Bill Morris and natural justice


Bishop Bill MorrisAfter Bishop Bill Morris' dismissal, pastoral leaders of the Toowoomba church commissioned a report on the procedures followed. The report by retired Queensland judge Bill Carter has now been made public. It is accompanied by a comment from Melbourne canon lawyer Fr Ian Waters about the canonical aspects of the report. These documents make disturbing reading.

Carter focuses on the question of natural justice. Morris commented to Pope Benedict, 'Throughout this sad matter I believe I have been denied natural justice.' 

The report describes natural justice as the general duty of fairness laid on decision makers, especially when their decisions are detrimental to the good name and interests of the person affected. Natural justice requires that evidence for detrimental decisions be disclosed to the person affected, who then can respond to it.

Given that the obligation of natural justice carries moral as well as legal weight, Morris was entitled  to expect that his right to it would be respected in Vatican dealings with him. Dismissal and the public judgment made on him are clearly harmful to his life and to his good reputation.

In order to decide whether Morris received natural justice, Carter then examines the documented exchanges between him and the Vatican. The initial question raised concerned his use of General Rite of Reconciliation in the diocese. He ceased this practice when instructed. He later clarified for his people a passing reference to European discussion of married priests and women priests. It occurred in a letter proposing pastoral initiatives explicitly based on a celibate male priesthood.

It was evidently only after his dismissal had been decided that he received an unsigned document from the Congregation for Bishops setting out the ills of the Toowoomba church and the need for a strong bishop. Some of the more specific claims were false. Most were so general as to require detailed evidence in their justification. Morris' request to answer each charge and to meet the relevant Vatican officials was denied. Carter remarks:

... it is strongly arguable that the decision of the Congregation of Bishops or of its prefect had been made without evidence, or on the basis of evidence which was factually untrue; he the bishop was denied knowledge of the authorship of this document; he was not made aware of any of the evidence made to support what can only be regarded as seriously damaging effects upon his reputation as a Bishop of the Church.

Nor had he been asked to respond to, comment upon or explain the core of these allegations. In short he has been denied the right to be heard.

The report concludes that Morris did not receive natural justice in the process that led to his dismissal. Carter writes in a measured way, but outrage at this process lies close to the surface.

In his comment Fr Waters explains that canon law provides for natural justice in processes for the dismissal of priests but not for bishops. He agrees that in the process described in the report, a secret administrative enquiry with no right of defence by the accused, Morris was denied procedural fairness and natural justice.

The report is disturbing. In it a man with a deep respect for the law and the moral values that it enshrines looks at what is done in the Catholic Church and expresses distaste at what he sees. Of course the authority of the report is limited because Carter had access only to what was available to Bishop Morris. But his point is that Morris was denied access and response to material he had a right to see.

His criticism cannot be rebutted by pointing to the difference between Roman and English legal traditions. The point at issue is not law but morality. The salient argument would need to claim that the duty to respect others' good name in legal processes applies only in some cultures. But moral relativism of that kind is rightly frowned on by churches.

For Catholic Christians who see the papacy as a crucial part of Christ's church the memorandum is also disturbing. In Catholic faith the Pope plays the same part as Peter in strengthening the faith of the brethren. Pope Benedict said that, when dismissing bishops popes are not bound by process. But the report shows that beneath this apparent absence of process in fact lay an unfair process that damaged the reputation of a good man.

It makes it difficult to commend to Christians of other churches the place of the papacy in proclaiming the Gospel.

Finally, the report is disturbing because it calls to mind the grief and hurt that so many people have suffered through this affair and the strain it has put on trust among Catholics. Those whose lives, commitments and reputations have been affected in different ways include Bishop Morris himself, the people of the diocese, Bishop Brian Finnegan the Apostolic Administrator, the pastoral leaders, the Australian Bishops, and even Pope Benedict.

