Sunday, January 13, 2008

Braxton v. Belleville, Round Three

Citing an alleged misappropriation of funds, the finance council of the diocese of Belleville has petitioned the Holy See to look into the propriety of some purchases made by Bishop Edward Braxton.

Here we go. Again.

The Rev. Dennis Voss, pastor of St. Liborius Church in St. Libory, said the purchases were made with money earmarked for the international Society for the Propagation of the Faith, a renowned fund to aid Catholic missions throughout the world.

Saying the council is bound by an oath of secrecy, Voss said he could only verify the complaint was made Dec. 14 to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., and would not say how much money was spent or what it was spent on, other than to say the purchases were church-related.

The money in question came from a bequest from a single individual and was not from the regular parishioner collection, Voss said.

Braxton did not respond to written questions submitted by the News-Democrat to the Chancery office in Belleville.

When asked whether the complaint was about Braxton, Voss replied, "Obviously it was. ... We did this by going through the proper channels. We are trying to do all we can to rectify this situation."....

Voss said the complaint was sent to the Papal Nuncio in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who is Pope Benedict XVI's representative in the United States. A spokesman for the office said Thursday that Sambi was unavailable and that any questions must be in writing.

The director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States, Monsignor John E. Kozar, said that all money collected for this fund, minus the cost of raising it, must be sent to the New York office for transfer to Rome. Kozar said that by papal order, money collected for this fund since its founding in France in 1822 cannot be spent in the diocese or even the country where it is raised.

"I will say that the priests in Belleville are extremely concerned by this," Kozar said. He added that if the money was spent improperly, "the public's confidence in donating to help the poor is at stake."

On Wednesday, the West Deanery, a diocesan organization of 12 priests, met and unanimously passed a motion calling on the Finance Council to "report openly and honestly about alleged misappropriation of funds. ..."

According to the group's minutes, the priests want a full accounting of expenditures from the Propagation of the Faith Fund and from a local fund called A Future Full of Hope.

On Friday, the East Deanery met and passed a similar resolution 7-0 with one abstention, according to their minutes.

"The rumors that are circulating are making it more difficult to raise funds. ... he Clergy of the Diocese of Belleville want a full clarification of what is happening with these funds," the minutes stated.

In December, the board for A Future Full of Hope chided Braxton for approving spending $10,100 from this fund for a wood conference table and chairs for a meeting room at the Chancery. According to minutes from this board's teleconference of Nov. 20, members "expressed in writing their objections to this expenditure by Bishop Braxton."

Established by former Bishop Wilton Gregory, A Future Full of Hope had collected $12 million by 1998 and today still has about $1.7 million to be spent on programs for children and adults.

As noted above, today's story is but the latest clash between the bishop and the natives in the Southern Illinois diocese of 115,000.

Braxton's 2005 appointment was greeted with presbyteral protest amid complaints that the clergy weren't consulted -- an outcry that grew after the bishop sought to renovate his residence. (While the diocese allotted $25K toward the spruce-up, Braxton's friends kicked in the rest of the project's reported $250,000 total.) Months later, frustrated over what one termed the bishop's "imperial" style of governance, a third of the priests met publicly to sign a statement of discontent.

Current reports from on-ground invariably hold that the priests remain split into "defined" camps, with a significant majority -- said to be as high as 80% -- joined in opposition to Braxton.

PHOTO: Diocese of Belleville