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Vatican asked Australian bishop to resign six times

By on Thursday, 12 May 2011

Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba was asked to resign six times by three Vatican congregations and Pope Benedict XVI before the pontiff finally insisted that he leave office, according to documents obtained by The Record, Perth archdiocesan newspaper.

The documents also showed that Bishop Morris asked Vatican congregations for more time to resign because he was dealing with a protracted case involving sexual abuse.

Pope Benedict appointed Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnigan as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Toowoomba in northern Queensland to replace Bishop Morris, who was ordained bishop of Toowoomba in 1993.

In a letter to Bishop Finnigan this week Australia’s bishops expressed their support and said they had spent much time at their recent meeting discussing the events surrounding Bishop Morris’s removal, a process they called “difficult and distressing”. They reaffirmed their commitment to the Pope’s decision and said they would continue discussions about the process when they visited the Vatican later this year for their five-yearly “ad limina” visit.

Pope Benedict’s removal of Bishop Morris, 67, came after more than a decade of conflict between the prelate and the Vatican, according to documents obtained by The Record.

A document prepared by Fr Peter Schultz, Toowoomba’s judicial vicar, and Fr Peter Dorfield, former vicar general of the diocese, is an addendum to a seven-page defence of the prelate sent last month to priests, leaders and the heads of Christian denominations in the Toowoomba region.

It reveals that the conflict originally stemmed from Bishop Morris establishing guidelines for the use of general absolution within the celebration of Communal Rites of Reconciliation, which were in conflict with Pope John Paul II’s 2002 apostolic letter Misericordia Dei (“Mercy of God”). It also said the bishop’s “relaxed and open style” was generally welcomed in the diocese, but a “small but vocal minority … found fault with nearly every action he took and decision he made”.

The document said there were “some places” where there has been “a tendency to abandon individual confession and wrongly resort to ‘general’ or ‘communal’ absolution”.

Sources in Toowoomba told The Record that general absolution had been provided in the diocese several years prior to Misericordia Dei, commencing shortly after Bishop Morris was ordained as bishop.

The issue of general absolution led to a dispute between the prelate and Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Bishop Morris’s “position on this sacramental matter was seen as defiant and ongoing opposition to the position of the congregation”, according to a document from the Toowoomba College of Consultors.

In his 2006 Advent pastoral Letter, Bishop Morris stated that he would be prepared to ordain married priests and women priests if the Vatican allowed it.

He also said that due to an ageing clergy, the Church should be open to recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting church orders.

This, and a failed attempt to get Bishop Morris to Rome to meet Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Arinze and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led to Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput’s apostolic visitation in April 2007. This visit included an interview with Bishop Morris.

A memorandum dated June 28, 2007, from the Congregation for Bishops requested Bishop Morris’s resignation. He received the unsigned memorandum in September and replied September 17, saying he would “reflect” on the request and reply after his October holidays.

An October 3, 2007, letter from the Congregation for Bishops informed Bishop Morris the request for his resignation was being made “in the name of the Holy Father”.

After more exchanged letters, Bishop Morris travelled to Rome and on January 19, 2008, met with Cardinal Re, Cardinal Levada and Cardinal Arinze. He was accompanied by Archbishop Philip Wilson, then president of the Australian bishops’ conference.

Bishop Morris told Cardinal Re in a letter dated January 24, 2008, that “he felt unable to resign”, which was followed by another letter from the cardinal again calling on him to resign.

More letters and documents were exchanged, and in October Cardinal Re again demanded Bishop Morris resign by the end of November 2008. The letter also stated that if the resignation was not forthcoming the bishop would be removed.

Bishop Morris replied in December 2008 saying that “in conscience he could not resign”. He then wrote to the Pope and met him on June 4, 2009, at which time the pontiff “reiterated the demands of the three cardinals”.

Cardinal Re again asked for Bishop Morris’s resignation in a July 9, 2009, letter, prompting him to write to the pope clarifying his position that “in conscience he could not resign from office”.

