Context, please

context2 Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has won praise for his coverage of an excommunication dispute between a priest and six laymen at a church and Archbishop Raymond Burke. As Mollie noted, Townsend has explained to readers that the battle is not over any sexy theological or moral issues, but rather over church authority.

Townsend’s latest story is about a meeting the Archbishop and canon lawyers had with the Rev. Marek Bozek. Yet unlike his previous stories, this story failed to give readers sufficient context about the excommunications.

Burke put Bozek on notice after the priest participated in an ordination ceremony for two women in November at Central Reform Congregation. The women became priests of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The Roman Catholic church does not ordain women as priests.

Read, please, that first sentence again: “Burke put Bozek on notice …” It’s not clear what Townsend means. After all, Bozek has been excommunicated; in the Catholic Church, excommunication is the ultimate notice.

Also, the story leaves the impression that the dispute is over female ordination. According to Townsend’s old stories, that’s not an issue at all; the issue is authority, specifically who can control the Polish church. Has the situation between Burke and Bozek changed? Is the dispute now over female ordination?

An AP story suggests the opposite is true: the dispute is still over church authority.

I don’t know what went wrong with Townsend’s story. Perhaps having written so many insightful stories before, he thought his readers knew the issue at hand. Alas, not all readers do.

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  • JBenedict

    The excommunication is the ultimate spiritual penalty, but the laicization which is now being proposed would, as I understand it, deprive Fr. Bozek of the right of support as a cleric and the financial penalty is in some sense additional. Though I agree that more context was needed.

  • Peggy

    I thought the article was fairly good. His colleagues at the STL PD do not do as well. You didn’t post the segment discussing that Abp. Burke was concerned about the validity of sacraments that parishioners have been receiving from Fr. Bozek. Perhaps Townsend should have excerpted some more from some archdiocesan documents that are linked by the STL PD. The chancery has been receiving many inquiries regarding the validity of the sacraments. Abp. Burke has committed to rectifying those situations and proving valid sacraments.

  • Patrick Kinsale

    As a St. Louisan who has been following this, it appears to me that the issue has morphed a little, and in this change we see the connection between those who break away from authority for authority’s sake and those who do so because of Church dogma and doctrine. When St. Stan’s first brought in Fr. Bozek, hundreds of Catholic dissenters in the area descended on the parish to prop it up and tweak an archbishop for whom they have little respect. I am sure many of the more traditional-minded Polish Catholics who stuck with their parish rather than their Church are now wondering about the future of their enclave.

  • FW Ken

    Very interesting that both reporters gave the last word to Abp. Burke. It’s true that both articles missed some of the Catholic stuff, but that’s not a surprise. I’m Catholic, and I miss a lot of Catholic stuff.

    The main thing I would like to have seen is more understanding of why it matters to laicize an excommunicate priest functioning in a schismatic community. Ok, he’s deceiving people with invalid sacraments, but we are dealing with dissidents here, who pretty much know what’s up. Yes, some folks are going to wander into St. Stan’s, thinking it’s a legitimate Catholic parish, but I assume Bozek will ignore any action stripping him of his priestly minister, just as he has ignored other things up till now. His followers will do the same. So is there a way to write about this without a level of technical ecclesial detail that would lose the average reader like me?

  • Julia

    The articles by Tim are always good. He explains that the problem with St Stan’s is authority. Now the Polish priest is adding participation in “ordinations” for women. It isn’t a matter of either/or. The priest is piling it on and thumbing his nose at the Archbishop to boot.

    Some dissident friends asked me to go along and pray the rosary outside the building while the meeting went on. I declined. Whatever you think of Burke, this is now degenerating into an unprincipled opportunity for mockery of the legitimate issues.

    Patrick Kinsale is right. I’ll bet a lot of the conservative folks at St Stan’s never figured their new hero would be involving them in the ordination of women agenda.

    The Polish National Catholic Church will probably take the priest in and St Stan’s will become affiliated with that outfit. It had its start in disputes over ownership of property and the demand to have Polish priests in Polish parishes – pretty similar to what is happening in St. Louis. PNCC even dropped Latin in favor of Polish a long time ago. It allows married priests, but does not have women priests.

    Here’s some info on that group.

  • Patrick Kinsale

    Jimmy, for years the St. Stans board has been stepping away from the authority of the archdiocese. What is so authoritarian about saying there are rules, and that they should be followed?

    I pray for unity, but perhaps a formal move to the PNCC is better than their continued claims of being a Roman Catholic church.