Bishop William Morris, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, has taken early retirement. That’s the way he describes it. catholic-hierarchy.org puts it more bluntly. He was removed.
I have met Bishop Morris. I have vague memories of being present with a group of Anglican clergy at his ordination as a bishop in Toowoomba in 1993 (I was then in the parish of Roma – not the Roma – the cattle town in Western Queensland). He seemed to me to be a kind and decent man.
Bishop Bill Morris certainly did a good job of repairing the damage done by a pedophile teacher at a Catholic school in Toowoomba.
The problem is, Bishop Morris has probably caused more damage to the Church than the pedophile whose actions he denounced.
Anyone with a brain knows that only a tiny proportion of Catholic clergy are pedophiles, that priests commit a disproportionately low number of child sex offences compared with the rest of the male population, and that any kind of sexual abuse is abhorrent to the Church.
But when a Bishop teaches something contrary to the Catholic faith, even in apparently trivial ways, he undermines the credibility of the Church, and the body of Christ is harmed.
In 2006 Bishop Morris wrote a ‘pastoral letter’ to his diocese in which he suggested that the problem of low numbers of priests could be solved if women were ordained.
Some of the laity were alarmed by this and sought clarification. When that clarification was not forthcoming, they brought the letter to the attention of Archbishop Bathersby and eventually, the Pope.
Then Bishop Morris claimed he had been misunderstood. He was only pointing to the ongoing conversation on this matter that was taking place around Australia.
No he wasn’t.
If that had been his intention he could and should and would have said immediately it was brought to his attention that some people thought he was advocating the ordination of women, that this was not the case. He would have apologised for any misunderstanding and reaffirmed the teaching of the Church. But he didn’t.
Bishop Morris says he has been brought down by a few disgruntled conservatives who went behind his back and complained about him because of his ‘progressive’ views.
This is tyranny. Bishop Morris has been vociferous in his complaints against Rome.
He told the ABC that Rome controlled bishops by fear ”and if you ask questions or speak only on subjects that Rome declares closed … you are censored very quickly, told your leadership is defective, and threatened with dismissal”.
Yet he attempts to censor and malign faithful lay people in his diocese who want the truth to be taught.
Every Catholic has a reponsibility to defend the faith. The lay people who asked Bishop Morris to teach the faith were honouring him by believing he was truly a Catholic Bishop. When he did not respond and they went to Rome, they were doing what they should never have needed to do, what his actions had made necessary.
And he blames them, blames Rome.
The best thing he could do now would be to acknowledge that he acted wrongly, that he betrayed the trust placed in him, and apologise.
Instead, he appears to be encouraging protests against his removal.
He really believes that he knows so much about what Jesus would do, would say, that he feels no compunction in ignoring what Jesus actually did, actually said, and what the Church has taught faithfully for 2000 years.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinions. But you cannot be a teacher of the Catholic faith if you don’t believe the Catholic faith.
I am sorry for Bishop Morris. I am sorry for the people has hurt by his lack of integrity. I hope he will come to repentance and undo some of the harm he has done.
I am grateful for the courage of Archbishop Bathersby and Pope Benedict, and for the lay people who spoke out. I hope the Diocese of Toowoomba, which I know and love, will grow through this, and continue to witness to the love of God, and and the unchanging Gospel of hope and life and truth.
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15