Pope Benedict replied on December 22, 2009, requesting that Bishop Morris resign from office, reminding him there is no appeal from papal decisions.

In their May letter, the Australian bishops said they appreciated that “Bishop Morris’s human qualities were never in question; nor is there any doubt about the contribution he has made to the life of the Church in Toowoomba and beyond. The Pope’s decision was not a denial of the personal and pastoral gifts that Bishop Morris has brought to the episcopal ministry. Rather, it was judged that there were problems of doctrine and discipline, and we regret that these could not be resolved.

“We are hopeful that Bishop Morris will continue to serve the Church in other ways in the years ahead,” they added.

  • AgingPapist

    In his 2006 Advent pastoral Letter, Bishop Morris stated that he would
    be prepared to ordain married priests and women priests if the Vatican
    allowed it.


    Now that bishop Morris is retired, I hope he will be able to do just that and beat the CofE to the punch by creating women bishops as well. He needs to lead an independent , self-governing Church to meet the true spiritual needs of his flock. The “yes men” lackeys of Benedict to be sent to replace bishop Morris will never meet those needs as Morris did.

  • Dennis

    lol… Nice joke :-)

  • Ratbag

    Bishop Morris was vain, arrogant and self-serving. Good riddance! When Pope Benedict XVI ditches the deadwood, he does just that. Keep up the good work, Holy Father!

  • miki

    YES even Mary said YES and Gods will was done, a YES is such a small word but it means a lot in faith,good to the “lackeys of Benedict” as you call them to be the YES men,I real like and appreciate our Catholic church,its never shaken in decisions,they never decide because the whole world says yes,this is because the church is built on a ROCK.SORRY FOR YOU AGING PAPIST,THE CHURCH WAS THERE BEFORE YOU WERE THERE,IT IS STILL THERE AND WILL BE THERE AFTER YOU ARE GONE,YOU MAKE NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL!!!!!!!!!! anyway I pray for you.

  • miki

    Its just ignorance of Agingpapist,not a joke!!!

  • Matthew 7: 1

    @Ratbag, whatever the rights or wrongs of what Bishop Morris has done, I find your very personal remarks about his character unpleasant and unnecessary.   

    It’s one thing to disagree – even very strongly – with what some one has said or done.  But quite another to back up one’s own position with name calling.

  • paul d

    Well, even if he did “ordain” women, they wouldn’t *actually* be priests/bishops. They would be ladies in chausibles pretending to celebrate Mass. This is because women *cannot* spiritually, ontologically, or any way whatsoever in reality actually be changed into a priest forever, since the Church has no authority to ordain women.

    One may as well try to ordain a potato. it would have the same effect.

    Married men, however, could actually be ordained.

  • RichJ

    The only “reason” why women “cannot” be priests is because a pope chose to formally definitively declare as much. Because he was the pope, he could have chosen to formally definitively declare otherwise or he could have chosen not to make a declaration at all, but he didn’t.

    So now it is “impossible” for a subsequent pope to reverse this formal definitive declaration since it would also call into question the validity of ALL other definitive declarations made by himself and all his predecessors.

    In short the whole box and dice would come crumbling down.

  • paul d

    Hey RichJ,

    I appreciate your frustration with what your perceive as the Pope just ignoring a priest shortage, trying to maintain some tradition.

    with all respect, though, that’s not exactly true. The pope “shut down discussion” not because he *wouldn’t* ordain women, but because he *couldn’t.* Ordaining women is simply impossible, just as confecting the Eucharist using something other than wheat and water, and grape wine. For example, missionaries in Japan asked Rome to approve using rice bread and rice wine for the Eucharist, but were refused because the Church has no authority to change a Sacrament. So it’s sort of pointless to talk about it anymore, just like someone demanding to use apple wine for the Precious Blood at Mass: it just can’t happen.

    Ordaining women would be a radical departure from the Sacrament of Orders, since 1)Christ only ordained men, 2)priests stand “in persona Christi” (and one’s sex is an integral part of who we are as persons), 3) the Apostles chose a man to succeed them (Matthias, whose feast day is today!), etc.

