Belleville bishop removes pastor for improvising prayers

Bishop Edward Braxton has removed William Rowe  as pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Illinois, because he rewords the texts of the liturgy.



  1. I think this is an instance of post-conciliar misinformation or malformation – the misconception that the Lectionary readings (esp. the Gospel) drive absolutely everything else in the liturgy. It was interesting to note that his objection to the prayers or the reason for his improvisation was to fit the prayers better to what he talked about in the homily. I wonder if it ever occurred to him that an adjustment of his homily might have been in order?

    1. “I just found, especially with the new translation, that it doesn’t match what I’m talking about,” he said. “The new wording is so awkward, and people don’t understand it.”

      He’s saying two very different things in that one remark. The second is about comprehension, and it is a valid criticism. The first, though, would be like me attempting to change the topic of conversation in the comment-boxes here (or on any other blog) because the posts don’t match what I want to comment about.

    2. Perhaps a Roman Missal better-harmonized to the Lectionary would not be a bad thing.

      The English MR3 is a horrific piece of grammar disguised as a Norman French-derived English vocabulary. But it’s still possible to pray it.

  2. Even I think this is a bit excessive…and that’s saying something coming from me. Of course, it seems that the Bishop had brought it to his attention a number of times, so one has to conclude that the priest was being intransigent and had no intention to change his ways. I don’t imagine that his deviances were minor or just a few words…more like a priest I worked with many years ago who literally “made up” the prayers as he was going along, not even referring to the books. I might agree with Alan above…maybe it was his homily topics that needed some tweaking, no?

  3. A couple years ago my Gregorian chant schola sang at a Mass at which the celebrant pretty much made it all up from beginning to end. I commented to a few of my cantores after Mass, “Just think, in a couple years he’ll have a totally different Missal translation to ignore than the one he’s ignoring now.”

  4. If only the bishops acted this quickly with priests who raped children and settled payment rightly due the victims insteads of claiming chapter 13 what bunch or bs.

  5. 18 years in one parish — doesn’t that violate some rule of church management? I can remember a priest in my home parish who was transferred after about 8 years over the protest of most of his parish and we were told that such movement is necessary for a healthy priest and a healthy parish. It is also unclear to me what now happens to Father Rowe — is the concern over how he says Mass the effect it will have on his parishoners in which case he cannot be transferred to any other parish or will he be assigned to some non-parish role and continue to say Mass as he wishes without the scandal?

  6. Presumably the pastor said more than one Mass each weekend. It would have been interesting if he and the bishop had agreed that he would say half the Masses by the black and the other half the priest’s own way, and let the people vote with their feet.

    Somehow I suspect that the bishop would not have been willing to find out that the people might just have liked what the priest was doing. I also suspect the priest might not have been willing to find out that the people might like the black better than his version.

    And certainly both of them would have been very afraid to find out the people might not care enough to chose one Mass over the other. They both would have ended up looking pretty pathetic if the people just don’t care.

    I suspect this is just about two stubborn men.

  7. I agree that 18 years is too long. But I have read that “pastors” have something akin to “tenure” and can’t be removed except for the gravest of reasons without their agreement.

    1. It seems to me that this idea of moving priests about every few years is inhumane; How would any of us like it to be told every few years you have to up home and never put down roots in a community. (Please don’t use the military as an example; that you utterly depress me as a Christian to think we would copy such.)
      It shows to me what is wrong with church, that priests are to be regarded as some type of elite to be parachuted into communities and then withdrawn, that they are not really part of the community.
      It is clericalism at its worst and, in my opinion part, of what is terribly wrong with church at present, why there is such a disconnect between ‘official church’ and people. If priests were truly part of a community, rooted in the community, growing and maturing and aging with their community like everyone else, it might have helped prevent the worst excesses of the abuse crisis.
      I check into this site from time to time. For my own sake I think I need to give it a miss again as I find most of the discussion about liturgy totally unrelated to what I experience in parish or what I want from Mass on Sunday; it seems to me to be a form of ‘high church’ telling us what is good for us and best for us but never listening.

