CARBONDALE — A group of current and retired Southern Illinois Catholic priests are supporting a Wabash County pastor fighting against the Diocese of Belleville to keep his post.
The Southern Illinois Association of Priests announced Friday they’re backing the Rev. William Rowe, who is being removed by diocese’s leader, Bishop Edward Braxton, from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel.
Rowe, who’s led the parish for the last 17 years, is being removed over the wording he uses in the Mass and for performing two civil marriages between people whose previous marriages had not yet been annulled.
“SIAP believes that the punishment for these slight addition to the ritual and pastoral concern for those couples is irrationally disproportionate to the supposed crime,” according to the group’s statement. “Given this action, we believe that many more priests like Father Rowe are likely to receive similar unjust treatment.”
Rowe told The Southern Illinoisan on Friday he’s been at odds with Braxton over the way he conducts Mass for several years and offered to resign last fall over it. When Braxton didn’t immediately accept, Rowe said he eventually rescinded the offer. Earlier this week he said Braxton told him he would be forced to leave if he didn’t go ahead with the resignation.
“The bishop said there were many letters from people he received that basically said they wished I would be removed,” Rowe said.
A call to a spokesperson for the diocese for comment was not returned Friday.
Rowe said he can appeal the bishop’s decision to the Vatican but has been told Rome will likely not change the bishop’s decision.
Edward Barbier, a formerly active East St. Louis priest and member of SIAP, said the bishop could be more lenient on Rowe if he so chose, but it doesn’t appear that will be the case.
“I would say almost every priest I know adds something (to the Mass). Sometimes they’re just small words; sometimes it’s just an explanation…but almost everybody makes some embellishment along the way,” Barbier said.
Rowe said he was simply trying to make the lessons of the Catholic faith relevant to the lives of parishioners in performing Mass. He said he always thought people responded well to it.