Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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

February 25, 2008


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?