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Bill Morris and the 'haemorrhaging' Church


This letter was written in August as a response to the pain of the Toowoomba Catholics, a group of whom had written to the Australian Bishops in the aftermath of Bishop Bill Morris' sacking. Many of the questions that letter raised are on the hearts of lots of faithful and loyal Catholics across Australia in these days.

I was not at the recent Ad Limina visit in Rome, but I feel for many of the Australian Bishops who must have found themselves in an extremely difficult position following the meetings at the Vatican. I know that many of them have similar deep concerns as I do over the treatment of one our best brother bishops. 

I am responding to your 3 August letter with the accompanying petition containing 2722 signatures expressing concern around a number of aspects of the forced retirement of Bishop William Morris. I note from your letter that a further 411 signatures have since been added.

At the outset, I wish to express my deep disappointment at the treatment Bishop Morris has received. Like you, I see him and the whole diocese as being victims of a great miscarriage of justice.

When I gave the priests' retreat in Toowoomba in 2003, when I spent time in the diocese during the National Council of Priests Convention in 2006 and in many other instances when I have observed with admiration so many positive features of the diocese, I have consistently been given the impression not only that the Diocese of Toowoomba was 'in good shape' but that it was responding positively to the Second Vatican Council's vision for the Church today.

I saw Bishop Morris' inspiring leadership as being an integral part of such a healthy local Church. I noted too the strong bonds of communion existing between bishop, clergy and the faithful.

My observations showed a far-flung diocese doing everything possible to see that individual and community needs were being met in Christ-like fashion with healthy ecumenical and community relations and with a real care for issues of justice, peace and development.

In an age when so many people both within and outside the Catholic fold are asking legitimate questions about the life of the Church today, Bishop Morris courageously gave voice to such issues.

Among his strengths are that he is a good listener, that he has never lost touch with the 'joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties' of his people, and that he courageously attempts to have the Church respond as Jesus himself would have done.

As a close friend of Bishop Morris and sharing his vision for the Church today, I have been aware for a number of years of his problems with the Holy See. I have admired the way in which he has loyally done everything possible to remain in communion with the Pope as the successor of Peter. I admired how step by step he tried to have an honest conversation with Vatican officials and finally with the Pope himself. I do not believe that he always felt that there was genuine reciprocity in the dialogue.

Surely in a healthy Church we should be able to 'speak the truth in love'. I do not believe any of us are doing justice to the mission of Jesus when we neglect to name the issues which are haemorrhaging the Church at the moment.

Our current woes around sexual abuse should provide important lessons here. It is not insignificant that Bishop Morris provided excellent leadership in this domain locally, nationally and internationally.

I note your questions to the Australian Bishops Permanent Committee which met earlier this month. I note from the minutes of that Committee that its members are resolved to take up your issues as part of the upcoming Ad Limina visit to Rome.

For my part, I wish to express my solidarity with all the people of Toowoomba Diocese in these difficult times. I add my voice to Bishop Morris' plea for you not to walk away from the Church as you might be tempted to do. It is your spiritual home as much as it is Pope Benedict's.

Like Bishop Morris we all need to act with faith, hope and love and with his passion for truth and justice. More than ever, our world today needs the message of Jesus. You people of Toowoomba are in a unique position to witness to that in the best of the Catholic tradition. 

Pat PowerBishop Pat Power is auxiliary Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn.

Topic tags: Bishop Pat Power, Bill Morris, Australian Bishops



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Existing comments

Thank God that we have leaders like these two men who are very pastoral in their outlook for the Australian Church. we are not European, we are Australian with a view of a church that should be pastoral not submissive to outdated and irrelevant regulations! My prayers are with these men of foresight and pastoral care!

