Was Fr. William Rowe of the Belleville Diocese fired for refusing to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal? No. But the news media say he was.
Since the promulgation of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in English in Advent of this liturgical year, Catholics throughout the English-speaking world have been on the edge of their seats, expecting a wide-ranging liturgical backlash at Church hierarchy from congregations as well as clergy about the new English translations that have been made mandatory in all Latin Rite parishes that use the “ordinary” form of Mass. At least, that’s the expectation the popular media had reported to the general public prior to the implementation and it was even earnestly expected by more than a few. Contrary to such expectations the difficulties, the confusion and the uproar have been little more than a fizzle, mostly in places few and far between. In fact, if one were to look for reports of serious confrontation over the new English Missal actually happening, one would be hard-pressed to find any.
One example has stood out lately and gotten nationwide attention. In the past few weeks, news has been made of a certain Fr. William Rowe, his practice of ad-libbing the Mass, and his recent resignation as a priest of the diocese of Belleville, Illinois. Father Rowe, 72, has served in the same parish for seventeen years and by his own admission both he and his bishop, William Braxton (and his previous bishop, Wilton Gregory), had over the years received complaints about his liturgical “style”, in particular his choice of words which ignored the Missal. Five years ago Fr. Rowe was called to the bishop’s office to answer for letters of complaint received from parishioners and he offered to resign. To this he received no reply and continued to serve as parish pastor until October of last year when he was called to Bishop Braxton’s office again for the same complaints. Again, he offered to resign. Early this year the bishop accepted his resignation, effective this June.
Going by the headlines of articles found on the internet (nothing short of dozens are found), any reader would be lead to believe that the new English translation of the Roman Missal is the kernel of Father Rowe’s problem: Illinois Priest Loses Job after Refusing to Use New Catholic Prayers (STLToday.com); Illinois Priest Resigns, Refuses to Use New Translation (CatholicCulture.org); Priest Fired for Refusing to Use New Catholic Prayers (WashingtonPost.com), to name a few. (Note that Fr. Rowe offered his resignation of his own volition…he was neither fired nor did he “lose his job”.)
Reading the stories, the mandatory new translation is pointed at again and again as the heart of the problem but one glaring omission to this intimation is the lack of other examples…why is Fr. Rowe the only priest to receive citation for his liturgical improvisation? Where, out of over 41,000 priests in the United States, are the other priests with the same insurmountable difficulty? The United States is not the only country in the world where English predominates…where are the articles about all the other priests in the same boat as Fr. Rowe? Are there any at all? There are no examples of other Fr. Rowes cited in any article. So far, only the head of Fr. Rowe’s deanery, Fr. Jim Buerster, has publicly acted in support for Fr. Rowe, and he did this by resigning as dean. That may sound serious but at most, it releases Fr. Buerster from the responsibilities of being dean (he’s elected by his fellow priests) and “Very” gets dropped from his title of “Very Reverend”.
Still, at the insistence of the media at large, could it be possible for the new translation to be Fr. Rowe’s (and countless other unidentified, possibly imaginary priests’) problem, even to the point of resignation? The answer is clear…Fr. Rowe hadn’t been using the prayers of the Missal to begin with, old or new, and that was going on years before the new translation even came to be. He’s held both in equal contempt. The Roman Missal has nothing to do with it. This seems completely lost on the newsmen.
If the new English translation isn’t the cause of Fr. Rowe’s problem, what is? Quoted by CNS, Father Rowe made the following statement, both odd and revealing: “I had no desire to resign or retire from the active ministry. … My offer to resign seemed to be the best way to resolve the problem in a pastoral way.” It’s odd for the obvious contradiction…he had no desire to resign or retire, yet he had immediately offered to do so not only last October but five years previous without hesitation. It’s revealing because one can here see a desire to be freed from an obligation (in other words, resign), not just recently but for years.
There is one word that’s found in every article written on Fr. Rowe: “refuses”. This word is the true center of the story. Naturally, a few quotes are printed from some parishioners in praise of Fr. Rowe. This is a habit of journalists and it’s not necessarily a bad one for the sake of a balanced and objective story. One wonders though, if Fr. Rowe really cared about his parishioners, was truly honest in his role as pastor and worked for his flock, why would he prefer his own personality over continuing to pastor them? As an ordained minister and pastor of a parish, a priest has exceptional opportunity to preach, teach, heal, council and ultimately save souls. That is the purpose of a pastor. Come June, he will give this up because he’s not allowed to behave as he likes. He has chosen himself above all others, and that is quite literally diabolical. Good on Bishop Wilton Gregory for giving the parishioners of St. Mary’s a pastor.