Mediation Sessions Held between Bishop, Priests

By George Pawlaczyk
July 11, 2008

BELLEVILLE — Mediation between Bishop Edward Braxton and Belleville Diocese priests who have called for him to resign is under way in a process designed to give detractors and supporters equal time.

The call to resign, according to a March letter signed by 46 priests or about 60 percent of active duty or retired priests from the diocese, cited a failure by Braxton to "work cooperatively" with priests and misuse of about $17,100 in funds intended for the poor and for education.

Braxton publicly apologized for any bad publicity he may have caused when he approved spending $10,100 for a table and chairs for the Chancery and about $7,000 for new vestments, or ceremonial garments. He also has stated the money for the garments will be repaid by an outside donator.

Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton

Four separate sessions with mediator Tom Reid of the Bellevue, Wash.,-based The Reid Group have been held; including two on July 1 in Paderborn. On that day members of the Southern Illinois Association of Priests, who are among Braxton's severest critics, met with Reid in the morning. Later that day other priests who signed their names to a letter in March that totaled 46 signatures calling for Braxton to resign, met with Reid.

The next day, international priests who are guests on temporary duty in the diocese attended a morning session at St. Peter Cathedral. In the afternoon, any priest not among the other groups, including supporters of the bishop, were invited to a second session at the cathedral.

Braxton was not required to attend these sessions.

"This is good that we are doing something. Whatever it takes," said the Rev. Dennis Voss, pastor of St. Liborius Church, St. Libory, who attended the session held for priests who signed the resignation letter.

"I don't know the cost of this. That was one of the questions we hope to get answered. But it's good we are doing something," he said. Like many other priests in the diocese, Voss, a member of the diocesan finance council, has agreed not to specifically discuss the content of the talks.

According to a written statement from diocesan spokesman Dave Spotanski, the next step in the mediation process will be "an intensive meeting" in early August between Reid, a steering committee of priests and Braxton.

The steering committee consists of two members chosen by priests — Voss and the Rev. James Buerster, pastor of St. Boniface Church in Germantown, and two priests selected by Braxton. So far, Braxton has chosen just one representative, the Rev. John Myler, pastor of St. Peter Cathedral.

Members who belong automatically because of their position are the Rev. Jerry Wirth, head of the Presbyteral Council of priests and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Olney, and the Rev. Jack McEvilly, vicar general. Neither could be reached for comment.

The Rev. Edward F. Schaefer, pastor of St. Rose Church, St. Rose, said he attended the signers' session. He estimated about 30 priests showed up.

"I don't know what the expectations are from all this," Schaefer said, "I had minimal expectations when I went in and I had minimal expectations when I left."

The Rev. Louis A. Koehr, who is retired, said simply, "It went well."

Criticism of Braxton resulted in three letters being sent to the papal nuncio, the U. S. representative of the pope in Washington, D.C. The first, in December, concerned the use of locally collected money from the international Society for the Propagation of the Faith to buy the vestments and the $10,000 for the table and chairs that came from a local fund intended to help children and adults obtain religious education.

Another letter to the papal nuncio followed in February, this from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a national group of nuns with a headquarters in Ruma, who asked for outside intervention to restore peace and hope.

Finally, a third letter followed when in March the 46 priests signed the letter calling for Braxton to resign.

Braxton issued a public statement 12 days later stating he would not step down and revealing that before he was installed as bishop in June 2005, a group of priests met with him at St. Peter Cathedral and urged him not to accept the position. These priests have stated they met with Braxton and did indeed ask him not to take the job, but only after they were advised to do so by Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at and 239-2625.


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