Peter Lynch | 30 October 2011  

'Hanging out the dirty washing in public" always leads to affirmation that the owners of the washing are indeed squalid. Such public display of the soiled family clothing leads to a widening of the perception that there is much that is rotten in the household with the dirty washing. Bishop Morris and the petitioners mentioned may well have acted in good faith with genuine concern for the Church but both have failed to realise that in entering the public domain where the secular press will devour anything that can be sensationalised (particularly from an institution that threatens the secular, godless society and places limits on unfettered indulgent behaviour
in its demands for ethics, justice and human virtue), they have laid the ground for further damage to the Church and driven even more adherents away from that community founded by Christ himself.

The public domain is not the forum where-in the machinations of the Church are to be determined. The laity has been largely uneducated in the teachings of the Church (both in erstwhile Catholic schools and in adult education)since soon after the welcome reforms of Vatican II, courtesy of the weakness of the Australian Catholic Bishops. There is much the bishops need to correct. Perhaps local pastoral care and education might be a good place to start.

john frawley | 30 October 2011  

Good on you Pat. Thank you.

Graham English | 30 October 2011  

Yet again, we are indebted to Bishop Pat for providing the leadership we all need and want. I am sure all of us, listening to yesterday's readings at Mass, had these issues at the forefront of our minds. At a time when other bishops have failed us in this area, most recently with the recent appalling, obsequious statement on the subject of Bishop Bill Morris' sacking, Bishop Pat has had the courage to speak the truth in love. He gives us all hope.

Peter Downie | 30 October 2011  

From one who is suffering from the loss of Bishop Bill's leadership, thanks Bishop Pat for putting these sentiments out to the rest of the Church.

Rob | 30 October 2011  

"Justice is love seeking the truth"
Justice occurs when, and only when,love/compassion seeks the truth.
Anne N.

Anne Norman, Redlands | 30 October 2011  

I was rather taken aback when I read John Frawley's comments below. And then I noticed the date beside his name, and it all made sense. John is creeping out with the witches and hobgoblins.

Richard Olive | 30 October 2011  

Well said Bishop Pat. At least there is one Bishop left with the courage to stand by Bishop Bill. Our church is going to hell in a handbasket and the powers that be are too blind to see. Blessed are the wise.

Elizabeth Rio | 30 October 2011  

Thank You Bishop Pat. Your words are those of hope and encouragement. They are life-giving, in such sad times...
It will take further deep reflection and courage to address the issues that continue to bleed our church. We need to address more fully, openly and honestly the issues that Bishop Morris took great leadership in - particularly the dark stain of sexual abuse from within. So much devastation, sadness, loss and pain here…

Our church from bottom to top must be about love seeking truth, justice and peace- the very being and essence of Christ, who is open to all. In God’s mission we are called to love and to forgive, and called to respect the dignity and equality of each other. Our leadership must be more open and accountable and ‘know’ that each person is precious in God’s eyes.
Bishop Pat's actions are those of great solidarity with Bishop Morris and the Toowoomba Diocese. They are words too of solidarity with our particular Australian and Universal church. They are the call of love seeking truth and justice.
In hope that we may grow more fully into Christ, that we may become the church we are meant to be, so they we may enter more fully into God’s dream for our world. Peace

Georgina Gartland | 30 October 2011  

Congratulations to Bishop Pat Power for this letter. What was done to Bishop Bill Morris was morally obnoxious at the more grave end of human behaviour where a person's entire life's work, reputation and vocation has been trashed. The behaviour perpetrated against Bishop Bill Morris is called bullying. There is no other word for it. It has been like the behaviour of a bunch of immature school prefects trying to curry favour with the school principal at the expense of one of their confreres. It is gratifying to see one other Australian bishop coming out publicly in support of Bill Morris. Brian Coyne Editor and Publisher Catholica www.catholica.com.au

Brian Coyne | 30 October 2011  

Spoken like a loyal friend and an authentic prophet. Thank you Bishop Pat.

