This may be the only situation quite like this in the United States. Certainly, the recent parish history is—to put it mildly—out of the ordinary.
Some members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., dare to hope that Pope Francis can save their parish after an awfully rough couple of years.
Their beloved longtime pastor was forced out by the bishop in the summer of 2012 for improvising prayers during Mass. Just when things were settling down, his successor announced that he had met someone and was leaving the priesthood to “explore a relationship” with her. For now, the bishop has appointed a newly ordained deacon to run the parish — except the deacon has been married four times, and not everyone at St. Mary’s, the parish where I grew up, is comfortable with that.
We feel if we can get through to the pope, we’ll get it cleared up,” said Jim Pohl, an usher at St. Mary’s who also tends to the flowers and funeral dinners there. “He’s got a lot of problems everywhere in the world. But “we know he would help us if he knew.”
And about that deacon, who is listed in the parish bulletin as “parish life coordinator”:
After Father Bill Rowe was ousted for straying from the approved Missal and his successor, Father Trevor Murry, got up at a Saturday evening Mass — and every Mass the next day — to announce he was leaving the priesthood after a dozen years, the bishop of Belleville, Edward Braxton, had to find someone to run the parish. His choice of Deacon Steve Lowe, who had openly derided Rowe as insufficiently orthodox despite his own multiple marriages, has struck some members as hypocritical.
“How can I look up to [Lowe] when he’s been married three or four times?” asks the 78-year-old Pohl. “How can I go to church with him up there?” His voice cracks when he considers the alternative. “I’ve been a Catholic all my life.”
…Deacon Lowe clearly does feel condemned for his multiple marriages, and he returns the sentiment: “They want to do nothing but piss and moan,’’ Lowe said of his new flock, adding that only about one in five parishioners, by his reckoning, are “stepping up instead of stepping away” at this time of crisis. Bringing up his marital history, he says, just shows how out of sync with Francis his critics are.
“Yes, I’ve been married four times, but only once in the church,’’ meaning that the first three marriages were not considered sacramental unions. Lowe, who worked in a tool factory that closed down more than a decade ago and now has a car-detailing business, has been married to one woman for the past 20 years; she was married to another St. Mary’s parishioner when they met but later obtained an annulment. (Right or wrong, there’s a widespread impression among Catholics that annulments, which are granted on the diocesan level, depend more on favoritism than facts.)
“I am trying my damndest” to hold St. Mary’s together, Lowe said, despite his suspicion that “there’s a certain percentage of people looking for an excuse not to go to Mass.”