At the heart of the church is reconciliation. The heart does not function well when the veins are clotted. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Bill Morris, Toowoomba



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Existing comments

I feel so sorry for what happened to Bishop Morris but the report comes as no surprise. The letters directed to the Vatican from the traditional police will never see the light of day. Those letters would have caused Bishop Morris the most damage and result in his fall.

bill spillane | 23 January 2012  

It's injustices like this that make me wonder why I still attend mass

Anne Mathas | 23 January 2012  

Come on, Andrew! I am not so sure the veins are clotted in Rome. Maybe, perhaps....The process regarding Bishop Morris lasted ten years and the Australian Bishops (see their latest statement on the matter) should have their veins unclotted.

Tony | 23 January 2012  

The trouble is that one feels so helpless (and angry) when a pope can dismiss [any] bishop without due process. The report makes a mockery of the notion of 'morality within the Church' when fairness is shoved aside because someone in Rome, or malcontents in the case of Bp Morris, didn't like the way he did things. The real damage is what Pope Benedict has done. He has lost my respect. The only way that he will regain it is to reopen this whole sordid affair with open an transparent procedure.

Jeff KETTERING TAS 7155 | 23 January 2012  

The real question now is: who is going to be sufficiently 'disturbed' to actually move from reflection to remedial action? My guess is no one. And, if indeed "..can law provides for natura the dismissal of priests but not for bishops"..what kind of church is this that demands obedience to its magisterium? Like the emperor, it's revealed to be naked, without integrity. Finally, what is meant by 'reconciliation'? If, as seems to be suggested, that the victim should simply forgive and forget then the word 'reconciliatiin' has also been devalued. There can be no reconciliation as long as natural justice is denied a place at the table.

Brian Haill - Melbourne | 23 January 2012  

As with an overwhelming majority of myriad issues of injustice within the unisex hierarchical Catholic Church, "the point at issue is not law but morality". Anyone who has had to suck up a patently disingenuous and unfair church decision or directive interminably justified with the use of Canon Law well knows this! Moreover, survivors of such Church processes also know full well exactly whether it is law or morality which furthers the primary agenda of the institutional church (power and control) true morality, of course, having no interest in the obfuscations of deliberately tendentious Canon "law".

Michelle Goldsmith | 23 January 2012  

Thanks Fr Hamilton for writing this. It is indeed a great shame when the church (and the Catholic Church is not alone here - I know of similar stories in the Anglican and Uniting Churches in the last few years) manages to be LESS ethical in its handling of these matters than the rest of society.

Justin | 23 January 2012  

Every now and then I am ashamed to be a Catholic. The way Rome has treated Bill Morris is one of these times.

Graham English | 23 January 2012  

We Catholics can do little about this situation. It is through the secular media and Eureka Street only, that this immorality and injustice is exposed. Diocesan papers, because of their vested interests, will not report or editorialise on this particular problem. A church that is so dismissive of the wishes of its members has, obviously, learnt little from the child abuse scandals the revelations of which have so disgraced it in recent years. A significant number of Australian Catholics want this Toowoomba matter resolved and the Bishop's reputation restored publicly. Until that is done Rome's authority to lead can and will be rightly questioned.

grebo | 23 January 2012  

I am confused! I understood that without Rome and Canterbury, without Christianity, there are simply no morals. Without our fabulous Judeo-Christian blah blah blah we are doomed to live a life in a moral vacuum, blah blah blah. So, how can the Pope possibly be wrong? He is, after all, the single man closest to God, here on Earth, God's Vicar, no less. "The report is disturbing. In it a man with a deep respect for the law and the moral values that it enshrines looks at what is done in the Catholic Church and expresses distaste at what he sees." Well Billy boyo, there is no need to read about this single incident to know that the people in Rome have as slim a grasp on the definition of 'morals' as the rest of the 7 billion of us, nor others within the Church somewhat closer to here than Rome. In fact, whatever the intention might have once been, there is scant evidence that a close attachment to any church or religion brings positive, moral, behaviour over and above what the humble citizen-drone might be able to create and live out. The real shock is that an ex-judge would be so shocked at the behaviour of Rome.

Andy Fitzharry | 23 January 2012  

I feel a certain dismay at the seemingly inactive and offhand attitude of the Australian Bishops. If they cannot stand up for one of their own what hope have the rest of us got.

