Members of the small, poverty-stricken Diocese of Belleville in Southern Illinois were told in 2005 that Edward K. Braxton would become their new Diocesan Bishop. He came to the Diocese despite strong, public objections by a majority of priests in the Diocese. This protest was soon reinforced by concerned clergy and laity who were aghast at the very first act of the new Bishop: A $273,000 makeover of the Bishop's residence.
On January 4, 2011, one third of the diocesan clergy, with an additional number of faithful laity, submitted a formal petition for the removal of Bishop Braxton as Ordinary of the Belleville Diocese to Cardinal Marc Oullet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The petition was submitted through the Office of the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C. There was no response from either the Congregation for Bishops or the Nuncio's Office.
On January 20, 2013, the petitioners submitted the follow-up request shown below to Cardinal Ouellet which contained a brief outline and update of the previously-submitted petition:
Gerald L Montroy
528 Overbrook Circle
O'Fallon, IL 62269
January 10, 2013
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò
Papal Nuncio to the United States
3339 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20008-3687
Re: Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of Belleville
On January 2, 2010 a representative group of clergy and faithful from the Diocese of Belleville submitted a Petition through the office of the Nuncio to the Congregation for Bishops seeking the removal of Bishop Edward K. Braxton as Ordinary of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois. In February 2011 following your appointment as Nuncio we sent a copy of the Petition with an update to you. Contrary to customs of this country; i.e., responding to important written correspondence, we received neither an acknowledgement nor a response from the Congregation for Bishops or yourself. Still, the faithful and clergy of the Diocese who signed the Petition knew your offices received the documents because return receipts were received from the Post Office.
The five-volume, well documented Petition set out in detail the failure of Bishop Braxton to protect the patrimony of the Diocese, follow Canon Law and provide minimum spiritual leadership to the clergy and laity of the Diocese.
Since the last update sent to your office we provide the following evidence of Bishop Braxton's failed stewardship:
1. The annual diocesan appeal in 2012 has dropped to less than 50% of the amount received in 2004, the last full year of Bishop Gregory's tenure as bishop. The steady annual decline since 2005 clearly demonstrates the laity does not trust that he will use their donations wisely. Parenthetically, the four dioceses bordering our diocese have had major increases in annual donations.
2. Diocesan vocations have dropped to the point we have one seminarian in theology, one in pre-theology and one in college. His alienation of priests has caused one gifted priest to leave the Diocese to enter a religious order, another to begin the process to join a religious order. Another incardinated priest will decide this summer whether to remain in the diocese or go elsewhere.
3. Bishop Braxton's attempt to partially fill the void of priests with international priests for three year terms have had mixed results. Their lack of knowledge of Western culture and liturgical customs has led to a number of incidents, including one priest slapping a woman and another priest abusing servers.
4. With the exception of a small number of priests who have sought personal gain through their relationship with him, he is disliked by priests, religious and laity.
5. The Diocese is on the fast track to insolvency which may occur as early as this summer. The many reasons for the diocese's financial condition has been addressed in great detail in the five volume Petition, with updates, previously sent to your office. Suffice to say, Bishop Braxton continues to use the same law firm which mismanaged sexual abuse lawsuits for the past seven years.
Archbishop Viganò, we request a response from you and/or the Congregation for Bishops. The priests and laity, who have worked diligently for the past three years preparing the Petition and updates, have kept their promise to keep confidential their work and correspondence with you. In return, we pray you will respond to our original Petition and advise us of any additional action that may be appropriate by you or us. Absent a response we will conclude there is a lack of concern on the part of the Church and we will no longer feel bound by our self imposed confidential correspondence.
In conclusion, inaction by Church Officials has had a devastating effect on the faithful clergy and laity of our Diocese who have petitioned your office and the Congregation for Bishops. It is beginning to appear Church Officials responsible for Bishop Braxton's continued tenure in the Belleville Diocese have placed their loyalty to him above the spiritual needs and salvation of the priests, religious and laity of this Diocese.
Sincerely and prayerfully,
Attorney at Law (retired)
Contact person for those signing the Petition to
Remove Bishop Braxton as Bishop of Belleville
In conclusion, petitioners, and the faithful clergy and laity in this small faith community of Southern Illinois, are still waiting for a response from the Vatican or the United States Nuncio. Doesn't a “bling-bling bishop” in the U.S. deserve the same censure as one in Germany?
Submitted by Les Himstedt
Member, Faithful of Southern Illinois (FOSIL)