Two More Face Excommunication at St. Stan

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 11, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Two more parishioners of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church face excommunication after being elected to the church's lay board Sunday.

In letters hand-delivered Saturday night, Bishop Robert Hermann, the Archdiocese of St. Louis' interim leader, warned eight parishioners who were running for positions on the board of their possible fate. Some of the parishioners returned home in the evening to find the letter taped to their front doors.

In the letter, Hermann noted that a Vatican decree in May said holding a seat on the St. Stanislaus board "constitutes an 'evident' act of schism."

Schism is defined in church law as "the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the

members of the Church subject to him."

Hermann asked all the candidates to withdraw their names from consideration for the election. "You are in danger of losing the eternal salvation of your soul, jeopardizing the salvation of other innocent faithful and inflicting a most severe wound to the communion of the Roman Catholic church," he wrote.

The archdiocese had filed a motion in St. Louis Circuit Court to try to stop the elections but dropped that demand last week as part of a compromise with St. Stanislaus.

The church agreed to cancel a second vote scheduled for this weekend that would have amended its bylaws for the third time in seven years. Each of the previous bylaw changes further distanced St. Stanislaus from the authority of the St. Louis archbishop.

The new bylaws would have made it more difficult to fire St. Stanislaus' pastor, the Rev. Marek Bozek, an action the church's most recent board had taken up.

In June, the church's six board members deadlocked twice on the question of firing Bozek. At a third meeting, Bozek broke the deadlock himself, dissolving the board.

St. Stanislaus parishioners voted over two days this weekend to elect a new board, and on Sunday announced that four former board members — John Baras, William Bialczak, Stanley Novak and Joe Rudawski — had all been re-elected. Baras, Bialczak and Rudawski were the three board members who had voted to retain Bozek as pastor in June. Novak served an earlier term on the board. All four of their excommunications were upheld by the Vatican in May.

Richard Lapinski and Janice Merzweiler were the two new parishioners voted onto the new board Sunday. According to Hermann's letter, they now face excommunication.

"I thought the outcome of the court meeting last week was that everyone was going to play nice and that the archdiocese would allow this election to go on," said Lapinski after his election to the board was announced. "Then they come like a thief in the night and deliver this letter threatening excommunication? That doesn't sound to me like the archdiocese is playing nice."

Merzweiler said she was upset at first, after receiving Hermann's letter, "but then I realized this is a struggle that's been going on for a while and I feel that now I'm really a part of it."

After the board was dissolved in June, the three board members who had voted to fire Bozek were reconciled with the archdiocese. All three, along with another former board member who had been reconciled with the church, joined the archdiocese in its lawsuit against St. Stanislaus.

Elizabeth Westhoff, assistant director of communications for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese would not comment on private correspondence or on anything pertaining to the pending suit.

In December 2005, then-St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke declared all six St. Stanislaus board members excommunicated after they hired Bozek to be the church's pastor. Burke also declared Bozek excommunicated and has since asked Pope Benedict XVI to laicize, or defrock, the priest.

Excommunication is a severe penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it "excludes the offender from taking part in the Eucharist or other sacraments and from the exercise of any ecclesiastical office, ministry, or function." Ultimately, excommunication is considered an attempt to bring an offending Catholic back to the church.

If Hermann declares Lapinski and Merzweiler excommunicated, the total excommunications surrounding St. Stanislaus will grow to 11. Four have since reconciled.

Among the 342 votes cast for St. Stanislaus' new board, one was cast for a write-in candidate with a name familiar to parishioners: Archbishop Raymond Burke.

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