Nevermind: priest who lost job over Mass language retracts resignation

The saga in Belleville continues:

The Rev. William Rowe may not always go by the book during Mass, but he is digging deep into the letter of church law in an effort to regain his post as parish priest.

For decades, Rowe has deviated from the language of the Roman Catholic Mass, a highly prescribed liturgical rite, parts of which are as old as Christianity itself.

He’s done so, he said, when the words written in the book of prayers in front of him don’t connect precisely with the Gospel message he’s conveying to his flock.

The 72-year-old priest felt so strongly about his ad-libs that last October he offered to resign as pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill. Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton eventually accepted Rowe’s offer Jan. 30.

But in a letter to Braxton on Friday, Rowe retracted his offer to resign.

Rowe dug deep into canon — or church — law to assert that Braxton’s acceptance came too late.

Canon 538 says that to be valid, a pastor’s resignation has to be formally accepted by his bishop. And canon 189 says any resignation “which requires acceptance lacks all force if it is not accepted within three months.” By that standard, the priest’s resignation would have lost validity on Jan. 12.

Rowe’s original offer to resign came on Oct. 12, two months ahead of the introduction of a new, Vatican-mandated English-language translation of the Roman Missal, the book of prayers, chants and responses used during Mass.

Read more.


  1. vox borealis says:

    Yawn. So basically this priest is shouting “Lookitmelookitmelookitme,” which come to think of it is what he has been doing during Mass.

  2. His bluff was called and he lost. Now he is backtracking.

  3. Sooooo appropriate. He can’t “submit” to following the rubrics for celebrating Mass, but he’s not too proud to try to apply the letter of Canon law to save his career. And “career” is the important word here, not vocation.

  4. Maggie, you’ve just dismissed 47 years of Fr. Rowe’s priesthood as a “career” and “not [a] vocation.”

    I am thankful that it’s actually God — not those who comment on a blog — who calls each of us to our vocation.

  5. Having verified that all sides clearly agree as to the binding character of canon law in such matters, I may now direct your attention to 1983 CIC 1740-1747, On the Removal of Pastors, esp. c. 1741.

  6. This all reminds me, btw, of a great line I heard maybe 20+ years ago: If you wanna know what a canon about topic XYZ means, ask a righty. If wanna know whether there IS a canon on topic XYZ, ask a lefty. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

  7. Everything is lefty and righty to some people.

  8. I don’t see anything in those canons or in Canon 538 giving a time limit for the bishop to accept a pastor’s resignation, just a time limit on the pastor for responding to a request for resignation.

  9. It’s in c. 189, meanwhile c. 1740 operates without regard for resignations, etc.

  10. ” He can’t “submit” to following the rubrics for celebrating Mass, but he’s not too proud to try to apply the letter of Canon law to save his career. And “career” is the important word here, not vocation.”


    I am always highly entertained by people who what to make up their own Catholicism but then run to canon law for protection.

    Father: are your words and ideas *really* so important? I mean…just think about what the guy is saying…that his brilliance and interpretations are superior to..just about anything.

    As a person in the pew (not this particular one, but a metaphorical one), I beg to differ. It’s really okay with me if I don’t have to pray in the way this one particular priest has decided, on the spur of the moment, that is best for me. I’ll take the big richness of Catholic tradition, thanks.

  11. Frankly, I’m tired of priests who do this. There is a priest who said mass at a retreat I went on last year, who actually apologized that he had to be the one to celebrate mass instead of any of us lay people (it was a retreat for the completion of a lay ministry formation program). At the time of the Nicene Creed, he actually said that “people don’t believe in all that ancient stuff anymore, so let’s make our own Creed. Please proclaim out loud what you believe”. Then people half-heartedly said, “I believe X”. Upon my turn, I proclaimed, I believe in the Nicene Creed.
    This is a real turn off and, IMO, this priest’s faculties should’ve been yanked.
    Again, why is the Latin Rite Church infested with such things? Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t have this problem.

