A Time to Heal

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According to Catholic tradition, a handful of the exceptionally faithful attain official sainthood. Some-patron saints-have a knack for specialization. Catholics believe patron saints reroute spiritual pleading and intercede with God on behalf of those who pray. St. Stanislaus Kostka happens to be the patron saint of last sacraments and broken bones.

Just in time for Christmas, a long-simmering conflict exploded between St. Stanislaus Kostka’s namesake parish, nearby on 1413 N. 20th Street, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. On Dec. 24, 2005, Archbishop Raymond Burke announced the excommunication of St. Stanislaus’ six-member board of directors and their newly hired priest, Marek Bozek.

You may have heard about this. It’s been in the news: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star and The Wall Street Journal, most recently. But the parish of St. Stanislaus has been making headlines for years.

Church, or canon, law dictates that administration of parish property and money resides with the Archdiocese. Since the 1960s, St. Stanislaus has saved and invested money independently of the Archdiocese. The Catholic Church consideres St. Stanislaus to be a civil corporation-that is where the problem lies.

Former Archbishop Justin Rigali tried to bring St. Stanislaus’ administration and finances back under Church authority, but to avail. And so, when Archbishop Burke arrived in St. Louis two years ago as Rigali’s replacement, he reignited the project to conform St. Stanislaus to church rules.

Archbishop Burke reminded St. Stanislaus of the rule as early as March 2004 and warned that refusal to conform would naturally lead to the parish’s exclusion from the Roman Catholic Church. One of the vows of religious life is, after all, obedience.

But the board of laymen refused to comply, and when they hired suspended priest Marek Bozek from the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Archdiocese to celebrate Mass for Christmas of 2005, they were excommunicated. The 2,000 parishoners who attended Christmas Eve Mass there were told they were committing a mortal sin.

Since that time, St. Stanislaus has stood its ground and maintained its holdings, operating independently of the Church.

St. Stanislaus’ property and savings are estimated to be worth more than $9 million, and the fight over the parish, at least as portrayed by the media, seems to be one about money, real estate and power-worldly goods, transitory at best, not to mention demeaning as the subject of Church arguments. The Church-purveyor of spiritual wealth-seems out of place in these discussions.

Why fight about money? The board of St. Stanislaus fears that, if they give it up, the Archbishop will take it away. It’s really an issue of trust (and whether this trust is deserved)-an anomalous stumbling block for an organization that preaches a message of honesty and truth. The real issue at St. Stanislaus is one of tolerance, faith and reconciliation-and how those involved have failed to practice what they preach.

So, how can the community and church-the entire body, not merely the hierarchy-refocus attention toward bridged relations in the wake of St. Stanislaus’ breakdown? We must become aware of the situation at hand and learn from it-but not from the sound bytes, the rumors or the news clippings. No, we are aware firsthand about the real problem: misplaced trust, a fear of authority, a proclivity to power.

And so, too, we develop firsthand our own solution: forgive, have faith, be humble.

The Church could learn something from its own teachings. It should pray to St. Stanislaus, the patron saint of broken bones, which often heal stronger.