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Issue Date:  January 13, 2006

A lesson from priests in Belleville

Disputes are never one-sided and neither, we suspect, is the one growing in the Belleville, Ill., diocese. Since Bishop Kenneth Braxton has been unavailable for comment on the issue and it seems largely unavailable to his priests, there is little to go on but the word of those who have become so public in protesting what they say is the bishop’s imperial style of leadership.

Recognizing that the record is incomplete -- and we’d love to report fully on the bishop’s side of things should he make himself available for an interview -- we believe that the wider church benefits from the example of the priests in Belleville.

These are not irresponsible priests. We believe they would not engage in frivolous complaints. Several monsignors have gone on the record to talk about conditions in the diocese. If the steady stream of communication we receive is any indication, the situation in Belleville is not unlike that in many other dioceses where priests feel as if they have no voice, no access and little to say about their role as ministers or administrators. The difference is that in most cases, priests are understandably frightened to go on the record with their complaints, much less organize in any way. After all, their bishop can have an enormous effect on their personal and professional lives.

So what is happening in Belleville is noteworthy. Whatever the merits of the case of those upset with the bishop, at least they have the courage to come forward publicly, to articulate their complaints and to meet to consider what actions might be taken.

Belleville, with an active laity and priests who are willing to place their careers on the line for issues they feel are vital to the church, appears to be a model of healthy community. Our hope is that priests and bishop and lay activists can reach an understanding on matters of governance and communication that would allow the community to move beyond the squabbles before they become debilitating divisions.

National Catholic Reporter, January 13, 2006

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