Defiant St. Louis Church Wins… What?

They get to keep the building—but at what price?  In exchange for the property rights, the parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis, Missouri, are no longer Catholic.

After a decade-long dispute, parishioners have won the right to keep their church property and assets.  St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Bryan Hettenbach ruled against the Archdiocese of St. Louis—siding with parishioners in 10 of 12 questions, finding that the archdiocese had no legitimate ownership claim on the parish.

“The archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners,” Judge Hettenbach quipped in his 50-page decision, “but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its own property.”

The parish was founded in 1891 by Polish immigrants.  From the beginning, a lay trustee board controlled the parish’s finances and owned the St. Stanislaus Parish corporation; the archbishop, in turn, appointed the board members and the pastor.  In 2001, however, the board amended its bylaws to remove all authority from the archbishop.

Thus began a cycle of increasing animosity between the parish and the archdiocese.  In 2003, the archdiocese asked the parish to revise its bylaws in order to comply with canon law, putting its estimated $8 million assets under archdiocesan control.  The parish refused; and then-Archbishop Raymond Burke removed the parish’s archdiocesan priests.

The parish continued to operate, however, with some archdiocesan priests surreptitiously offering masses.  In 2005, the parish hired a schismatic priest, Polish-born Rev. Marek Bozek—a colorful figure who had left his previous assignment without permission, and who openly espoused women’s ordination and other positions in opposition to Church teaching.  In response to this new affront, Archbishop Burke declared the church to be in schism.  Bozek and the church’s lay board were excommunicated, and in 2009, Pope Benedict officially dismissed Bozek from the clerical state.

Current St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson worked to reinstate the dissident parish and to welcome  St. Stanislaus as a Roman Catholic parish in the Polish tradition.  However, in August 2010 the St. Stanislaus Corporation members voted 257-185 against the proposal.

Last year, Archbishop Carlson affirmed that the archdiocese would provide St. Stanislaus Kostka parishioners “a way to return to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”  But following the court ruling, Archbishop Carlson issued a statement, asserting that the judge had disregarded “ecclesiastical determinations” and promising to appeal the decision “all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

In January 2013, though, the archdiocese dropped the appeal, and Bozek was quick to express his satisfaction with the apparent victory.  In a joint statement issued January 13, 2013, the archdiocese indicated that it would dismiss its appeal in the case, and the judgment of the trial court is now final.

Particularly sad, though, is the concession offered by the parish.  According to the archdiocesan newspaper, the St. Louis Review:

“St. Stanislaus has agreed that it will not hold itself out as affiliated in any way with the Archdiocese of St. Louis or the Roman Catholic Church…. Neither side made any payments to the other as part of this resolution. All other terms of the resolution are confidential. By bringing this legal dispute to an end, we pray that this will help to initiate a process of healing.”


  • Laura K

    That parish does not belong to the current generation of dissidents. It was their Catholic ancestors who built that church in the good faith that it would be tended and cared for as a Catholic parish. The rightful heirs of that founding community are not the current squatters but the Catholic community of St. Louis. The spiritual patrimony trumps the economic currency.

    It would be like the estate of Flannery O’Connor being taken over by a distant cousin who would proceed to rewrite her short stories. The cousin would have no right; no right, that is, in Truth.

    • Peter Karutz

      well said Marcy and Laura
      the questions of consequence here are not of land and control but
      faith and truth
      once again… let’s keep these folks … our brothers and sisters in our prayers.

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  • Marcy K.

    I understand that they were worried that the parish would be closed if it came under the archbishop but this is just too sad all the way around. Yes, they have a building but it will be cold consolation in the end.

  • peter karutz

    we must pray and reach out to our brothers and sister in this parish gone so far off the path.
    let them know that we regular catholic would welcome them back
    remind them that Jesus Christ is Dying to forgive them

    • Tim

      Watch the news, read the papers…..Rome is burning …..The Vatican is full of hipocracy. Honestly I love our history and the beautiness of being catholic. But its crumbling around us…parishes closing, consolidations, schools dying….Look around, time for ordination of women and married priests.

      • Kathy Schiffer

        Two different issues there, Tim. We may indeed see a married priesthood, since celibacy is a discipline, not a doctrine. As a wife of a deacon, I have a fairly negative reaction to a married priesthood. Our children were out of the house when my husband spent five years in the seminary and out of the house; but the rigors of the priestly vocation seem unfair to a wife and children. And Catholics are not in the habit of tithing their 10%, as some Protestant denominations do; how will a parish afford tuition, food and shoes for the married priest’s numerous children? Lastly, the priest is an alter-Christus; he represents Christ to the people. So he loves the Church with the love of Christ, only he loves SOME people more. That’s not a great symbol, IMHO.

        As for women priests–get over it, it’s been dogmatically defined. In his Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” This definitive statement leaves no “wiggle room” for those who would like to continue debating the question.

  • Tim

    I think its great and I congratulate them. There has been an independent movement around the world since the 19th century. But as of recent in the last 10 years scores of independents have been forming around the country. I am part of the United Independent Catholic Church and am very happy. If you’re ready for a progressive church check us and others out.

    • Jim H.



    I agree wih laura..But in addition I offer the following comment. St Stan has been around since the 1800′s with no problem from the archodioces(sp). Problems started with Cardinal Regali he needed cash to send to the vatican in his effort to make his current position. He accomplishe thet goal by selling a piece of real property in st louis aslo by objections. So his sucessor arrived Arch Bishop Burke and tried the same approach this time it was St. Stan and got tied up in legal matters..His lever to sell that property over the objections of it’s parishioners,the true owners, to send the proceeds to rome in a hope to gain the rank of Cardinal. Im sure regali had a lot to do with his elevation. Cardinal Burke leverage to gain control of the property was excommunication which he carried out of all parishioners attending that church. In the end all involved lost..Except Cardinal Burke he got out of town. BUt the excommunication stand today and has not been removed


    I think it’s time we all get involved in the St Stan problem. The Pope should be informed on this matter. We should ask him to remove the excommunication for all involved. There is a legal definition of what Cardinal Burke did, trying to extract land he did not own from its true owners, Black’s Law Dictionary “the use of the color of one office, in the community, to take from another. Cardinal Burke still has not returned this Church’s Treasures. Even though he was not successful in the land deal he is by removing it’s treasures…

    • Jim H.

      Cardinal Burke offered to put all of the property and monies in a trust that would keep it in the hands of the parish in perpetuity. The parish refused to allow any involvement of the archdiocese. This is what is called schism. They excommunicated themselves.

  • Jim H.

    The oldest story in the Bible. Non serviam.