Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis is grieved over a Missouri court's ruling in favor of a breakaway Catholic parish that revised its unique bylaws to exclude episcopal authority.
The archbishop called the move a “disappointment” in a March 15 statement and voiced concern that the judge substituted his own analysis of church law in making the decision.
He added that the ruling brings “great sadness” to those in the archdiocese who had hoped for “reconciliation and healing” for the local St. Stanislaus Church, and says he plans “to appeal this decision and will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”
The case concerns the north St. Louis church of St. Stanislaus Kostka, originally founded by Polish immigrants. A lay trustee board controlled parish finances and owned the parish property through the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation. The archdiocese had sought to bring the parish into conformity with present church law.
Some of the parishioners were concerned that the archdiocese intended to close the church or seize its funds. The corporation bylaws were rewritten in 2001 and 2004 to eliminate the archbishop’s authority to appoint board members and the pastor.
St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Bryan Hettenbach ruled against the archdiocese and former parishioners who had asked the court to void the corporation’s amended bylaws and restore the pre-2001 laws.
“The archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners, but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its property,” the judge said in a 50-page decision that favored the church in 10 of 12 points of dispute.
He said the bylaws revisions did not conflict with the board’s purpose in the original articles of agreement, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports.
These purposes included: to unite Polish Roman Catholics in a church congregation; to maintain a Polish Roman Catholic Church; and to encourage attendance at Roman Catholic religious services.
The judge also said that the 1891 agreement between the parish corporation and the then-archbishop was a “tacit bargain” that the archdiocese “would not overreach into civil corporate matters and the parish corporation would leave religious matters to the archbishop,” the St. Louis Review reports.
The Vatican has determined that the corporation no longer has resemblance to a Roman Catholic parish, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said. Archbishop Carlson has supported the Vatican ruling and has tried to work with the parish to return it to the Church.
The parish was declared schismatic in December 2005. Its pastor and the corporation board’s six directors were declared excommunicated, though some board members have since reconciled with the Catholic Church and four former board members have joined the archdiocese’s lawsuit.
The pastor, Fr. Marek Bozek, had left his previous position without the permission of his bishop to become the church’s pastor. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI dismissed him from the clerical state.
The archdiocese said Judge Hettenbach’s decision disregarded the Church’s determinations and “substituted his own analysis of Church law.”
“We are committed in prayer and pastoral outreach to reconcile the members of St. Stanislaus to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church,” it added.