Issued April 27, 2012
At an April 24th meeting with Bishop Edward Braxton, Fr. John McEvilly, Fr. Kenneth York, and Fr. John Myler, Fr. William Rowe learned that he will be forcibly removed as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in Mt. Carmel. Fr. Rowe has served as a dedicated priest for 47 years in the Belleville diocese, the last 17 years at St. Mary’s.
Fr. Rowe’s reputation with his parishioners is outstanding: his service, humility, commitment, kindness, and leadership highlight his effective ministry. His parishioners want him to remain as their pastor and he, too, wants to stay. Fr. Rowe plans to appeal his removal.
The Southern Illinois Association of Priests (SIAP) fully supports Fr. Rowe in his efforts to continue his pastoral leadership at St. Mary’s.
Bishop Braxton’s persistent harassment of Fr. Rowe goes back many years. The focus of this attack is the way Fr. Rowe celebrates Eucharist. Bishop Braxton wants him to recite the words exactly as written in the Missal. Fr. Rowe creates his own version of some of the prayers and adds some commentary during the Mass. He does so because he believes these creative embellishments make the Eucharist more meaningful for the people and more honest to his own prayer. In the spirit of pastoral compassion, he also conducted two civil marriage ceremonies for couples who could not be formally married in the Church. As a result, the Bishop told him he could resign or be removed as pastor.
SIAP believes that the punishment for these slight additions to the ritual and pastoral concern for those couples is irrationally disproportionate to the supposed crime. Bishop Braxton’s decision becomes more problematic when we recall his own issues with the diocese. For example, he misused diocesan funds. He unnecessarily remodeled his residence. Sixty five percent of diocesan priests asked him to resign for the good of the Diocese. His decision to appeal a sexual abuse case in 2008 increased the cost to the diocese by $1.3 million and legally aligned the diocese against the victim. The Bishop has alienated many Catholics in Southern Illinois by his arrogance and lack of social skills. People boycott his Masses. Confirmandi fear him. Pastors avoid him.
And he, in turn, now wants to remove a beloved and effective pastor like Fr. Rowe for enhancing the Eucharist!
Given this action, we believe that many more priests like Fr. Rowe are likely to receive similar unjust treatment. With that in mind, along with our moral support, the members of SIAP pledge the organization’s financial resources to assist Fr. Rowe in his appeal of this injustice.