Anne Schmid | 23 January 2012  

As Christians, and catholics, we make a big thing out of charity and its obligations, its urgings within our often reluctant hearts, yet critical to our present day challenges truth also, the truth of matters, is just as enticing and critical to the life of faith. What is really real, we might say, in the Body of Christ, the Church. Out of the mouths of babes(lay people) comes the exacting truth of the Bishop Morris affair. Thankyou Judge Carter for stepping up to the crease, for taking a swing, when the team is down, confused, leaderless and wondering whether or not to chuck the game in. There well may be the need for the precision and technicalities of canonical procedures, but the underbelly of Vatican shortcomings has been flushed out in this instance by a man who feels well the weight of what law really needs to be about, a weight of concern expressed so precisely by a parishoner who said after the news of Bishop Morris' sacking broke: "Father, you would have thought they could have waited a bit after the shock of the Toowoomba floods". One can only wonder what drives our holy house for the promotion of charity and truth. m

Fr. Paul Goodland | 23 January 2012  

Thank you Andrew & Eureke Street for continuing to cover the Bishop Morris story. I wonder what sort of mention, if any, the reports by Judge Carter and Ian Waters will get in the Weekly, the Leader and the Record. Not mentioned in your article is the radio interview with Judge Carter. A link to this interview can be found at which has many comments about the Bishop Morris case

John Wotherspoon | 23 January 2012  

The treatment of Bill Morris is certainly a sad chapter in the history of the exercise of Church authority. However, do not imagine that bishops and priests are the only victims of ecclesial misbehaviour. Indeed there are plenty of examples where lay people, such as principals of some Catholic schools, have been unjustly treated by local clergy whose ignorance, ego and unchallenged arrogance can be breathtaking. Happily "Father knows best" is no longer the accepted guideline even if Father's authority still too often prevails in inappropriate places and situations.

john kennedy | 23 January 2012  

A superb article, going to the heart of the issue with clarity and courage. One can't underestimate the "strain it has put on trust among Catholics". The ramifications amongst my peer group (late 60's, 'hanging by the fingernails' Catholics) on trust due to this and other recent issues continue to snowball.

Helen H | 23 January 2012  

Will the Australian bishops now stand up and demand the Vatican reopen the case of Bishop Morris and examine the process that led to his dismissal.

D. O'Connor | 23 January 2012  

Thanks, Andrew. Once again readers of Eureks Street are indebted to you for a balanced treatment of a manifest injustice - a countersign of the faith we profess. Our thanks are also due to Judge Carter and Fr Ian Waters.

Br Brian Grenier | 23 January 2012  

I was told by a priest that when a bishop is consecrated he must sign a document that states his total unquestioning obedience to the Pope. He is not allowed to comment on three matters: The virginity of Mary; Celebacy for priests; Ordination of women. Perhaps this is why (during their visit to Rome) the Australian bishops were not prepared to be outspoken and 'rock the boat' which to my mind is not the way Christ worked.

Trish Martin | 23 January 2012  

I'm glad you have not allowed this matter to drop. Not that much can be done to rectify the situation, but at least it shows our support for a modern martyr, at the hands of Rome. Perhaps one day ...a far way off...but one day Bill might be canonised???????

leo kane | 23 January 2012  

Thank you Andrew for your proper concern for justice and morality. I still grieve about Bishop Morris.

Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 23 January 2012  

I'm in the process of changing my will. The RC Church was to get 10% of my estate. It will now get nothing. The 10% will go to medical research and to feed the hungry. To give one man, the pope, the power to stand above morality (justice), as though he is exempt from it, makes a mockery of what I thought my church stood for. Benedict reminds me of some authoritarian emperor who we dare not challenge and before whom his hirelings, the bishops, must bow and do homage. This is not the way Peter functioned. Where have we gone wrong?

