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Excommunicated priest fights to keep church

/ Source: The Associated Press

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke met with an excommunicated priest at the center of a dispute over a Polish-heritage Roman Catholic church on Tuesday, but dismissed the pastor's reconciliation offer as "offensive to God."

The Rev. Marek Bozek, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka church, said he would "seriously consider" leaving the parish and would be willing to repent and publicly apologize — if Burke kept the church open, revoked excommunication and other penalties, and made other concessions.

"The offer is offensive to God because he admits he needs to repent but he puts conditions on it," Burke said. "People can't buy reconciliation."

Bozek, 33, met with Burke for about an hour as more than 200 of Bozek's supporters stood outside in a cold, steady rain and prayed for him. A dozen other Roman Catholics prayed and held signs promoting obedience to Burke.

Burke said in an interview Tuesday that he ordered the priest to appear before him for a "canonical admonition" to make Bozek recognize the "serious wrongs he has done, withdraw from them and make reparation."

Burke and St. Stanislaus' lay board have long been at odds over control of the assets of the north St. Louis church.

Ordination of women
The lay board appointed Bozek in December 2005 in defiance of the archbishop, and that month Burke declared the lay board and Bozek to be excommunicated.

In January 2006, Burke also stripped the parish of its standing as a Roman Catholic church. The matter is under appeal at the Vatican.

Bozek is under fire for allegedly breaking with the church and for participating in an ordination ceremony for two Catholic women in November.

Burke said he is particularly troubled by Bozek's "invalid celebration" of sacraments as an excommunicated priest suspended from priestly duties two years ago. He also said issues surrounding Bozek and St. Stanislaus must be dealt with separately.

Bozek said that he has never questioned church dogma on matters of faith, but that he "cannot obey rules and edicts that are untrue, unjust and uncharitable."

Burke said Bozek's problem is "he thinks he's the pope," Burke said. "He thinks I'm operating out of a narrow prism of rules and out of touch with reality. I'm operating out of the ... Gospel."

Burke and Bozek are scheduled to meet again March 5.

"It doesn't look very good right now," Burke said, adding he has prayed daily for a resolution.