    Surely if Christ wanted women priests, He would have ordained the most perfect creature–a woman, btw–His blessed Mother…right?

    let me know what you think! I always enjoy the discussion.

    God Bless you my friend.

  • paul d


    by the way, if you are saying that the Pope made a mistake in a ruling in matters of Faith & Morals, you might seem to be struggling with a greater issue. Is the Church who she says she is? i.e. the authoritative body of Christ, gifted with the Charism of Infallibility, specifically the Pope, Peter (the gates of hell will not prevail against it). 

    JPII declared in the most solemn and binding manner that only the souls of men can actually be changed and receive the indelible mark of the Sacred Priesthood, a matter to be definitively held by all the faithful. If he simply “made a mistake,” this seriously calls into question the dogma of Infallibility.

    So, what do you believe? do you believe the Church is who she says she is?

  • Lee

     Instead of asking, the bishop should have been excommunicated immediately. There is no such thing as a ‘democracy’ in The Holy Catholic Church, you either follow or you don’t. It seems clear from this bishop that he was implicitly encouraged to carry on knowing that it would be a very long time before being defrocked. Now for all the other pseudo bishops in our rite (Most of Western Europe especially the land of the Franks)

  • Ratbag

    Name calling? Do me a favour! Tsk!

    Have you read about what this now ‘emeritus bishop’ has done? Both sides of the story?

    I have.

    People like ‘Bishop’ Morris are out there ruining the spiritual welfare of the souls they are given the responsibility to feed the flock in their care BY THE POPE.

    I’ve read and have witnessed incidents like this too many times in the secular world.

    To read about similar things happening in the Church causes me even greater concern.

    The damage that this ‘bishop’ has done has virtually succeeded in dividing Australia. The media laps it up like cats with a saucer of cream. He is getting the attention he craves this way by not keeping a dignified silence and learning humility.

    He can’t see that he brought about his own downfall and has left grave damage in his wake.

    If the Holy Father calls me to the Vatican ASAP, I go. No questions asked. If the Holy Father asks me to stop doing something, I stop doing it ‘yesterday’. That is obedience.

    All faithful are called to obedience to The Pope and the Magisterium – including all branches of the heirarchy.

    Bishop Morris thought he was above all that sort of thing. A law unto himself.  

    It is more than a case of a bishop who insisted on wearing a suit and tie, only one vocation, a dodgy pastoral letter and not coming when he is called to the Pope.

    It goes a heck of a lot deeper than that.

    Bishop Morris needs our prayers more than anything, really.

    However, we must not forget the Diocese of Toowoomba, its faithful and the Bishop of Brisbane in our prayers, either. We pray they come out of this sorry episode much stronger and thrive as a diocese once more.

    Come, Holy Spirit, enlighten them!

  • Weary Convert

    In short, the Church cannot change its decisions for fear of undermining Papal infallability.  So in 1633 this was written to one Galileo Galilei (extract – the full version is easy to find on the internet)
    “This Holy Tribunal being therefore of intention to proceed against the disorder and mischief thence resulting, which went on increasing to the prejudice of the Holy Faith, by command of His Holiness and of the Most Eminent Lords Cardinals of this supreme and universal Inquisition, the two propositions of the stability of the Sun and the motion of the Earth were by the theological Qualifiers qualified as follows:

    The proposition that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scripture.

    The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically considered at least erroneous in faith.”
    Pope John Paul II made a belated apology for this nonsense in time for the Millennium.

    I realise of course that the “support the Church at any cost crowd” will find every excuse to explain away Galileo’s condemnation but the reality is that “His Holiness” of the time, the corrupt and venal Urban VIII and his “Most Eminent Cardinals,” much the same, were simply talking rubbish well outside their jurisdiction – as did Paul VI with his Birth Control “ruling.” – the licence for priests and Ultra Catholics to listen outside doors and peep through bedroom keyholes.

  • Anonymous

    ” AgingPapist”? And I thought my profile name was funny.