Charles | 23 January 2012  

Once again thank you Andrew Hamilton and Eureka Street for continuing to be a voice in the wilderness. The official church newspapers The Weekly, The Leader and The Record have been enormously disappointing. They have refused to publish any thing critical of the Pope and the Institutional Church. This type of newspaper should not be allowed to be called as such when they merely act as the voice of an oppressive hierarchy. A hierarchy that can sit back and continue to allow a Pope to dismiss bishops without due process.

terry fitz south brisbane | 23 January 2012  

Why is it that unsigned mail is believed and people like Bill Morris and others don't even get to see this unsigned mail?

Louise Madden | 23 January 2012  

To those Catholics who are no longer prepared to go to Mass or are ashamed to be Catholics, or are critical of the Pope and Institutional Church because of Bishop Bill Morris dismissal, please join the Uniting Church or any other Christian denomination. No one is forced to be Catholic. The Catholic Church is flourishing in Africa, Asia and South America.Loyal Catholics love the Pope and our Holy Catholic Church.

Ron Cini | 23 January 2012  

It is a pity that man made decisions, quite different than what Christ would possibly advocate continue to affect the Church. I see more grey haired people at mass and less young people, yet a learned man of the Church dares to explore a future direction of the Church and the red card is out. Sad...

Eugene | 23 January 2012  

Reminds me of the movie "A Few Good Men". Seems like the Australian bishops ordered a 'Code Red' on Bishop Morris to protect 'the interests of unity'. How about we put one of these bishops in the dock and cross examine them. Imagine the reply, like Jack Nikolas, - 'You want the truth! You can't handle the truth!' Ooops, that's just hollywood fantasy dealing with a democracy.

AURELIUS | 24 January 2012  

I read all the comments (23) on Andrew's article hoping for/expecting a defence of the Pope's decision regarding Bishop Morris. So far none. Is that because in the cold light of day it is indefensible? Or that only supporters of Bishop Morris read Eureka Street? Or defenders of the Pope's decision think it a waste of time trying to convince supporters of Bishop Morris that he received a fair go? I think this is a sad time for us Australian catholics when the number of subjects on which we can have a sincere, open-minded and tolerant conversation. St Francis de Sales, whose feast day it is today, we need your example of charity and diplomacy in discussing matters of our catholic faith.

Uncle Pat | 24 January 2012  

Not long ago our parish was a vibrant faith community. The young flocked to our Sunday afternoon Mass where, if you did not get there before it started then you stood. Now there are empty seats everywhere. No need to rush anymore. When we celebrated Third Rite Reconciliation, the young were there and the church was full. Now priests often sit waiting for the handful to attend. The more we attend to the narcissism of the Vatican the more we become irrelevent to many here. The more we feed Rome's ego the less we feed the People of God. Is it true that the RC Church is the fastest shrinking church in the USA or is it that the second largest "church", there, is "ex Catholics"?

Charles | 24 January 2012  

Thank you once again Father Hamilton for your clarity and honesty. I remain digusted by the treatment of Bishop Bill Morris and the earlier disgraceful treatment of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, two leaders with integrity and unspeakable courage. I wonder if the aged Cardinals and even Pope Benedict has given a second thought to the injustice and lack of transparency not to mention the harm and hurt to these good men and the Australian Catholic Church in general. I find it curious that many Bishops so inadequately dealt with clerical sexual abuse and yet they remain in office. This whole saga has done nothing for my trust in the "Holy Roman Catholic Church", quite to the contrary.I am sick of the "party line"

Margaret M.Coffey | 24 January 2012  

I applaud the publication of this report. It is my earnest hope that something positive may come out of this whole unhappy episode. most of us would like to respect Rome. I perceive a discomforting trend in our Church, a trend which can creep in, creating a culture which might satisfy a desire for one-upmanship. Surely we can rise above that? Perhaps we could hope that this enquuiry may lead our bishops to request that Rome revisit the whole issue, even apologise to Bishop Morris and the Toowoomba Diocese for the serious injustice in the mishandling of his case.

Fran | 24 January 2012  

His Lordship [behind a smokescreen of pastoral probs] questioned defined infallible dogma on male priesthood and other church teachings and Father Hamilton and ilk want his Lordship canonised!!