  12. Dr. Peters, thanks for your input! If the blog host would allow me the privilege, here is Canon 1741:

    The causes for which a pastor can be removed legitimately from his parish are especially the following:

    no. 1 a manner of acting which brings grave detriment or disturbance to ecclesiastical communion;

    no. 2 ineptitude or a permanent infirmity of mind or body which renders the pastor unable to fulfil his functions usefully;

    no. 3 loss of a good reputation among upright and responsible parishioners or an aversion to the pastor which it appears will not cease in a brief time;

    no. 4 grave neglect or violation of parochial duties which persists after a warning;

    no. 5 poor administration of temporal affairs with grave damage to the Church whenever another remedy to this harm cannot be found.

    Reading my Coriden “New Commentary” on the canons on the removal of a pastor, I don’t see that this is going to end well for Fr. Rowe. Looks to me like he is in clear violation of numbers 1 and 4 here for starters. In my experience locally, if the bishop wants you out of a parish, you are gone– it’s just a matter of time. However, for the benefit of priest members of the blogosphere, you might want to consider a review of these canons on your own blog. I once said in a diocesan meeting that “A pastor’s letter of appointment in this diocese is worth no more than tissue paper,” in regards to a very hasty removal of a fine pastor who the diocese wanted to place elsewhere. The bishop was less than amused by my comment but nothing I have seen dissuades me of the truth of my observation.

  13. George Mason says:

    The bishop was incredibly tolerant and tried to give this wayward priest time to repent. But, then when he gave him what he asked for, his resignation, the priest like a child cries foul.
    I hope the priest will open his eyes and become a humble servant of the Church’s liturgy.

  14. In my opinion, he is doing a grave disservice to his flock; they are being gypped; the Catholic service is consistent no matter which church you happen to attend; this guy is all ego. He needs to go find a job at a protestant church. This is terrible.

  15. I think the bishop should inform the pastor that he intends to ad lib the canon since it didn’t personally speak to him at this point in time.

  16. LOL!

  17. Well, appointments to pastorates are more solid than that, Pater, but in the long run, yes, bishops are in charge of dioceses, nor priests, and so have the final word.

  18. Has anyone assessed if all his marbles are there? Very strange.

  19. While I think that the Bishops are they’re own worst enemy, at times, I believe that they, also, simply cannot win.
    If the Bishop yanked this guy, he would be accused of being ham-handed. When he is patient and tries to act pastorally toward the priest, he can also be criticized for lack of action.
    Personally, I am tired of these wayward priests who tinker with whatever they want to do or feel. These priests need to remember they serve Christ and the Church, not their own particular agenda. The rot in the Church is wide-spread, and is evident in priests like this who think they know better than the Church.

  20. Good one!

  21. Seems to me that if it’s the Bishop’s job to protect the flock, sticks and stones should not deter him. Lead, follow or get out of the way, I think the Bishop needs to lead and be done with it. People in authority need to exercise authority.

  22. Fr. Deacon Daniel says:

    Another “Me Monster” in a collar. Ho hum…

  23. If I could have your ear another moment, esteemed canonist, in these parts bishops are accustomed to making priests parochial administrators for an indefinite term without any intention of naming a pastor. I have friends who have been serving as adminstrators over 5 years in such a situation. What I mean is that the assigned priest is the full-time de facto pastor for years on end, without other pastoral assignment, but the bishop does not name him pastor so that the priest has even fewer canonical protections against being moved than pastors do. Is their some relevant monograph or case law on the subject?
    Of course, then these same bishops lament that their priests lack long-term vision for their parishes! Obviously, we don’t learn Management 101 in the sem.

  24. Well said!

  25. We are all human. Fr Rowe should be allowed to continue serving!
    Speaking of priests following Canon Law—priests in many parishes I have visited aler the prayers, bring dogs on the alter, show irreverance, skip parts of the eucharistic prayers, fly kites…………..give me a break…
    “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

  26. so — will the abuse stop?

  27. I’m quite familiar with the practice. I think it’s an abuse, if not a violation of, Canon 151, and have said so.

  28. Fr. Deacon Daniel says:

    “Christ appears when the priest disappears.” – St John Chrysostom

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