I won’t be so bold as to make a prediction publicly. If you see me at lunch, I’ll give you my take. If the Archdiocese loses, I doubt it’ll simply ignore the judge and do whatever it wants. In other words, after any legal recourse on appeal is complete, I doubt they will flout the decision in the same way St. Stan’s has flouted every single negative decision they have received in ecclesiastical proceedings. Different standards, perhaps.
BY VALERIE SCHREMP HAHN
ST. LOUIS • A decision on who should control St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is in the hands of a judge who is not expected to rule until at least late next month.
Lawyers presented their closing arguments in St. Louis Circuit Court on Wednesday after a trial of more than two weeks on a 2008 lawsuit by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and six former members to assert some authority over the Polish heritage church.
Judge Bryan Hettenbach provided no indication of when he will rule, although he gave lawyers until Feb. 21 to submit written briefs.
The archdiocese seeks to restore the unique structure of the church put in place at its founding 120 years ago: governance by a lay board, with a pastor appointed by the archbishop.
In 2001 and 2004, the St. Stanislaus board of directors changed the original bylaws, eliminating the authority of the archbishop. The archdiocese announced a massive legal restructuring that would transform each parish from an unincorporated association to a nonprofit corporation. St. Stanislaus parishioners were unwilling to yield control.
Ed Goldenhersh, an attorney for the archdiocese, argued Wednesday that the board had no authority to change its bylaws and that the court has the jurisdiction to enforce the 1891 agreement. “If members want to be members of a club, they have to play by the club’s rules,” he said.
The St. Stanislaus attorney, Richard Scherrer, said the church deserves independence from the archdiocese. He complained that it was the archdiocese that breached its agreement with the parish when it threatened to excommunicate board members to enforce its way.
“What it’s become is a test of wills and an issue of obedience,” Scherrer said.
Much of the evidence focused on the nonprofit structure, articles of incorporation and bylaws. But it also included emotional testimony about how the people of St. Stanislaus continue to gather under the leadership of the Rev. Marek Bozek. In 2005, the lay board named the Polish-born Bozek, then a priest in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese, usurping the archbishop’s role. Bozek was excommunicated and laicized by Pope Benedict XVI.
After court adjourned Wednesday, Bozek appeared relaxed. “Whoever loses will appeal,” he said with a smile, noting that process could take two or three years. “I will be there in the interim.”