Father John Michael George | 25 January 2012  

"defined infallible dogma on male priesthood"?
Really Father George, if only Bishop Morris had preached against such a dogma.
The fact is the only dogmatic statement I'm aware of is a papal prohibition (the doctrinal status of which I cannot assess) against even discussing or contemplating the ordination of women.
Still it was a relief to see that someone was willing to write in ES something on the case (?) against Bishop Morris.

Uncle Pat | 25 January 2012  

To John Michael George, show me where Andrew or any of his 'ilk' has requested canonisation? Andrew's article, and Frank Brennan's elsewhere, are about good process, or rather lack of it. If you think the process was just, then defend it.

Ginger Meggs | 25 January 2012  

I agree with the comments so far expressed but take exception to Fr. Michael's comment.Having studied Theology to Master's level, may I state there is absolutely NO Dogmatic truth that any of the proclaimations by the Papacy on the issue of male priesthood or other similar issues as being infallible.Infalibility is a rather modern concept in the Church .It should be seen as a response tothe preceived threat to Church authority by the rise of "Moderanism".To my knowledge Infallibility has only been invoked twice, both times last century.
Ron, I can tell you in the Philippines, the power of the Official Church on ordinary people has markedely diminished in the past thirty years, mainly because too many of the hierachy were seen to be too close to the corrupt elites.I suspect this is happening in South America, but I can't comment about Africa as I have no contacts there.No doubt improved education and awareness, thanks to the internet, are likely causes.

Gavin | 25 January 2012  

John Michael George, Without the sensus fidelium "infallibility" is not worth much. Because the baptised were not consulted the issue is still alive. The Church has not yet decided.

Charles | 27 January 2012  

I would like to resign from the Roman church but retain my connection with the local church as I like the priests, the people and the liturgy. Please advise to whom I should apply to work this oracle.

Michael Vaughan | 27 January 2012  

I am disturbed by Trish Martin's comments, "must sign a document that states his total unquestioning obedience to the Pope. He is not allowed to comment on three matters: The virginity of Mary; Celibacy for priests; Ordination of women"

Surely this can't be correct. St. Paul went up to Peter and 'got in his face' and told him that he was wrong. Every Catholic has this right, whether one of the first twelve or not. (1 Gal 2:11, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.')

Geoff Smith | 28 January 2012  

Bishop Hart has written a letter regarding this matter which is currently available on the website of the Catholic Archdiocese Of Melbourne.It may help to clarify the situation to a certain extent.

John Tobin | 04 February 2012  

Having belatedly noted Gavins reduction of 'sacerdotalis ordinatio' from infallible teaching based on his master status I hereby invoke a much higher authority against his 'mastership hermeneutics' viz: Theretofore the CDF in its Responsum Ad Dubium on October 28, 1995, responded to a Bishop's inquiry with the following: "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25. 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith Thereupon Gavin may also note I have a Masters from Jesuit's EAPI[Ateneo de Manila University Philippines]

Father John Michael George | 08 February 2012  

re Charles'confusion' 27/1: In fact after a papal infallible definition any contemporary sensus fidelium gains authoritative credibility by litmus paper test of conformity to the magisterium[not vice versa]

In accordance with vatican 1 confirmed by vatican 2
papal infallibility is not had from approval of others[non ex consensu];the definition of infallibility of course made explicit what was held by the sensus fidelium of laity implicitly and explicitly over 2000 years on earth and in heaven[always subject to and in conformity with 2000 years magisterium]

Furthermore, implicit sensus fidelium over 2000 years must for credibility be in conformity and not opposed to traditional conciliar and papal magisterium.

implicit and explicit sensus fidelium is not ascertained by Gallup poll or scientific survey voting
eg gallup polling large numbers of material heretics could claim a 'sensus fidelium' of sorts[not being formal heretics] but such[material heresy would be against the benchmark of orthodoxy viz conciliar and especially papal magisterium.

sensus fidelium[ecclesia discens[ is subject to and secondary to scripture and magisterium[ecclesia docens] not vice versa

Father John Michael George | 08 February 2012  

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