St. Louis judge rules in favor of St. Stanislaus church

2012-03-15T11:45:00Z 2012-03-29T19:31:55Z St. Louis judge rules in favor of St. Stanislaus churchBY TIM TOWNSEND • ttownsend@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8221 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis circuit court judge has ruled in favor of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic church in a decision handed down this morning.

The ruling grants the church control over the assets and property that have been the source of a decade-long dispute between the historic Polish church and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

In the 50- page decision, Judge Bryan Hettenbach rules in favor the church on multiple counts.

He dismissed the archdiocese's claim that recent changes to the church's bylaws should be invalidated by the court. And he sides with the church on the matter of property, saying the archdiocese can make no legitimate claim to its ownership.

"The Archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners, but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its own property," the judge wrote.

It took 18 months for the St. Stanislaus case to come to a trial. When it finally did, it lasted two weeks, and ended more than a year ago. The current dispute has entered its tenth year, and the broader tussle between the church and the bishops of St. Louis goes back more than half a century.

The St. Stanislaus story is about authority and control, about what it means to be Catholic and the constraints of church hierarchy in governing individual parishes.

Central to the fight is a 19th century agreement that allowed the parish to govern its own finances. Its bylaws stated that a lay board would control the church’s property and assets while the archbishop would appoint the board and pastor.

In September 2001, the board amended the bylaws for the first time since 1891, removing the ability of the archbishop to fire the pastor or appoint board members.

In 2003, the archdiocese asked the church to change its legal structure to conform to every other church in the archdiocese, but the board was unwilling to give up its original deal. Instead, church leaders rewrote St. Stanislaus’ bylaws, eliminating the archbishop’s authority.

The archbishop responded by pulling the parish pastor, declaring several board members excommunicated and announcing that the church was no longer Roman Catholic.

Ignoring the archbishop’s authority, the board hired its own pastor, who was, in turn, suspended, excommunicated and eventually defrocked.

Come back to STLtoday later today for reactions from both sides to the decision.

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