BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville has accepted the resignation of a longtime pastor with whom he has had discussions about how the priest celebrates Mass.
Father William Rowe, who for the past 17 years has been pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mount Carmel, said he offered to resign after those conversations did not resolve Bishop Braxton’s concerns about his celebration of the Mass, including his failure to follow the new English translation of the Roman Missal, implemented in November.
Bishop Braxton has not issued a comment on the matter and is currently in Rome.
Over the years, Father Rowe said, some people have complained about the way he celebrated the liturgy, using what has been described as an improvisational style. Five years ago, the bishop called Father Rowe to his home to talk about letters the bishop said he received regarding the priest.
“I said, then, I would offer my resignation,” Father Rowe said in a telephone interview. However, Father Rowe said he didn’t hear from the bishop about the matter until Oct. 8, 2011, when he again called the priest to his residence.
At that meeting, Father Rowe said, he told Bishop Braxton, “This is the way I celebrate the Eucharist.” By that, he said, he meant he linked the Gospel, his homily and the prayers together in language everyone could understand, even if that was not exactly the way they were written. The bishop asked Father Rowe to go home, think about the issues and write him a letter about it.
In the letter to the bishop dated Oct. 12, Father Rowe said: “From our most recent discussion, I realize that you can no longer allow me to celebrate the Eucharist as has been my custom.” He then offered to resign, according to the letter.
Father Rowe said he did not hear from the bishop again until Feb. 1, when he received a letter dated Jan. 30 in which the bishop formally acknowledged his October letter and accepted his resignation, effective in June when clergy assignments are made.
Father Rowe told CNS he responded to the bishop with a letter Feb. 2 saying: “I had no desire to resign or retire from the active ministry. … My offer to resign seemed to be the best way to resolve the problem in a pastoral way.”
Father Rowe said he is not sure what he will do if he does leave Mount Carmel in June. He wanted to offer to help at other parishes but doesn’t think the bishop would approve. He said he also thought of offering to go to another diocese but would need a recommendation from Bishop Braxton to do that. He said he doesn’t see that happening either.
“I don’t really know which way to go,” he said.
Tim Buss, a parishioner at St. Mary since 1985, said parishioners were surprised when Father Rowe explained the situation to them.
“He’s a great priest, a great person and a major part of the local community,” he said.
The parish community wants to support Father Rowe, Buss said, but people aren’t sure how to proceed. They have started to collect signatures on petitions and have written letters to Bishop Braxton, hoping he will change his mind.
Father Rowe does not take a salary from the parish, and instead relies on Social Security and a small pension he receives from the military for the years he spent in the Air Force Reserve.