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St. Louis archdiocese to appeal ruling on former parish

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Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis said a judge’s ruling against efforts by the St. Louis archdiocese and a group of Polish Catholics to return a former Polish Catholic parish to full communion with the Catholic Church will be appealed.

St. Stanislaus Church, which had served Catholics of Polish heritage for generations, is no longer operating as a Catholic parish and a civil corporation owns the property.

In August 2004, the pastoral care of Catholics of Polish heritage in the St. Louis archdiocese was moved away from St. Stanislaus after the lay board claimed control over parish finances from the administrator and refused to bring parish structures into conformity with canon law.

A court decision on the status of St. Stanislaus Church is a disappointment for Polish American Catholics who wish to see it returned to communion with the Roman Catholic Church and will be appealed, St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said in a statement March 15. An exterior of the church is seen in a 2010 photo. (CNS photo/Jerry Naunheim Jr., St. Louis Review)

The parish was suppressed by the St. Louis archdiocese, and the apostolate for Polish Catholics then was moved permanently to St. Agatha Parish in South St. Louis.

Judge Bryan Hettenbach of St. Louis Circuit Court ruled March 15 against the Archdiocese of St. Louis and former St. Stanislaus parishioners who had asked the court to declare the St. Stanislaus Parish Corp.’s amended bylaws void and restore the original bylaws, a move that the archdiocese believed would have returned St. Stanislaus to full communion with the church.

The ruling “brings great sadness to all in the Archdiocese of St. Louis who had hoped for reconciliation and healing in this matter,” Archbishop Carlson noted in a statement he read at a news conference held the same day the ruling was issued.

The statement noted that the judge agreed that the purpose of the parish corporation is to operate a Polish Roman Catholic church, as stated in the original articles of agreement and paperwork forming the St. Stanislaus Parish Corp.

The Vatican has determined that the corporation, by revising its bylaws in 2001 and 2004, has transformed St. Stanislaus into an entity that has no resemblance to a Roman Catholic parish, it noted. Archbishop Carlson has supported the Vatican’s determination in the case and has tried to work with the parish to bring it into communion with the Catholic Church once again.

Hettenbach also ruled against earlier judgments removing the directors and officers of the board of the parish corporation and declaring that the St. Stanislaus Church property be subject to a charitable trust with the archbishop as trustee.

He said all interest in the original St. Stanislaus Church property vests with the St. Stanislaus corporation.

“It would not, however, be inaccurate to say that in 1891 the predecessors of today’s litigants struck a tacit bargain that, in regard to St. Stanislaus, the archdiocese would not overreach into civil corporate matters and the parish corporation would leave religious matters to the archbishop,” he wrote in the ruling.

The history of St. Stanislaus, founded by Polish immigrants in 1880, is complex. In 1891, Archbishop Peter Kenrick of St. Louis allowed the parish to form a lay trustee board to control parish finances and own the parish’s property.

Shortly after then-Archbishop Raymond L. Burke began his duties in 2004 as St. Louis archbishop, he continued the effort started a year earlier by his predecessor to persuade the board to transfer property ownership to the archdiocese.

Stating concerns over the future of the parish should it allow the property transfer, the board stated publicly that it could not reach an agreement with the archbishop, which led to suppression of the parish and the transfer of Polish Catholic apostolate to another parish.

The archdiocese’s March 15 statement said that Hettenbach, in his opinion, “has disregarded these ecclesiastical determinations and has substituted his own analysis of church law, finding that the bylaws are not in conflict with the parish corporate purpose of maintaining a Roman Catholic church. We plan to appeal this decision and will take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.”

The six parishioners of St. Stanislaus who are plaintiffs with the archdiocese included four former board members of St. Stanislaus.