Showdown in St. Louis (updated and corrected)

For those wondering what it might take to get swiftly laicized, this story from the NY Times yesterday seems revealing. A parish in St. Louis has been sued by the archdiocese over control of its financial assets, but that's not the half of it:

For more than a century, St. Stanislaus has enjoyed a rare role within the archdiocese. A lay board of directors governs the parish, and church property and financial assets are owned by the congregation. That relationship began to shift in 2003, when the archdiocese proposed that St. Stanislauss property and assets then estimated at $8 million be brought under an archdiocese-managed trust.Fearing the archbishop would close the parish and use its proceeds to combat the sexual-abuse scandal, the congregation balked. As negotiations dragged on, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, arguing the parish was out of compliance with canon law, turned up the pressure on the church by removing its archdiocesan priests effectively denying communion to parishioners.With its isolated congregation withering under censure, the board reached out to several archdiocesan priests who surreptitiously conducted Mass. Eventually, the congregation approached Mr. [Marek] Bozek, a young Polish-born priest from the neighboring Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

InDecember of 2005, shortly after being asked to pastor the parish, Bozek and members of his congregation were declared schismatic by Archbishop Burke, who went on to become prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, "the church's highest judicial authority," in 2008.Bozek was laicized by Pope Benedict last year. The congregation just voted to reject a settlement deal with the archdiocese that would allow them to keep their assets but left no guarantees that the parish would stay open; it also stipulated, of course, that Bozek would be required to leave.So... Renegade freedom fighters? Pitiable and damnable schismatics? Victims of episcopal and sacramental neglect? Also, what grounds does the archdiocese have for suing the congregation, if the people own the land?Updates and corrections: I have updated and corrected this post in light of the comments of Marcia Mann below, which I confirmed on the Archdiocese of St. Louiswebsite. What a mess!

Eric Bugyis teaches Religious Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma.

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