Some Wisdom Needed in Belleville

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 2, 2008 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops

25 years before he was named bishop of Belleville in southern Illinois, Fr. Edward K. Braxton wrote a book titled The Wisdom Community: A Framework and a Program for Renewing Communication and Understanding Between Priests, Bishops, Theologians and the People in the Pews.  

 Bishop Braxton needs to sit down and reread his book.  Right now.

The pastoral crisis in Belleville, where communication has broken down during the three years of Braxton’s leadership, is such that on April 17, the third day of Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit, a quarter-page ad appeared in USA Today asking the pope to remove Braxton. The ad was written and paid for by Frank S. Ladner, 81, a Catholic philanthropist from Lawrenceville, Illinois.

A few weeks earlier, 46 Belleville priests, representing about half of the active diocesan priests, took the unusual step of signing a letter of no-confidence, urging Braxton to resign.

In the March 14th statement, the priests said that “because of the bishops lack of cooperation, consultation, accountability and transparency, it is the judgement of a great number of the presbyterate that he has lost his moral authority to lead and govern our diocese.”

In February the regional superior of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order that has served in Belleville for 138 years, wrote to the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, urging him to “use all the power of your office to create a moment of change.” Citing “an unraveling of both  trust and hope,” Sr. Jen Renz, the regional superior, said, “The climate of secrecy that surrounds committee meetings and actions within the diocese must end.”

In his defense, it appears Bishop Braxton wasn’t welcome in Belleville. Appointed by a dying Pope John Paul II, there was no consultation of anyone in the diocese, so there was a pot of resentment from the start. It would have taken someone with considerable people skills to overcome this rocky beginning, and Braxton doesn’t appear to have a lot of political or management smarts.

He has been accused of being monarchial. This could be just a slap  by detractors. However, one small action seems to illustrate the point very well. braxton315flash.jpg

Kelly Casey of Belleville noted that Braxton brought the old, ornate president’s chair out of the cathedral museum when he came, reinstalled it in the sanctuary and raised its height twice to better express his episcopal dignity. It’s the sort of thing that turns people off, said Casey.

Ann Hartner, a leader of FOSIL (Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity), a church reform group critical of Braxton, said she hoped the priests’ bold action would inspire priests in other dioceses to take action against tyrannical bishops. “In a sense, we hope Braxton stays,” she said. “He’s empowered us to take ownership.”

The Catholic church, if nothing else, is a believer in fresh starts.   One is needed in Belleville.

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