Cleansing Fire

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Progressive Australian Bishop Resigns

May 2nd, 2011, Promulgated by Mike

In 2006 Bishop William Morris of the Australian Diocese of Toowoomba published an Advent Pastoral Letter which raised a few eyebrows, first Down Under and then in Rome.

I have been unable to find a copy of this letter online but this February 2007 news brief does provide a summary …

Priest shortage in Toowoomba Diocese

In an Advent Pastoral Letter for 2006, Bishop William Morris set out for the Toowoomba Diocese the severe shortage of priests to be expected over the years leading up to 2014.

“We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese”, said Bishop Morris. The estimated numbers of priests in “parish-based ministry in 2014” would be six aged 65 and younger (three in the 61-65 year group) and eight aged 66-70, with a further five in “diocesan ministry” including the Bishop himself.

This numbers crisis is due to the almost total lack of vocations for the diocese.

Bishop Morris offered some possible solutions in his Letter.

“Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of the Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally:

  • ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
  • welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
  • ordaining women, married or single;
  • recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.

“While we continue to reflect carefully on these options, we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas …

“As a pilgrim people who journey in hope we need to remain open to the Spirit so that we can be agents of change and respond wisely to the needs of all members of the local Church of Toowoomba”.

His Excellency, diligently following the Progressive Catholic Bishop’s Style Book, did not directly question settled Church teaching or millennial-old discipline, but instead left it for others “internationally, nationally and locally” to so do. (For a local example of this approach, see here.)

Well, at least that’s the way the bishop saw it.  Rome took a somewhat different view. According to author Paul Collins,

… within two months of the publication of the Advent Pastoral he was summoned to the Vatican to explain himself.  In response he pointed out that he was going to be in Rome for a conference in May anyway, and that he also had a priest dying and he wanted to remain in Toowomba to support him.  The next thing anyone knew was when an Apostolic Visitor was appointed, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, Colorado.  He was in Toowoomba for a week in late-April 2007.

Collins reports that Archbishop Chaput met with various bodies, such as the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Council, as well as individual priests and lay people.  Then the Archbishop flew back to Denver, wrote up his conclusions and sent them off to the Vatican.  Collins adds,

Morris did go to Rome in late May and phoned all three congregations involved – Bishops, Worship and the CDF – but received no reply.

Then came four years of silence from Rome, while the above-mentioned congregations mulled over the Archbishop’s report. This lack of official news, however, didn’t stop His Excellency from commenting on his situation in 2009 …

Bishop Morris, who has held the Toowoomba post for 16 years, said the church couldn’t stifle debate and that’s what the letter was promoting. “I will continue to fight for what I believe is the truth,” he said.

“And I will continue to fight to be able to ask questions.”

Bishop Morris said there was a group of very conservative Catholics dubbed the “temple police” who travelled around parishes dobbing in priests who didn’t toe the line.

“There are plenty of temple police around at the moment,” he said.

“They’re not a large majority – they believe in their conservative views and if they don’t agree with something, they’ll write to Rome.

[Author’s note: “Dobbing in” is an Australian colloquialism roughly equivalent to our “ratting on” and carries the same negative connotation of betrayal.  See, for example, here.]

Rome’s silence came to an end last week. According to an article posted today on CourierMail.com.au,

Bishop William Morris announced his shock retirement at the weekend after falling out with the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI.

Bishop William Morris distributed a letter at the weekend in which he claimed he was forced into early retirement after a five-year investigation sparked by a “disaffected” group that disagreed with his progressive views.

Bishop Morris said he was denied natural justice during the investigation, which he claimed had made his position in charge of the Toowoomba diocese “untenable”.

The investigation included an apostolic visitation and ongoing discussions with the Vatican-based congregations for Bishops, Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith and even the Pope.

The investigation was sparked by a 2006 letter to parishioners in which Bishop Morris raised the prospect of the Church considering the ordination of married men and women to help counter a looming shortfall in priests.

