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Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/contact:larchstar@aol.com

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

February 25, 2008

SACRAMENTS AS POKER CHIPS?

Today's Daily News reports the refusal of absolution by a priest at St. Paul's on East 117th Street to one Luz Alvarez, who disclosed the incident to a reporter. Alvarez had been a long-time parishioner of the near-by Our Lady, Queen of Angels. Since there were three churches within a few blocks of one another, the archdiocese, as part of its over-all realignment, had closed Queen of Angels. Since the closing, Alvarez and a small band of parishioners gathered in front of the closed church each Sunday for prayers, scripture readings and discussion. Alvarez went to St. Paul's for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and confessed missing "Mass" on three Sundays. After she told the priest that her church was Queen of Angels, she was told that it had been closed and unless she would not perform this action again, he would not give absolution.

Apparently in good conscience about her Sunday observance and accepting the archdiocesan regimen as to confession, she sought the sacrament at St. Paul's. Should the priest have conditioned absolution on her promise not to pray and have a Bible service outside Queen of Angels? Phrased in that way, the issue appears less well-defined than in the canonical view: she had not fulfilled her Sunday obligation! Objectively, she would be in disobedience of her archbishop as to his closing Queen of Angels and misconstrewing a prayer and Bible service as Mass. But is it appropriate to enforce church discipline by insisting that a person desist from prayer and Bible reading, because she would not go the whole way and accept the archbishop's authority?

The same issue arises more starkly in the case of St. Stanislaus Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
By a curious set of circumstances, this Polish church 200 years ago was incorporated under civil law, omitting any role for the archbishop as to archdiocesan control and management of the parish's physical property and its funds, presently totaling $9 million. All of this under civil law was in the control of the lay Board of Directors. The then Archbishop Justin Regali attempted to assert his control under civil law. When that proved unsuccessful, he removed the priestly staff. For two years the parish remained without Mass and the sacraments. A young Polish priest from another diocese was invited to assume the pastorate of St. Stanislaus. Father Marek Bozek was accepted as pastor by the lay Board. He hoped to remain a year or two and effect a reconciliation.

On January 26, 2004, Bishop Raymond Burke, noteworthy during the 2004 presidential campaign for banning Holy Communion to John Kerry and other pro-choice politicians, succeeded Rigali as archbishop of St. Louis. He quickly entered the long-standing fray by excommunicating Bozek and the six man St. Stanislaus board for an act of schism. But the parish thrived and grew from 260 member housholds to 550. Burke threatened Bozek with laicization; Bozek further inflamed the situation by dramatically endorsing the ordination of women. In Bozek's view, he had come to administer the sacraments to a parish that had been unjustly denied them and suppressed. The issue was now framed publicly as Archbishop Burke struggling to secure control of the parish buildings and its $9 million by withholding the sacraments. As in the Queen of Angels conflict, canonically the archbishop was in the right. But here again the question arises: how appropriate is it to secure control of buildings and millions of dollars by using the Mass and the sacraments as a kind of poker chips?

3 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

With all due respect, Monsignor, there are several material errors in your post which are remarkably similar to the errors in a hatchet piece on Archbishop Burke that appeared recently in the National Catholic Reporter.

Point-by-point:

1. The parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka dates back to 1880, not quite 200 years.
2. The Articles of Incorporation of the parish did not omit any role for the Archbishop. The Archbishop was a member of the parish board of directors and had final approval of all other members. While the board was allowed to manage the parish’s finances, the Archbishop retained the right of review.
3. The amount of the parish’s assets is claimed to be $9.0 million, but the board refuses to submit to an independent audit. A large portion of that amount is in real estate and it may be highly inflated, considering that the parish is located in a depressed area.
4. Archbishop Rigali did not attempt to “assert his control”. In fact, he attempted to recover control after the parish board unilaterally, and illegally, re-wrote the Articles of Incorporation, removing the Abp. from the board and removing his financial oversight.
5. Archbishop Rigali did not remove the parish priests. They were removed by ARCHBISHOP Burke when the board declared that the priests were under their control and cut off funds from the pastor to operate the parish. They attempted to smear the pastor’s reputation, claiming had depleted parish funds when, in fact, the funds had been cut off by the board.
6. When the priests were removed from St. Stanislaus, a new Polish ministry was established at another nearby parish. At no time was anyone refused the sacraments. As mentioned above, St. Stanislaus is located in an economically depressed area of St. Louis. The parishioners come from throughout the area. Relocating the Polish parish to another building did not pose a hardship for the parishioners. In fact, the new location is in a much safer part of the city.
7. As a Catholic priest, you know that it is not possible for a lay board of directors to hire a priest. This priest abandoned his assignment in another diocese, over the objections of both his own bishop, and of Archbishop Burke, of St. Louis.
8. Again, as a Catholic priest, you should know that Archbishop Burke did not excommunicate anyone. By declaring themselves independent of the authority of the local ordinary and the Holy See, the board and the renegade priest committed an act of schism and received the automatic penalty of excommunication. Archbishop Burke didn’t have to do anything. They excommunicated themselves.
9. There was never an attempt by Archbishop Burke, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Rigali, nor any of their predecessors to “secure control of buildings and millions of dollars by using the Mass and the sacraments as a kind of poker chips.” What you’re suggesting is impossible under Canon Law. In fact, the Archdiocese offered the parish an agreement granting everything the parish demanded with one exception. The board demanded a written agreement that the parish would never close. That was one condition the Archdiocese couldn’t accept. What they offered was to keep the parish open as long as the parishioners continued to support it. In the event the parish would ever close, all the assets of the parish would revert to the lay board to be used to move the Polish ministry to another location. The board refused.

You are correct that the Mass and sacraments are being used as poker chips. Where you’re mistaken is that it isn’t Archbishop Burke who’s playing games. It’s the lay board of the parish. They have manipulated and manufactured facts and have used the local anti-Catholic media, and now even the national media, to spread the kind of misinformation that you have quoted here.

They brought in a renegade priest who believes he is above Church Law and able to operate under his own rules. His recent participation in the ordination of the so-called women priests was just the latest of his defiant acts.

Monsignor, I respectfully suggest that if you want to blog on this matter, you research the facts using a source more reliable that the National Catholic Reporter or the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In fact, I’m sure the Archbishop himself, or possibly one of his Vicars, would be glad to discuss this with you.

February 25, 2008 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger RCK said...

Response to Mike:
You are the one who has the facts wrong.
#2 The Archbishop was never a member of the Board.
#3 Assets are probably understated. Real estate is carried at insured values and not replacement cost which would be significantly higher.
#4 Rigali was gone before the bylaws were amended. However, the Archdiocese or another Roman Catholic Polish religious group still remain takers in the unlikely event of dissolution of the Parish.
#5 The Sunday collections were taken away from the parochial administrator only after he would not or could not explain the disappearance of nearly $60,000 in parish funds. It was only then that Burke removed him.
#6 There is documented evidence (affidavits of witnesses) that members of St. Stan's Parish were denied Last Rites even though they were never excommunicated.
#9 Too wrong to even begin to rebut.

February 26, 2008 at 3:48 PM  
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