Narelle Mullins | 30 October 2011  

I see a parallel between trouble in the Catholic church and trouble in a family. When distress emerges and some members experience hurt, the strategy to keep the trouble a secret in the hope that it can be remedied and indeed prevented has been shown to privilege the perpetrator and disadvantage those who are violated. When the cry of the poor is heard out loud, not only God hears but also the rest of the family / church does. If we are hurt we need courage to speak the truth voicing complaints as well as hope filled suggestions for change. To keep the trouble secret and in house has been shown to allow it to persist. A change of heart among church leaders that welcomes the experience of the people - vox populi - and listens to it to hear the voice of God - vox Dei - will address the "domestic violence" within the church that drives people away, and hear possibilities for renewal. Our Bishops know this; some of them have shown us that they do. Thank you for your courage; may it become contagious.

Alex Nelson | 30 October 2011  

Once again, thanks and congratulations to "Our Bishop", Pat Power. You have continually shown courage to speak the truth and stand up for justice, truth and compassion within our church.You speak for the common person who is appalled by other church leaders. We wish you a wonderful retirement, while at the same time dreading the vacuum that you will leave. Let's hope another leader will step up.

John Murphy | 30 October 2011  

I agree with John Frawley’s comments about the public domain not being the forum where-in the machinations of the Church are determined. But when there are no mechanisms within the church where there can be a fair and just hearing, such as the case with Bishop Morris, then what is one to do. With out due process natural justice is denied, without a voice to advocate, defend and explain one’s position, then once again those with power dominate, control and dismiss.

This is not the church family I would like to belong to.

terry fitz south brisbane | 30 October 2011  

Thank you Bishop Pat for your perceptive observations of the Toowoomba diocese. At times I began to wonder if I was living in the same diocese as those who wrote criticising Bishop Morris' pastoral stewardship. It is indeed refreshing and uplifting to read such a courageous letter of support. Just one observation to the one detractor and it is this. If there was more transparency and openness within the RCC the child sexual abuse scandal might not have been as catastrophic to the victims and the church.

Patrick Nunan | 31 October 2011  

Thank you Bishop Power. At least one bishop has the intestinal fortitude to stand up against one of the greatest injustices by our church in modern times. Sorry that you are retiring. We need more like you. God bless.

Don Humphrey | 31 October 2011  

Bishop Pat Power is one of the few Bishops who together with a couple in Queensland and a very few in Australia have publicly come out in support of Bishop Morris against the heavy handedness and bullying treatment instead of transparent dialogue and justice.

Fr Tyrone Deere | 31 October 2011  

I extend my gratitude to Bishops Pat Power and Bill Morris for keeping the Spirit and teaching of Vatican II before the laity during their years of service as bishops. May they continue this apostolate in their retirement.

Peter Ryan | 31 October 2011  

John Frawley - Being 25% of the total Australian population gives us some duty for transparency and honesty,especially when a whole diocese is involved. Thank you Bishop Pat, for defending your friend in this impossible situation!

Peter M | 31 October 2011  

A prophet is not one who foretells the future but one who tells forth in the present.

Yes indeed, + Pat, spoken as an authentic prophet.

Congratulations on your courage.

Des Farmer | 31 October 2011  

Re the comment posted earlier:

"Hanging out the dirty washing in public" always leads to affirmation that the owners of the washing are indeed squalid. Such public display of the soiled family clothing leads to a widening of the perception that there is much that is rotten in the household with the dirty washing.

I hope that the writer won't mind if I re-work his comments:

"Covering up the dirty washing in secret" always leads to affirmation that the owners of the washing are indeed squalid. Such secret hiding of the soiled family clothing leads to a widening of the perception that there is much that is rotten in the household with the dirty washing.'

No prizes for guessing which situation that refers to!

Des Farmer | 31 October 2011  

Thank you Bishop Pat for courageously speaking out and expressing in such a clear and concise manner what many of us are feeling. Unfortunately you are a dying breed amongst our leaders and, as such, your pastoral care and concern for all the people of the Church will be sorely missed when you retire. You have never taken the easy road of just following another’s lead. No doubt at times the path you have taken would have left you isolated and lonely and yet you did not abandon it for you were aware that greater issues were at stake. Know that many agree with you and support you.