      1. For my own sake I think I need to give it a miss again as I find most of the discussion about liturgy totally unrelated to what I experience in parish or what I want from Mass on Sunday; it seems to me to be a form of ‘high church’ telling us what is good for us and best for us but never listening.
        “High church”? If only it were.

        While I agree with Father Rowe’s objectives, I think he’s wasting his time appealing to Rome. From a canonical perspective, I would think the bishop is on pretty firm ground here. He either has a right to remove a pastor for repeated disobedience or he doesn’t.
        Case closed, next case!

        That’s what the appeals court is going to conclude.

      2. I agree with your analysis of the practice of moving pastors. If the priest is the problem, moving him just moves the problem. If the people are the problem, the bishop needs to step in and work with pastor and parish.
        Moving priests prevents them from forming solid friendships with lay people – which may be the point!
        Moving priests too often means that the work of one priest is tossed out the window when the next priest comes in .
        Another aspect of moving priests around is the problem of careerism – priests angling for a better assignment. Ultimately, one sees priests in certain parishes angling to be assigned as a bishop to a minor league diocese!

  8. In today’s world most organizations need to have new leadership and rethink themselves every ten years. Typically it takes three or four years for an organization to make changes (from planning to completion), and most organizations need at least five years between major changes to rest on their laurels.

    One of the things most Catholics agree upon is that they would like to have more of a voice in the selection of their next pastor.

    The best way to do this would be for the parish to indicate its priority areas for the next ten years, so that incoming pastors would know what needs to be done and would not be able to impose their will on the parish. For example if the parish says they need a new church building, then the pastor has to do that in the next ten years, but if they say they are happy with what they have got, then the pastor would not be able to much building or renovation. Same way with liturgy, etc.

    The parish should conduct a self assessment in the year before a change of pastors. If done in a standard format with assistance of the diocese, it should keep the parish members honest and realistic about their needs, neither taking on the impossible nor neglecting the necessary.

    At the same time the parish does its ten year self assessment, it and the diocese would be doing a ten year evaluation of the parish and its outgoing pastor to see how well things have been done in the past ten years.

    One of the strongest and most consistent findings in the leadership literature is that all leadership is situational. Person A, who is a good leader in situation X, will not be a good leader in situation Y. So it is essential to find out both what the skills of people are, and what the situation needs. The fact that Person B has been a fine (or a poor) pastor in their last parish does not mean that he will be a find or poor pastor in the next parish. The talents- situation match is the key.

    1. I am currently in a parish where many parishioners are praying the pastor will be promoted over and out after a difficult 3 years.

      That said, there is a consequence to the shift in the 1983 Code that undid the idea of life tenure for pastors and permitted bishops to set term limits: pastors don’t have to eat their own cooking for too long. They can swoop in, do what they want, and leave without having to endure witnessing the long-term damage of what they have done. The Benedictine model of stability has a practical purpose (whether it’s fulfilled is a different matter, of course): whatever you do or don’t do to or with your brothers, you will have to live with the consequences until you’re dead. If you take that seriously, it might help you change how you go about doing things.

      1. Friar versus monk = on-the-move versus stable.
        Two models. Each has its pros and cons.

    2. The trend since Vatican II has been to increase the power of the local ordinaries, always at the expense of the presbyterate, and often even at the expense of Rome. The ’83 Code underlined this; and so did the Dallas rules.

      Sometimes I think that there’s even a little agreement on both left and right that this has frequently been an unhealthy development – certainly in practice.

  9. I think the “Benedictine” model, if you will, is the better one. At least in my diocese, the way some parishes ended up being almost Congregational in their outlook was that priests get thrown in there for 3 or 6 years and then out he goes and the next comes in. Without any stability in pastors, the Parish Council (All hail!) thought they were in charge and the priests were just sacramental facilitators. Of course, being moved around so much, the priests acquiesced to the situation and abdicated their authority.

    Fast forward 30 years, when the last priest my hometown had (who was ordained back in the ’50s mind you) first came in, he made it abundantly clear that the Parish Council (…chirp, chirp…) was merely an advisory committee and the buck stopped with him. If something went wrong, the archbishop wasn’t going to get on the Parish Council’s back, he would be after Father. It didn’t take much for people to shake any allusions of congregationalism they might have had and everything worked out swimmingly.

    1. For Christians, the point isn’t who’s in charge, but does the Gospel get preached and is the entire community faithful to the Great Commission. If not, it might be that either operation is an abject failure.

      1. Yeah, that’s nice, but there is a practical component to it as well. Do the bills get paid? Is our new building project up to code? Aside from those, what does it actually mean to “preach the Gospel” and be faithful to the Great Commission?

        In order to do all these things, someone needs to be in charge and someone has to be answerable to the bishop. Yes, of course it is not “the point” (as in, the foundation of the religion) of who’s in charge and nobody claims it is.

    2. “In charge” of what? Selection of parish staff? Altar arrangement? Mass times? Faith formation schedules? First Communion/First Penance/Confirmation requirements? Music selection?

      I would be curious as to how many people might have walked away from the parish (or even the Church!) when the last priest in your home town came in.

      1. All of that stuff, but more precisely in the case I had in mind, a building project.

        No one left the parish or the church, we are earthy, rural folks. People in that area do not get uppity about stupid things. We loved Father, they (the parish council) understood what he meant.

  10. There are two models that have been followed in the last many years regarding the terms of priests. One revolves around a tenure of six years renewable once for a total of 12 years before reassignment. The other leaves the bishop completely free to move or not move priests as he sees fit. The former plan is in place in my diocese, but the last several bishops have decided to allow senior priests to remain in their posts until they are eligible to retire if they are 65 or over at the end of 12 years. There will always be some parishioners and priests who will be unhappy regardless of the system that is in place. A priest in a neighboring city parish was moved to a smaller rural parish after only 10 years because he had a run in with the bishop. Another priest friend was moved to an adjacent parish after only 2 years because he was on the personnel board and has the bishop’s ear. The bottom line is that bishops can still do what they regard as best (for whom is another matter). As for disgruntled parishioners (who like the poor we will always have with us), they are often outweighed by a much larger number who like the priest or who could care less. As far as I’m concerned, in the view of most lay people the priest holds a position similar to that of their physician. When they are ill, they think highly of the one coming to their aid. When they are well they don’t even think of him. There are different standards to measure the overall success of the incumbent pastor. Are the number of communicants and new members stable or growing? How do the finances look? People support the church less when they are unhappy about what’s going on. Are the people singing and praying with some gusto? Do they seem engaged by the preaching?

  11. In fact, the situation extends far beyond modifying some words of the new translation. It includes re-writing the lectionary readings and ad-libbing the entire Mass – read sacramentary free. The situation has continued though bishops Keleher, Gregory, and Braxton. I’m no die-hard fan of the new translation but the situation is a lot more than that. It was simply a convenient cause celebre. There is no parish council, no liturgical ministries, nada, but Fr. and his guitar over his shoulder and personal inspiration.

  12. I wonder how this whole things can be reconciled with the Church’s current campaign a “fortnight for freedom” when a seasoned priest is not free to pray according to the dictates of his heart. Would Jesus have penalized a free praying disciple or would He have sanctioned him as pagan? The long and short of it, is that Fr. Rowe is nailed and the bishop is more concerned with protecting the rights of Barrabas (ie. pedo-phile priests) . “Save Barrabas and kill the other one”. I have heard that story before. Jesus said: “I did not come to replace the law, but to enhance it”. Fr. Rowe was doing his best to enhance the service, dogmatic limitations notwithstanding.

  13. “re-writing the lectionary readings and ad-libbing the entire Mass” — sounds like an exaggerated accusation. It takes a lot of creativity to rewrite the Bible! I suppose you mean he omitted offensive passages (say, about the Jews in John 8) or changed a word here and there (e.g. changed “the Jews” to “the authorities”).

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