Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fr. Bozek should stop and think

Fair-minded readers of St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke's December 16th letter declaring the excommunication of the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish leadership must conclude that the archbishop would rather have written about any of a hundred other topics during the last week leading up to Christmas. But once again, the lay board of the Polish personal parish--under interdict since February for obstructing the archbishop's authority to supervise the administration of the parish--has forced the archbishop's hand, this time, by hiring a priest (himself already suspended for abandoning his pastoral post in the neighboring diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau) and announcing that he will celebrate Mass for them on Christmas Eve. That defiant act of schism (see 1983 CIC 751) won the lay board and priest they hired, Fr. Marek Bozek, excommunication under 1983 CIC 1364 § 1.

Fr. Bozek has been ordained for hardly three years, and he's been in America (from his native Poland) for barely five. Yet he has apparently decided that he knows all there is to know about a vexing parochial situation that has been simmering since decades before he was born, more about where he should minister than the bishop who took him in, educated him, and ordained him for service in southern Missouri, and more about pastoral administration than the archbishop of St. Louis, who happens to be one of the most respected canonists in America.

Fr. Bozek's abrupt decision to walk out on his own pastoral assignment at the co-cathedral parish in Springfield and to assume unauthorized--nay, forbidden--duties in St. Louis is tantamount to a minor officer in the army being assigned to Ft. Smith, but deciding on his own that he would be more useful at Ft. Jones, and simply going there. Such a status is called AWOL, and such an officer would be placed under arrest for dereliction of duty.

But the Church is not the army, and Archbishop Burke does not have MPs to arrest a renegade priest who takes up residence in his archdiocese and return him to Springfield--where, of course, Bp. Leibrecht doesn't have a jail to put Fr. Bozek in anyway. Instead, both bishops have imposed on Fr. Bozek penalties within the limits of their jurisdiction. But, golly, what a pathetic way to mark one's third anniversary of ordination: suspended by one bishop, excommunicated by a second.

Both suspension and excommunication are "censures" (1983 CIC 1312 § 1, 1°). As a canonist, Archbishop Burke would be the first to tell Fr. Bozek that, when one "withdraws from contumacy", one has a right to the prompt lifting of a censure (1983 CIC 1358 § 1). Fr. Bozek should renounce his intention to set up operations at St. Stanislaus parish, return to Springfield, and seek reconciliation.

But Fr. Bozek needs to know something here: contumacy for an excommunication imposed for an act of schism is itself punishable, this time, by penal dismissal from the clerical state (1983 CIC 1364 § 2). Moreover, once imposed, penal dismissal from the clergy--not being a censure (1983 CIC 1336 § 1, 5°)--is not reversible by what amounts to offering a sincere apology. Indeed, reinstatement of a "defrocked" priest is reserved to Rome (1983 CIC 293) and is so rare as to be non-existent.

Fr. Bozek should stop and think about that and let the parties to the dispute in St. Louis work out their situation in accord with law. +++