Maybe if more join your struggle in voicing their concerns and do all in their power to bring about the kind of Church Jesus expressed in his teachings, then we would see communities flourish rather than decline. Dreams start with individuals – but they unfold in groups!

Emmy Silvius | 31 October 2011  

Bishop Pat Power is a person of ongoing courage - he remains the type of bishop that many of us in our dreams hope will see restored to the church one day - perhaps even a 3rd rite.Ever hopeful. Much praise Bishop Pat.

Gary Lockwood | 31 October 2011  

One question to John Frawley.

Just how are these matter to be resolved if the appropriate people refuse to listen, discuss and act when asked in a recognised channel where the "dirty washing " is not presented to the public ?

nick agocs | 31 October 2011  

Vatican II was the most amazingly bold act of the Holy Spirit in the twentieth century. Bishop Bill remained faithful to that call and stood against the evil that has tried to dismantle the Spirit's call. Thank you Bill for your faithfulness

graham patison | 31 October 2011  

Thank you so much, Bishop Pat, for your thoughtful, compassionate and timely article. We in this Diocese are still suffering incredibly at this time and your words are like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.
May I submit your name to the Nuncio for recommendation to Rome as our next Bishop? You'll do me.

Peter Kenny - Toowoomba | 31 October 2011  

When a bishop finds this kind of courage, we in the Body of the Church are all em'power'ed. For the sake of us in the US, does anyone know Bishop Power's email address?

Cathy Kelly | 31 October 2011  

Thank you Bishop Pat. May your example give more people the courage to speak out against the great injustice done to Bishop Bill Morris

John Wotherspoon | 31 October 2011  

Congratulations to Bishop Pat for speaking out!
He has guts! God bless him!
I see the figure of St. Paul in him. Paul would not be silenced by the Judaizers. Now Bishop Pat will not be silenced by the "Vaticanizers".

In other places I have called the Australian bishops "gutless wonders". Unless they are completely stupid they know that Bishop Bill is the victim of bgrave dishonesty on the part of the institutional church and grave injustice.

Come on Aussie bishops! Come on!
Speak out! Speak up!
The Irish bishops have lost credibility and have been rendered pastorally impotent.
Unless you bishops speak the truth plainly and publicly, and I mean the truth, your fate and the fate of the Australian Church will be worse.

EUGENE AHERN | 01 November 2011  

Thank very much for the courage of bishop Pat. He is fighting for many catholic people
in the world with the same problems, too ....

Pfr. Klaus Krämer | 01 November 2011  

Having only just sighted Bishop Pat's letter I simply need to apolagise to him for not being able to understand how he could have been bullied into submission by Pell during the the recent farce in Rome .In was incomprehensible that the man whose bravery & loyalty I have applauded in these pages past could act so ,he simply was not there !Thank you Pat for rekindling my faith . Regards John

John Kersh | 01 November 2011  

i]Surely mr kersh, + Power could have proven unfeigned courage for his buddy if he had stood up for +Morris in Rome- ii]surely that brave and courageous bishop did not dodge the opportunity for courage before pope and dicasteries. Going public in 'ES' IS HARDLY 'VC DSM material' rather HOCKEY BADGE status

father john michael george | 01 November 2011  

Dear Bishop Pat
Thank you for articulating what many of us have felt about the state of the church and its unwillingness to be open to challenge. It is no wonder that people are leaving in droves. As a Northern Irish Catholic, I am old enough to remember the excitment with which my parents and others greeted the changes announced in Vatican II reforms. I have seen both the good and the bad in recent times; the lack of justice, critical thinking and the totalitarian modus operandi of the institution of the church appalls me and does not resonate with the Jesus of the Gospels.It is time church leaders realised that they are dealing with generations of educated Catholic lay people, informed not only in their own professional spheres but also in matters theological and spiritual.In my opinion the present regime lacks authenticity, compassion and an authoritative voice and at times makes me ashamed to admit that I am Catholic.

