Backers Join Ousted Priest in 'Illicit' Mass
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. LOUIS - At least 1,500 people attended Christmas Eve Mass with an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest presiding, despite warnings from the archbishop that participating would be a mortal sin.
The Rev. Marek Bozek left his previous parish without his bishop's permission and was hired by St. Stanislaus Kostka Church this month. As a result, Father Bozek and the parish's six-member lay board were excommunicated last week by Archbishop Raymond Burke for committing an act of schism.
Archbishop Burke said it would be a mortal sin for anyone to participate in a Mass celebrated by a priest who was excommunicated.
The archbishop, who could not stop the Mass, said it would be "valid" but "illicit."
Despite the warning, Catholics and others from as far as Oregon and Washington, D.C., filled the church. An overflow crowd viewed the Mass by closed-circuit television in an adjoining parish center.
"I'm not worried about mortal sin," said Matt Morrison, 50, a worshiper.
"I'll take a stand for what I believe is right," Mr. Morrison said.
Many wore large red buttons reading "Save St. Stanislaus" and said they wanted to offer solidarity to a parish that they believed had been wronged.
When Father Bozek entered from the rear of the church, the congregation rose and greeted him with thunderous applause.
"It was magic," said JoAnne La Sala of St. Louis, who described herself as a lapsed Catholic. "You could feel the spirit of the people."
The penalty of excommunication was the latest wrinkle in a long dispute over control of the parish's $9.5 million in assets.
The parish's property and finances have been managed by a lay board of directors for more than a century. Archbishop Burke has sought to make the parish conform to the same legal structure as other parishes in the diocese. As a result, he removed both the parish's priests in 2004.
Father Bozek, a Pole who came to the United States five years ago, said he agonized about leaving his previous parish but wanted to help a church that had been deprived of the sacraments for 17 months.