BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville said he did not “fire” a priest from his pastorate for using his own wording in some parts of the Mass but was obligated to correct the situation as shepherd of the diocese.
The bishop accepted the resignation of Father William Rowe, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mount Carmel for the past 17 years, after several meetings with the 72-year-old priest over the last five years failed to resolve the bishop’s concerns about how Father Rowe celebrated the Mass, especially after the implementation of the new Roman Missal in late November.
In a letter dated Feb. 14 and written while Bishop Braxton was in Rome for his periodic “ad limina” visit to report on the status of the diocese, the bishop said he had “only asked (Father Rowe) to do what the church asks me and every priest to do.”
“I regret very much that Father Rowe could not find in his heart the docility needed to put the clear mandate of the church above his personal likes and dislikes with regard to his vocation as an ordained minister of the church’s public worship in communion with the whole church,” he wrote.
Bishop Braxton said he had consulted with Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, about the matter, and neither the cardinal nor members of his staff were aware “of another instance in the entire English-speaking, Catholic world in which a priest has resigned from his pastorate rather than accepting the new translation of the Roman Missal.”
In early February, Father Rowe said he linked the Gospel, his homily and the prayers of the Mass together in language everyone could understand, even if it was not exactly the way they were written.
The priest said he offered to resign in an October 2011 letter to Bishop Braxton and the bishop accepted it in a Jan. 30 response, effective in June when clergy assignments are made.
Bishop Braxton said many of Father Rowe’s parishioners had “expressed dismay about the manner in which he celebrated Mass” and some had left the parish because of it.
In his three-page letter, the bishop said that at an October meeting, “Father Rowe said that he had known for a long time that he was on a collision course with me over the manner in which he celebrated the Eucharist.
“I understood this to mean that he was aware that his personal ecclesiology and liturgical theology were not compatible with the ecclesiology and the liturgical theology of the Catholic Church, which I, as a bishop and a successor of the apostles, am committed to teach and preserve,” he wrote.
Bishop Braxton said he would have preferred that his discussions with Father Rowe had remained between them, but “circumstances beyond my control have made it necessary for me to make these comments.”
“I believe that Father Rowe will acknowledge that … during our many conversations about the way in which he celebrates Mass, as well as other pastoral practices in his parish in direct conflict with the teachings of the church, I have never said an unkind word to him or about him,” the bishop wrote. “Hopefully, I never will.”