Vatican reverses suspension of priest who improvised prayers during Mass

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 9:40 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS (MCT) — An Illinois priest, forced out of his parish by Bishop Edward Braxton of the diocese of Belleville, Ill., for improvising prayers during Mass, has had his suspension reversed by the Vatican.

The Vatican decided in favor of the Rev. William Rowe on one of three counts, saying Braxton had not followed the proper procedure. Rowe said an accompanying letter from Braxton informed him that the bishop would appeal that final Vatican decision to a higher church court.

The Vatican’s reversal of Rowe’s suspension means the priest can celebrate Mass outside the Belleville diocese, Rowe said, as long as he has the approval of the bishops governing other dioceseses where he would say Mass.

Despite that, the Vatican ruled against much of Rowe’s appeal. Rome had upheld his removal from the parish by Braxton, and agreed with the bishop’s withdrawal of the priest’s “faculties” — or his license to practice ministry under church law.

Rowe, the former pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., has clashed with Braxton over altering the liturgical prayers of the Roman Missal — the book of prayers, chants and responses used during Mass.

Braxton did not respond to a request for comment.

Rowe is currently working at St. Joseph parish in Olney, Ill., teaching religion classes, helping students prepare Mass and cleaning tables in the lunch room.

If the Vatican’s reversal is upheld on appeal, Rowe said, he may move to another diocese in order to be able to celebrate Mass.

“I’ll have to begin to explore how open other bishops would be to that,” Rowe said.

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