(KTVI)-- On what is normally a quiet night at St. Stanislaus Church in North St. Louis, the doors were open, many pews were filled, and thunderous applause echoed Thursday. The small church, in a lengthy, bitter battle with the St. Louis Archdiocese, had won its case in a St. Louis court. David had defeated Goliath, at least for a night.
The trial, which was over who controls the property and assets of St. Stanislaus, had wrapped up more than a year ago. It took a judge that long to complete his ruling. It was released Thursday, and minced few words about the decision.
“"The Archbishop may own the souls of wayward St. Stanislaus parishioners, but the St. Stanislaus Parish Corporation owns its own property," Judge Bryan Hettenbach wrote.
And with that, came elation in the parish.
“There is one of the commandments, “thou shall not steal,” and we are all obliged to follow that commandment, including the archdiocese,” Fr. Marek Bozek told FOX 2 Thursday afternoon.
Of course the archdiocese sees things much differently. They argued in court that the same top-down rules that apply to Catholic churches all over the country and the world apply to St. Stan’s. And they say they’re not giving up on the court battle. St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson did not take questions, but made a statement to reporters.
“We plan to appeal this decision and will take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” he said. “We are committed in pastoral outreach to reconcile with members of St. Stanisalus in order to create full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
But lawyers for St. Stanislaus’ contend the length of time it took to render this decision is indicative of how much detail went into it.
“This is a well-written, clear, unequivocal decision in favor of St. Stanislaus,” church attorney Richard Scherrer said. “It is right under the law, it’s right on the facts, and it’s right under a moral and ethical standpoint.”
Of course the legal opinion is only part of this. Father Bozek and members of the church board were excommunicated from the church over this. St. Stanislaus is no longer recognized as a Roman Catholic Church.
“No longer Roman Catholic according to them,” Bozek said. “Which is ironical because at this point they have launched this big campaign, ‘come back home to the Catholic church.’ And it seems to be double faced campaign if they say come back home, but they say to these hundreds of people at St. Stanislaus, we do not want you.”
Can fences be mended? It seems unlikely in the short term. In his statement Carlson seemed to tie the court case and reconciliation together.
“The court’s decision today is disappointing for Polish Catholics who wish to see St. Stanislaus returned to communion with the Roman Catholic Church,” he read from his prepared remarks.
Bozek believes as long as former Archbishop Raymond Burke is in a high place in the church, nothing is likely to change.
“I hate to say it, but I do not see a chance at reconciliation as long as he is in power. And what is he? Third or fourth man in the Vatican? So as long as he holds the strings, the chances for reconciliation are very poor.”
Parishioners here don’t seem too worried about that. They’re just happy to have something in all this turn in their favor.
“I’m happy,” Mary Ellen Czerniewski said at that Mass of Thanksgiving, Thursday. “I never really thought we’d win everything so, it doesn’t change anything. We’re still coming to church down here. We’re still doing everything and I think you can see the people are very happy down here now.”
Bill Lulkowski agreed, ”I think it’s more freedom for us down here now. I really do. It’s a breath of fresh air, that’s for me. That’s why I came down here this evening.”
Read the Full 45 Page Ruling Here: