Tempers flare over priest fired over Mass prayers

ST. LOUIS — An Illinois bishop has confirmed that a Roman Catholic priest was fired because he “simply would not … Continued

ST. LOUIS — An Illinois bishop has confirmed that a Roman Catholic priest was fired because he “simply would not and could not pray the prayers of the Mass” under a new translation that went into effect last year.

In a rare letter of explanation about an internal personnel dispute, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., publicly responded to the firing of the Rev. William Rowe, who has been pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Carmel, Ill., for 18 years.

The case, which has garnered international media attention, also led to a second priest in the Belleville diocese to resign a leadership post in protest.

Braxton said in the Feb. 14 letter that “several” parishioners of St. Mary’s had brought audio and video evidence to the bishop “which showed the many changes and omissions Fr. Rowe makes in the Mass.”

Rowe offered Braxton his resignation last year after a meeting during which the bishop barred Rowe from improvising prayers during Mass. Rowe said that when he prays the Roman Missal — the book of prayers, chants and responses used during the Mass — he tends “to change the words that are written in the book to match what I was talking about” in the homily.

According to Catholic liturgical practice, priests are duty bound to use the prayers laid out in the Missal. “These changes consist of far more than ‘a few words,’” Braxton wrote.

In an interview two days after the letter was sent, Rowe called the letter “pure Bishop Braxton.”

“He mentioned in the letter that we clash in our ecclesiology — our image of the church,” said Rowe, 72. “He’s right. He seems to consider the church as the bishops’, and my notion is that the church starts with the people.”

After Braxton accepted Rowe’s resignation, the Rev. Jim Buerster of St. Boniface Church in Germantown, Ill., resigned his position as head of the diocese’s North Central Deanery.

There has never been an established penalty for improvising prayers, and bishops have been willing to look past an individual priest’s extemporizing. But in December, the Vatican mandated that Catholics in every English-speaking country in the world adopt a new translation of the Missal.

Rowe said Braxton had warned him five years ago to stick to the words as written. Last June, the bishop sent a letter to the diocese’s priests saying: “It will not be acceptable for any priest or any parish to refrain from using the new prayers due to their personal preference.”

(Tim Townsend writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis.)

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  • GuestyMcGuesterson

    Looks like the Bishop was listening to the people who were sick of the Fr. Rowe Show, and who wanted an accurate and valid Mass. Good for him.

  • amelia45

    Ahhh, the temple police at work again. The members of the laity the bishops pay attention to are the temple police. Too bad, too. Somewhere in Vatican II we learned that the people of the Church are the Church.

    We had Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) say: “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there stills stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. [The conscience of the individual] confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal [,] which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official church.”

    We had Dignitatis Humanae.

    And, apparently, then we didn’t. At least, according to JPII and the current hierarchy.

    Now, we are to be cookie cutter Catholics again. Pray, pay, obey.

    We badly need good pastoral priests. Rigid conformance to the wording of a prayer is much less important than a good loving pastor who nourishes the souls he tends. But pastoral skill is not valued – only rigid adherence to outward signs of an unfelt orthodoxy.

  • donguillermo

    Friends, the Catholic Church is like a franchise. One cannot alter the recipe for a Big Mac to suit one’s own tastes yet still call oneself a McDonald’s.