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Closing the case of Bishop Bill Morris

  • 25 October 2011

Before making their joint visit to Rome the Australian Bishops promised that they would take up there the dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris and the process followed in it.

On their return they have issued a brief letter about the matter. They report that they met the heads of the two chanceries involved, and also held discussions among themselves. They do not seem to have spoken with Pope Benedict about the matter.

They explain that the Pope asked Morris to resign when the latter could not provide satisfaction that his views on catholic ministry were in accordance with Catholic teaching. The Pope dismissed him when Morris refused to resign. In acting in this way Pope Benedict was exercising his responsibility to confirm the church in unity of faith.

The Bishops accepted the action of Pope Benedict and reaffirmed the basis of their own position in communion.

They finally asserted their commitment to heal the wounds of division, to extend fraternal care for Morris, and to strengthen the bonds of charity within the Australian Catholic church.

The letter is an act of closure. But it bears reflection. The number of meetings mentioned makes it clear the bishops took seriously their commitment to raise the issue. We can also imagine the frustrations, mixed feelings and eventual satisfaction or disappointment they may have experienced.

The Bishops will be criticised for looking at the business through the lens of their own relationship to the Pope. But this was a matter of integrity. They are Catholic bishops whose responsibility for the unity in life and faith is exercised with and through the Pope as successor to Peter.

In the Catholic understanding the Pope has the personal responsibility and right to defend the church's unity in faith and unity. Once the bishops knew that in dismissing Morris, the Pope understood he was discharging this responsibility, they knew he was acting within his rights.

This is common Catholic ground. But the issues raised by Morris' dismissal were not about the Pope's right to act, but about whether his decision was wise and prudent in the manner of its making. It was not about the authority to govern but about the exercise of governance.

The reason why many