Priests of the Diocese of Belleville are seeking an explanation from their bishop after he reportedly bought liturgical vestments with donations marked for a Vatican world outreach fund, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
An employee at House of Hansen, a tailor of clerical vestments in Braxton’s hometown of Chicago, said Bishop Braxton ordered five sets of vestments, a miter, and a tunic last year. At least some of the vestments were worn by the bishop, two deacons and two priests, all of whom were ordained in May.
Questions about the funding for the vestments date back to a diocesan financial council meeting in November, when Bishop Edward Braxton was asked how he paid for the new vestments. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sources, who requested anonymity because of council members’ oath of secrecy, claimed Bishop Braxton said the $8,000 expenditure came from a fund for international mission work.
The mission fund is supported by collections taken up on World Mission Sunday, the second-to-last Sunday of October. It is supervised by the Propagation of the Faith offices on diocesan and national levels and has an international office at the Vatican.
Church statutes strictly regulate church finances, ordering that "offerings given by the faithful for a specified purpose may be used only for that purpose."
The topic of the vestment funding was raised again at a Monday meeting in the diocese.
"We attempted to discuss it," said one member of the diocese's Presbyteral Council. "But no progress was made. The bishop did not want to talk about it."
The conflict accompanies another controversy about the continued employment of the diocese’s chief financial officer, William Knapp, whose five-year contract ending in June will not be renewed by Bishop Braxton.
Knapp is a popular figure among many diocesan priests. At an East St. Louis Deanery meeting, several priests supported Knapp’s continued employment so that he can complete work on securing financial transparency for the diocese.
“We believe that his departure at this time will only cause more suspicion among the laity and presbyterate concerning the finances of the diocese," the priests reportedly said.
Last month, the Belleville diocesan finance council wrote a letter to Braxton expressing concern about the expenditure. The letter was copied to the papal nuncio in Washington.
The Diocese of Belleville serves about 104,000 Catholics.