Bishop Morris said the 2006 letter had been “misread and I believe deliberately misinterpreted” by a “small group (which has) found my leadership and the direction of the diocese not to their liking”.

He said his resignation would have meant that “I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communio which I absolutely refute and reject and it is out of my love for the Church that I cannot do so”.

He said early retirement was then the only option open to him.

All of this leaves me with two questions:  First, why did it take Rome a full four years to do what so obviously needed to be done?

Second, how is it that the Australian “temple police” have so much more clout in Rome than do their American counterparts?

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UPDATE: After posting this I noticed that Ben Anderson had also pickup up on the same story and beat me into print.  See here.

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16 Responses to “Progressive Australian Bishop Resigns”

  1. avatar Scott W. says:

    Is this the same bishop that had a parish doing the outrageous alternative form for Baptism (“Creator, Redeemer”, or some such) and when the neighboring bishop called for dialog and compromise, Fr. Z. quipped, “What do you mean? Just do half of the baptisms invalidly?”

  2. avatar Singe Mansoor says:

    Maybe the Pope knows what he’s doing. Maybe not.

    If Bishop Bill was my bishop, I’d be mad at the Pope because Bishop Bill seems to go the extra mile in an area where there are a lot of extra miles. Anyone ever been out there? It’s way out there.

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    If church law and tradition are so very important, then why does the pope allow these things go continue all over the US and the world. The silence speaks volumes! There is no rationale other then the Vatican doesnt care, or these practices cant be that bad!

  4. avatar Thinkling says:

    Bishop Bill seems to go the extra mile in an area where there are a lot of extra miles

    I sympathize with the virtues of Bishop Morris, but admit this does not detract from the Pope’s responsibility to see his flock has a good shephard.

    The parallels to DoR are obvious, although the details obviously are different. I know someone in the diocese who is a personal friend of Bishop Clark and who often says how “he is such a nice man”, as if this excuses his blatant and misguided heterodoxy—not to mention that of my friend :0 Next time I am in this discussion, I will simply rephrase from the 1:39 mark of this famous clip and say, he’s a very good man, he’s just a very bad bishop.

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve long said something similar about Bishop Sheen: Great Man, Terrible Ordinary.

  6. avatar Thinkling says:

    There is no rationale other then the Vatican doesnt care, or these practices cant be that bad!

    You failed to mention this one: the biological solution will cost fewer souls than the unintended consequences of more aggressive action would.

    A schism headed by an validly ordained bishop would be quite the catastrophe. The Pontiff is likely picking his battles.

    I cannot find my Princess Bride reference, but let’s just say that the silence’s volumes does not mean what you think it means.

    (h/t Dr. K for the laserbeam phrase “biological solution”)

  7. avatar Thinkling says:

    How so about Absp Sheen? What was terrible?

    Not being snarky, I actually have never heard anything but good things about him that actually held water upon examination. But maybe I missed something.

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t view the video clip of the Boston conference, but from what I read, the Bishop never actually says as clearly as Bishop Morris that women ought to be ordained. He chooses his words carefully.

  9. avatar Scott W. says:

    You failed to mention this one: the biological solution will cost fewer souls than the unintended consequences of more aggressive action would.

    A schism headed by an validly ordained bishop would be quite the catastrophe. The Pontiff is likely picking his battles.

    I cannot find my Princess Bride reference, but let’s just say that the silence’s volumes does not mean what you think it means.

    (h/t Dr. K for the laserbeam phrase “biological solution”)

    Bingo! I’ve always called it the tick-tock solution, but his is better. Anyway, I’ve heard people try to compare the Church to the Navy and when there is an insubordinate lieutenant, they wash him out or toss him in the brig. Well, for one thing the relationship between pope and bishop is not one of admiral and lieutenant. More importantly, when a lieutenant gets booted, you usually never hear from him again. That is, he doesn’t go pirate, take have the fleet and form the 1st Naval Freewill Congregation. Which is to say that even if a bishop is in de facto schism, it still might be better than de jure schism.

