Excommunicated St. Louis Priest Stresses Truth over Obedience

By Tom Heinen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 18, 2008

Excommunication has not eroded the personal beliefs of the Rev. Marek Bozek, a Polish-born priest who butted heads with Archbishop Raymond Burke and the Vatican by leaving his assignment in a different Missouri diocese to become the pastor of a rebellious parish in St. Louis.


Comparing his situation to the underground Solidarity Movement in Poland during communist rule, he still insists that individual conscience trumps authority.

Bozek, 33, the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, will reflect on that in a talk titled "The Odyssey of Joseph the Dreamer: A Reflection on Those Who Care to Dream" at a Voice of the Faithful reform group meeting open to the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Calvary Lutheran Church, 1750 N. Calhoun Road, Brookfield.

Burke, former bishop of La Crosse, recently was named to head the Vatican's supreme court.

When Burke became St. Louis' archbishop in 2004, he challenged the unusual legal and financial structure that had enabled St. Stanislaus to control its own management and property since the 19th century.

After parish leaders refused to relent, Burke removed the parish's priests, excommunicated Bozek and lay members of the parish board, and stripped the parish of its standing as a Roman Catholic parish.

Before his excommunication, Bozek was a celebrant when a group advocating female priests held an ordination ceremony for two women.

Q: Your talk's focus?

A: The reflection is directed to the people who have been disappointed with the direction of the Roman Catholic Church today, especially to the people who remember the zeal and the joy of the Vatican II council.

Q: Your last communication with the hierarchy?

A: The last thing that I have heard was in May, and it was a document sent to the archbishop by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a Vatican department), informing him that his excommunication of myself and the board has been approved. And also in this document, Cardinal (William) Levada informs Archbishop Burke that my process of laicization will be taken directly to the Holy Father, and (the pope) will issue a decision himself.

Q: Your reasoning?

A: In the Catholic theology, obedience is very, very high up in their so-called hierarchy of values. But it's not the highest value. Above obedience, there is truth, justice and, of course, charity.

Q:You say that you became a priest to meet people's spiritual needs, and that you came to St. Stanislaus because parishioners were suffering an injustice, had no priest and asked you to come?

A: The question was, should I follow my conscience or should I be obedient to the authority who demands of me something contrary to my conscience, contrary to all the reasons why I became a priest.

Q: Go on.

A: I am only 33 years old, but I remember seeing the underground movement in Poland. I think that's what's happening in the church right now. When people reject many parts of Catholic discipline — like contraception, or the issue of divorce, or of married priests, or of women priests, or of gay or lesbian couples — more Catholics become underground Catholics. They do not recognize the regime, but they still identify themselves as Catholics.

Q: You say that your parish welcomes people of all backgrounds and invites non-Catholics to receive Communion, too. How is the parish doing?

A: When I came two and a half years ago, membership was between 190 and 200 households. Today, we have over 515 households registered. We have lost some in the process, about 10 families.

Q: A parishioner who invited you has left, accusing you of trying to split the church and of inviting people with grudges against the Catholic Church.

A:Yes, he and his family, unfortunately. And I'm sorry they left, but if the person who disobeyed the bishop says that I am disobeying the bishop on different issues, I call it selective hearing. I don't believe church should be the place where anyone is judged or discriminated.


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