure. The refusal prompted escalating threats and actions by the archdiocese. After Bozek was hired without archdiocese approval in December 2005, then-Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis declared that the parish was no longer part of the Catholic Church. Burke later excommunicated its board and Bozek.

Bozek said last year that the parish was thriving despite the rift, seeing its membership double to 550 in the years since losing its affiliation. The current archbishop, Robert Carlson, had tried to work with the parish to return it to communion with the church, the archdiocese said last year.