The deep wound of schism in the archdiocese

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Introduction I write, with heavy heart, about a situation which I, as bishop, had hoped that I would never have to address.I refer to the recent break with the communion of the Roman Catholic Church on the part of the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in the City of St. Louis, and on the part of the priest from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, whom they have hired to serve them. It saddens me, in particular, to address such a deep wound to the Church in our archdiocese in these days of our final preparation for the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord on Christmas.The fact of the schism, however, must be addressed by me now, because it has immediate effects in the whole Church, especially the Archdiocese of St. Louis.The priest in question has informed me that he will begin his service at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Christmas Eve. As archbishop, it is my responsibility to explain the situation to all of the faithful of the archdiocese, who are so deeply affected by what has happened, in order that they not be subjected to further confusion and division, that they not be deceived about the lawfulness and validity of sacraments celebrated by the schismatic priest and that they pray for the reconciliation of those who gone into schism. Schism Schism is "the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him" (can. 751).It is the repudiation of the authority which Christ conferred upon St. Peter and the other Apostles in communion with him, and their successors.It, therefore, involves not only a premeditated and most grave act of disobedience to the authority of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in the communion with him, but also a certain denial of an integral part of the Catholic faith, that is, the apostolic mark of the Church.In other words, those who choose to go into schism believe that they can be the Church without the pastoral teaching, ministration of the sacraments and governance of the Apostles and their successors. In the case of the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, the act of disobedience involves directly not only the archbishop of St. Louis but also the Apostolic See.They have rejected both my direction and the direction of the Apostolic See. At the beginning of my service as archbishop of St. Louis on Jan. 26, 2004, I was obliged to address the structure of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, in order that it be in conformity with universal Church law which demands that the form of civil corporation respect the office of the archbishop and pastor of the parish.Because the bylaws of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish had been altered to eliminate any recognition of the authority of the archbishop and pastor, my predecessor, then-Archbishop Justin Rigali, had taken the proper steps to rectify the matter.In the meantime, he was transferred to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and, therefore, it was my responsibility, as his successor, to complete the necessary work which he had begun for the good of the faithful of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish and of the whole archdiocese. From the very beginning of my service, the members of the board of directors of the civil corporation have refused to obey my directives and, in fact, made appeal to the Apostolic See against my directives to them.The appeal was made to the Holy Father’s Congregation for the Clergy, which is competent in such matters.The Congregation for the Clergy responded to the board of directors, strongly directing them to comply with my directives.When the board of directors refused to obey either my directives or the directives of the Apostolic See, I was obliged to impose the penalty of interdict, in the hope that the members of the board would recognize the error of their way and repent. I have insisted with the members of the board of directors that the way to unity and, therefore, peace is obedience to our lawful superiors in the Church, that is, the Holy Father’s Congregation for the Clergy. Conflict with the Roman Catholic Church Some have understood that the conflict of the members of the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish and of those who follow them is with me personally.Such is clearly not the case, as the decision of the Congregation for the Clergy indicated.Their conflict is with the Roman Catholic Church.It is a conflict which several of my predecessors addressed in their time.The members of the board of directors refuse to accept the governance of the parish by the Roman Catholic Church, insisting that they remain devout Roman Catholics by governing the parish themselves.They have, thereby, broken the bond of communion with the Apostolic See and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Some have understood the object of the conflict to be power and money.Such is also clearly not the case.The object of the conflict is obedience, the obedience we all owe to the Apostolic teaching and discipline of the Church. The power in question belongs to Christ alone, who continues to guide the Church through those who act in His person as shepherd and head of the flock, in virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the jurisdiction conferred by the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ on earth, and the bishops in communion with the Holy Father.It is precisely when we place ourselves above Christ and His authority in the Church that we introduce division into the Body of Christ. Regarding money, there has never been a question that the money and all the other temporal goods of the parish belong to the parish, as is the case with every other parish in the archdiocese.I have no authority to seize the funds of any parish for any purpose, no matter how noble.My interest in the right ordering of parish life at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish involves money only to the extent that it includes the stewardship of the goods of the parish, according to ecclesiastical and civil law, and the vigilance over the administration of the temporal goods of the parish, so that they are used for the good of the parish.For that reason, from the beginning, I have insisted that a public audit of the parish’s goods be conducted, so that there could be no question of any misappropriation of the parish’s goods. Act of schism The act of schism, committed by the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, was the hiring of a suspended priest, that is a priest who is not in good standing in the Church, for the purpose of attempting to celebrate the sacraments and sacramentals at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.The priest in question, Father Marek B. Bozek, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, has left his priestly office of assistant pastor of St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield against the explicit direction of his bishop, the Most Reverend John J. Leibrecht, and after Bishop Leibrecht had explained to him more than once the gravity of his action and its consequences. The fact of the matter is that only a priest who is not in good standing would agree to employment by a group of parishioners without the appointment of the diocesan bishop, that is, a group of parishioners who are breaking communion with the Church.All priests serve in communion with the diocesan bishop who serves in communion with the Roman Pontiff.When Father Bozek left his assignment without his bishop’s permission, he was rightly suspended.The penalty of suspension prohibits him from the exercise of his priestly office (cf. can. 1333, 1). A priest, who knowingly and willingly chooses to attempt to exercise priestly ministry outside of the communion of the Church and, thereby, assists and encourages others in breaking communion with the Church, clearly also commits the ecclesiastical crime of schism.To be