    But fortunately the fact is that he WAS booted, so I’m not sure what is to be gained with this “They don’t care” line. Usually at this point, the “Vatican approves with their silence crowd” changes the subject by saying, “Why are we getting all bent out of shape about this when there are more important issues to take care of?”

  10. avatar Scott W. says:

    “half” the fleet, not “have” duh!

  11. avatar Scott W. says:

    P.S. I’d also point out that actually performing a fauxdination on a women carries with it latae sententiae excommunication. Remember when progressives threw a nutty about this and said the Church is too worried about women’s ordination and not enough about the abuse crisis?

  12. avatar Diane Harris says:

    In light of the Australian Bishop’s resignation and our inability to bring similar judgments locally, we point out Pastor Kevin Murphy’s letter in the June 28, 2009 Bulletin for St. Louis Church in Pittsford. It was also picked up by the noted St. Joseph Foundation http://www.st-joseph-foundation.org in San Antonio, TX which tirelessly advocates for the vindication of a variety of rights under Canon Law, in full faithfulness to Catholic teaching. Note particularly the closing comment by the St. Joseph Foundation’s director, Mr. Charles Wilson. Might one ask if the Bishop of Rochester took any disciplinary action on this matter?

    From Christifidelis, Vol. 27 #4, p 4-5:

    From the Spirit of St. Louis, St. Louis Church, Pittsford, NY, June 28, 2009:

    “I know to raise the issue of women and married men to be considered as priests is unacceptable for some among us…not for me…I pray that wherever priests come from that we as God’s family would be open to allow people to serve…if you feel only male celibates should be ordained, fine, encourage and pray for that…if you feel women or married men should be considered, encourage and pray for that…wherever the vocations come from, let us just pray and accept them to serve.

    My praer for this Year of the Priest is that all in our Church would be open to consider the many fine deacons who could be ordained to Ministerial Priesthood…that we would not be afraid to open ourselves to other Married Men becoming candidates…that our Church would use this year to study and examine whether women should be ordained as deacons…that we would consider the possibility that God has planted the vocation to Priesthood in women’s lives and we would seriously try to discern that…that even for Bishops we would return to the traditional process where the people of the Diocese had a say in offering candidates…I am sure that these ideas are not a part of Pope Benedict’s plan for this year, but as long as we are going to focus on Priests, let’s consider all the dimensions of Priesthood and the real need our church has.”

    CHRISTIFIDELIS RESPONSE: “Please answer me this. How can a pastor of a Catholic parish aavise his parishioners to pray for something that the Church has DEFINITIVELY taught can never happen? CMW”

    I would add: “…and how can his bishop let him do it?”

  13. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    If church law and tradition are so very important, then why does the pope allow these things go continue all over the US and the world. The silence speaks volumes! There is no rationale other then the Vatican doesnt care, or these practices cant be that bad!

    Actually Rome has not been silent. You’re not listening to what they’re saying or doing if you think that. Choosing inaction in specific circumstances does not equal endorsement. Any parent can tell you that.

  14. avatar Mike says:

    Anonymous-116222,

    I managed to find a new link to the audio version of the BC panel. See here.

  15. avatar Louis E. says:

    ScottW,I believe the man you’re thinking about in your first comment is this bishop’s metropolitan,Archbishop Bathersby.(Both he and the priest in question have issued statements supporting Bishop Morris).

  16. avatar Colleen of Brisbane says:

    Thanks for taking in interest in our part of the world.

    I would say that Archbishop Bathersby has taken a position of ‘sitting on the fence’
    while expressing appreciation for the service Bishop Morris to his diocese. He is an invidious position and has to lend Toowoomba his auxiliary bishop for the present.

    There are indeed lots of miles out there in south-western Queensland and I pay tribute
    to all the fine priests who have serviced the area for the past 150 years.

    Hopefully the powers that be will find a worthy replacement bishop to oversee the work in the future.


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