THE Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris, has been effectively sacked by Pope Benedict XVI over doctrinal disobedience for his support for ordaining women priests and other liberal reform.
The developments have led to an incipient revolt among at least some sections of the church.
In the letter read out to all congregations in the diocese at weekend masses, pre-empting a Vatican announcement tonight, Bishop Morris, 67, said he had taken early retirement because “it has been determined by Pope Benedict that the diocese would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop”.
It is understood that one of Brisbane’s auxiliary bishops will step into the diocese temporarily as administrator until a new bishop is appointed. Bishops normally do not retire until at least 75.
Some Toowoomba Catholics left church in tears yesterday, and priests have called a meeting at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday to consider what action can be taken, including the possibility of a mass resignation of clergy. But one senior priest who has followed the bishop’s controversial career said Bishop Morris had brought about his own demise because “you can’t keep telling Rome to get stuffed”.
Many parishioners arriving for mass last night were amazed and shocked about the letter.
At the cathedral, Maree White said the bishop was well appreciated in the diocese and she was stunned by the news.
Others disagreed. Jenny Goodwin said: ” I think, all things considered, the Vatican does not do these things lightly.”
The bishop’s letter shows things had reached a stalemate after he had been talking to the Vatican for five years.”
In his letter, Bishop Morris said the Vatican’s decision was sparked by complaints to Rome about an Advent letter he wrote in 2006. In that letter, he argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders.
In contrast to some other provincial dioceses, the priest shortage has been exacerbated by Toowoomba’s appalling record over recent years in attracting virtually no new vocations.
Long before the pastoral letter, however, concerns had been raised about the material included in sex education programs in diocesan schools and the former practice of general absolution in the diocese.
The Advent pastoral letter sparked an investigation, led by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado, one of the most respected Catholic clerics in the US, who visited Toowoomba and spoke to priests and laity at length, and also spoke with other Australian bishops.
In the letter read out yesterday, Bishop Morris said that visit led to an “ongoing dialogue between myself and the Congregations for Bishops, Divine Worship and Doctrine of the Faith and eventually Pope Benedict”.
The style of Bishop Morris’s departure is unprecedented in that he has made his disagreements with the Vatican so public. In previous years, bishops who fell from favour have usually resigned on the grounds of ill health, or no reason has been given for their departure.
Bishop Morris complained he had never seen Archbishop Chaput’s report, and said he had been denied natural justice.
He said he had never written a resignation letter, and that he had offered to take early retirement “with profound sadness, knowing I still enjoy the support of the vast majority of the people and priests of the diocese”.
But he admitted his position had become untenable, and said he had proposed that he take early retirement to find his way through “this moral dilemma”.
“I have never wavered in my conviction that for me to resign is a matter of conscience, and my resignation would mean I accept the assessment of myself as breaking communion, which I absolutely refute and reject, and it is out of my love for the church that I cannot do so.” (source)