clear, it is not only the members of the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish who are in schism, but also the priest whom they have presumed to hire and who has agreed to be hired. In the secular media, it has been suggested that Bishop Leibrecht, more than once, asked me to accept Father Bozek for assignment to St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, but that I stubbornly refused.The suggestion is totally false.Bishop Leibrecht informed me immediately when he learned from Father Bozek about his intention to accept employment by the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.Bishop Leibrecht assured me that he had not given Father Bozek any permission to pursue a position at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish and that, on the contrary, he was insisting that Father Bozek remain faithful to the exercise of his priestly office at St. Agnes Cathedral. Father Bozek remains a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.Bishop Leibrecht as bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has made it abundantly clear that he desires Father Bozek to return to his diocese immediately, in order to be reconciled.It is my prayer that Father Bozek will respond to Bishop Leibrecht’s direction, in accord with the promise of obedience, which he made, in Bishop Leibrecht’s hands, to Bishop Leibrecht and his successors on the day of his ordination. Please pray for the same intention. Consequences of schism Those who commit the ecclesiastical crime of schism incur automatically the penalty of excommunication (cf. can. 1364, 1; and 1314).The excommunicated person is forbidden "to have any ministerial participation in celebrating the Sacrifice of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship whatsoever" (can. 1331, 1, 1); "to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals, and to receive the sacraments" (can. 1331, 1, 2); and "to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance" (can. 1331, 1, 3).The various elements of the penalty underline the fact that the party in question has broken communion with the Church.The prohibition of receiving the sacraments or sacramentals is suspended when the party under sanction is in danger of death, given that he is otherwise properly disposed (cf. can. 1352, 1). Although the excommunication is incurred automatically, it is my duty as the diocesan bishop in whose jurisdiction the act of schism has taken place to declare the excommunication, after I have made certain that the parties in question have understood the gravity of their act and its most serious consequences (cf. cann. 1717-1719).It has been made clear to me for some time that the members of the board of directors of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish have understood that the action of hiring a priest who is not in good standing in the Church to serve them carried with it the penalty of excommunication.Over the months since the imposition of the penalty of interdict, it has been my hope that the members of the board of directors would seek reconciliation.Also, I have renewed several times my offer to execute civil legal documents to guarantee what is already guaranteed by Church discipline, namely, the ownership of the temporal goods of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish as a personal parish for faithful of Polish language or heritage.The members of the board of directors, however, have insisted on their governance of the parish, even if, at the same time, they have asserted their desire to be part of the Roman Catholic Church.Having attempted to address the situation through fraternal correction and other means of pastoral solicitude, including the pastoral visit of the Most Reverend Ryszard Karpinski, auxiliary bishop of Lublin in Poland and the delegate of the Polish Conference of Bishops for Polish faithful living outside their homeland, now I must declare that the latest action of the members of the board of directors constitutes schism, carrying with it the automatic penalty of excommunication (cf. can. 1341). The ordained priest who goes into schism, in addition to being bound by the above-listed prohibitions, is also rendered irregular for the exercise of Holy Orders (cf. can. 1044, 1, 2). In other words, he may not exercise the Sacrament of Holy Orders which he has received.Any Mass celebrated by a suspended and excommunicated priest is valid, but illicit.To knowingly and willingly celebrate the Holy Mass, when one is legitimately prohibited from doing so, is a most grave sin.A priest under the penalty of excommunication does not give valid sacramental absolution (cf. can. 966, 1).Neither can he validly officiate at a wedding (cf. can. 1108, 1). The celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation by a schismatic priest is invalid because he no longer has any faculty to do so, either by universal Church law or the granting of the faculty by the diocesan bishop (cf. can. 882).Baptism and the Anointing of the Sick are conferred validly but not licitly (cf. cann. 862; and 1003, 1-2). The faithful who approach a schismatic priest for the reception of the sacraments, except in the case of danger of death, commit a mortal sin.All of the faithful of the archdiocese should guard against any participation in the attempt to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.Also, they should caution visitors and others who are unaware of the status of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, lest they unknowingly participate in the schismatic acts. Finally, since the civil legal control of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish belongs exclusively to the members of the board of directors of the civil corporation and they have chosen to lead the members of the parish into schism, I will be obliged to suppress St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.It is not possible for St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish to remain a parish of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and, at the same time, to operate completely independently of the Apostolic See and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Conclusion As I wrote at the beginning, my heart is heavy in writing to you about the break of communion with the Church by our brothers and sisters at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, most especially at the Holy Seasons of Advent and Christmas. We must not, however, permit Satan to steal our joy at the preparation for Christmas and the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus. Let, rather, the mystery of the Incarnation, which we will celebrate with deepest joy on Christmas Day and throughout the Christmas Season be the source of our renewed prayers for the reconciliation of the members of the board of directors, of those who support them, and of Father Marek Bozek. On Dec. 17, we will begin the final days of our preparation for the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.On each day, from Dec. 17 to Dec. 24, we will salute Christ our Savior by one of the ancient and beautiful titles given to the long-awaited Messiah.The last of the titles is Emmanuel.It contains all the other titles, for it means: God with us.Let us, through the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, implore our Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Mercy, on behalf of the reconciliation of those who have gone into schism.Christ, Divine Mercy Incarnate, accomplishes all things.Let us place the dolorous situation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish into all-merciful and loving heart. These are days of strong grace in the Church.May we keep them with deepest faith and so obtain the grace of being fittingly prepared for the great celebration of the Birth of our Savior.Through the observance of these final days of Advent, may many graces come to our homes and our archdiocese, uniting us in the peace which Christ brought to the world at His Birth.

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