Rosalie Toner | 03 November 2011  

Thank you Bishop Pat. Thank you for standing up in solidarity with Bishop Bill and the people of the Diocese of Toowoomba. Thank you for being, like Bishop Bill, a true shepherd, a man of action, full of love, wisdom, courage, empathy and compassion. Thank you for listening to us and for walking alongside us.

The following is one of Our Parish Prayers of the Faithful which was said for many months during Sunday mass following Bishop Bill's Dismissal.

"Holy Spirit, we pray for peace in our world; in the hearts and minds of all people, especially the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
We pray today for Bishop Morris and the Church of Toowoomba that they will feel your Spirit and peace in their lives and experience courage, strength and wisdom as they endeavour to seek truth and justice
Spirit our Prayer"

I would love to see a powerful, yet peaceful prayer movement included in all our prayers of the faithful Australia wide, yet indeed worldwide until we have an answered to our prayers.

Bernadette McPhee | 06 November 2011  

Bernadette mcphee you surmise 'faithful Australia wide' back the +Morris insubordination re retirement Any sequels from your Australia wide scientific survey on what do 'the faithful think re + Morris retirement frankly my scientific hypothesis is Australia wide faithful have bigger things on their minds [Did your survey include Coober Pedy, Bathurst and Melville islands Tiwi tribes not forgetting Arunta people in Northern Territory? Perhaps substitute with my prayer of the Faithful in months ahead: "Holy Spirit inspire poor Bishop Morris to confidently uphold Your infallible dogma on men only priesthood; and that he may openly retract his zany views on Anglican and Lutheran orders

Father john michael george | 08 November 2011  

Pope Leo I (440-461) wrote: 'He [the bishop] who is in charge of all should be chosen by all.' If this were the case today, Bishops Pat and Bill would get my vote and, I believe, the votes of most of the community.

Br Brian Grenier | 08 November 2011  

Brother Grenier might note the findings of progressive usa expert sociologist on bishops' selection [indeed he was censured by rome] viz father Reese SJ. He found:
"The selection process is not a democratic process but an institutional process that attempts
through wide consultation to find a candidate who will be a pastoral bishop, sincerely concerned
about the good of the people in his diocese, who is also loyal to Rome. On paper it appears to be
an autocratic process. What makes it work as well as it does is the good faith of the participants,
who are concerned for the good of the church. In addition, they recognize the problems that
result from imposing on a diocese a bishop who is at odds with his priests and people or who is
inadequate to their needs.
Besides good will on the part of the participants, the process works because of the checks and
balances provided by people at various levels within the system. For example, the administrator
of a diocese and a small clique of chancery officials might conceivably push a candidate who the
pro-nuncio finds through his investigation is not widely supported. Or if the pro-nuncio begins
appointing bishops out of touch with the needs of the American church, the American bishops,
especially the archbishops and cardinals, can appeal to the Congregation for Bishops or even the
pope, as they did in the case of the apostolic delegate Archbishop Raimondi. And while the
power of Rome appears absolute, it is almost totally dependent upon information that is sent to it by the pro-nuncio and the American church

father john michael george | 08 November 2011  

As a relatively recent convert to Roman Catholicism, (2003),I am dismayed at the way the Bishop of Toowoomba has been treated by the Vatican. As I understanding it, he has merely argued for change. If that is so, how can there be a heresy. Surely the Church I have joined and love so much, is capable of discussion, even spirited discussion, on points of contention.

Didn't Martin Luther experience similar problems with the Vatican all those years ago?

John Abernethy.

John Abernethy | 15 November 2011  

mr Abernathy, wanting change isn't a problem,but male ordination is set in concrete actually the holy see wants bishop Morris to change but he wont-so two sides to this
yep Luther experienced similar probs with Vatican as did Henry eighth,Hitler and Stalin and others who wanted change-but ironically these opponents are
also against themselves changing

father john george | 16 November 2011  

Bishop Pat You have guts, You are honest! Keep up your good work Bless you!

Eugene Ahern | 20 June 2019  

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