Improvising Illinois priest barred from pulpit

An Illinois priest forced out of his parish by Belleville’s Catholic bishop for improvising prayers during Mass will no longer be able to preach in public as of today.

The Rev. William Rowe said Monday that Bishop Edward Braxton has suspended him and removed his “faculties,” or license to practice ministry under church law. The move has been associated in recent years with the punishment of clergy accused of sexually abusing minors.

Rowe, the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., has not been accused of abuse, but he has clashed with Braxton over altering the liturgical prayers of the Roman Missal ā€” the book of prayers, chants and responses used during Mass.

Last month, St. Mary’s parishioners learned that Braxton had officially removed Rowe, their pastor of 18 years. But a separate letter from Braxton recently informed Rowe, 72, that not only would he have to leave the church, but that he could not preach in public anywhere.

Rowe said he could no longer celebrate public Masses or preside at weddings, funerals or baptisms. The only exception, Rowe said, involves a dying person; he can still hear a confession, baptize or anoint that person.
Rowe was scheduled to witness a wedding Saturday ā€” and four others over the summer ā€” but won’t be able to preside. He also will not be able to preside over a funeral Wednesday for an elderly St. Mary’s parishioner.
“That’s very hard for the family,” Rowe said. “I’ll be there, but I can’t participate.”

A spokesman for the diocese, Monsignor John Myler, did not respond to a request for an interview.

According to Catholic liturgical practice, priests are duty bound to the prayers written in the Roman Missal, but Rowe had deviated from the text for decades. He said he did so when the official words didn’t connect precisely with the message he was hoping to convey.

Before a new Vatican-mandated English translation of the Missal was instituted in December, Braxton warned Rowe to stick to the prayers in the Missal. The priest offered Braxton his resignation but later rescinded the offer.

Many of St. Mary’s 500 families have asked Braxton to allow Rowe, who has been pastor there since 1994, to stay. They paid for billboard space near Braxton’s house in Belleville and gathered 1,500 signatures on a petition. Rowe has appealed Braxton’s decision directly to the Vatican.

Rowe, who has been a priest for 47 years, packed up the St. Mary’s rectory Monday afternoon. He’ll move today 45 miles northwest to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Olney, Ill., where he was pastor for four years in the 1980s.
“They’ve welcomed me there,” Rowe said. “I can work as volunteer, play guitar in the school, do Bible study for teens.”

St. Joseph’s pastor, the Rev. Gerry Wirth, said Rowe “doesn’t want to retire.”

“He wants to help people any way he can,” Wirth said. “And we’re ready to give him whatever opportunities are permissible now.”

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