No justice for Toowoomba's shepherd


In John's gospel chapter 10 verses 1–10 , Jesus tells us who are the loved and protected sheep of his flock that there is a gate, a gatekeeper and a shepherd — and they are all there for our protection. We need to be suspicious about those who enter our lives in ways other than through the gate. Those who jump the fence may be coming to do us harm or to draw us away from the flock and from the one true shepherd.

As members of the Church we are blessed with gatekeepers who keep out false shepherds. We Christians are blessed to be led and guided by Jesus the one true shepherd who also describes himself as the gate — the gate through which we pass on our way to life with the Father. He is the way to truth, freedom, love and life.

As Catholics, we count ourselves blessed that we are part of the flock which has those especially commissioned to act as gatekeepers and shepherds in their roles as pope, bishop and priest. But none of these is any substitute for Jesus — the gate, gatekeeper and shepherd.

We Australian Catholics have just come through a very difficult couple of weeks as our bishops reflected on the forced retirement of one of their number, Bill Morris, the bishop of Toowoomba. Due to a lack of transparency in the Roman processes, we don't know the full truth about his removal from office. We probably never will. I have known Bill as priest and bishop for 30 years. He is a good man — no flash academic but the most down to earth pastoral guy you could meet.

His forced departure from Toowoomba has been some years in the coming. On Thursday, our bishops told us: 'The decision came at the end of a complex process which began 13 years ago and which ended in deadlock.'

You would think someone in the Church could have done something to resolve the deadlock in that time. Every social institution is of course fallible; so too is the Catholic Church. Our Church is not a democracy, and it does not pretend to be. Neither is it egalitarian. It is very hierarchical. And it usually does its dirty washing behind closed doors.

The Church is made up of members many of whom come from nations like ours where there are laws and processes which ensure transparency and natural justice. If someone is to be sacked, they expect to get a fair hearing. If a complaint against a citizen is to be upheld by someone in authority, the citizen has a right to know the case against them and a right to be heard. These expectations don't always translate readily to an ancient institution like the Catholic Church.

Morris was a popular bishop, but he nonetheless upset a minority of parishioners and a handful of priests some of whom sent regular complaints to Rome. US bishop Charles Chaput visited the diocese and submitted a report to Vatican authorities who then alleged that Morris's 18 years of pastoral leadership was flawed and defective.

That may have been Chaput's assessment. But we just don't know. Nor do we know the basis or evidence on which the assessment was made. Morris has never seen the report. Morris rightly claims to have been denied natural justice.

After Chaput's visit, all but three priests of the diocese wrote to Rome in support of Morris's pastoral leadership. So too did all the Pastoral Leaders and all members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Morris was told that he could not see the report and that he could meet with Pope Benedict only if he were first to submit his resignation. That surely put Benedict as well as Morris in an invidious position.

Overseeing a Queensland country diocese stretching from the Great Divide to the Northern Territory border, Morris knew he needed to provide for the day when there would be not enough priests to celebrate mass.

He wrote to the diocese in 2006 indicating that several responses 'have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally' including the ordination of women and the recognition of other churches' orders. He invited discussion while remaining 'committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas'.

When quizzed by the media, he said he 'would ordain single or married women and married men if church policy changed'. So he was sacked, not for ordaining a woman or a married man — but for inviting a conversation about it!

On the day of his sacking, his consultors, the most senior priests of the diocese, said, 'In our view, Bishop Morris has not been treated fairly or respectfully. We find his removal profoundly disheartening. This judgment on his pastoral leadership stands in stark contrast to our lived experience of his ministry.'

This is a tragedy for anyone committed to the Church except for those like the chap who wrote on my Facebook: 'The guy was a cowboy, not a shepherd'. It's that sort of chap who probably started it all with complaints to Rome, behind closed doors. We need more shepherds in the light and fewer cowboys in the dark. Morris was a good shepherd even to those who acted as cowboys.

The bishops have told us that 'Bishop Morris's human qualities were never in question; nor is there any doubt about the contribution he has made to the life of the Church in Toowoomba and beyond.' They say, 'The Pope's decision was not a denial of the personal and pastoral gifts that Bishop Morris has brought to the episcopal ministry. Rather, it was judged that there were problems of doctrine and discipline, and we regret that these could not be resolved.'

They intend to raise questions with the Roman authorities when they make their ad limina visit to the Vatican in October this year. After 13 years, most of our bishops are still in the dark about key details of the Vatican's treatment of Bishop Morris.

The Executive of the Catholic Religious of Australia attended the recent meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops. They have put the following questions to assist the bishops in their ongoing inquiries in Rome during their forthcoming ad limina visit. They have asked:

How can all in our Church be heard and empowered by our ecclesiastical leaders and processes when private and confidential opinions are given such importance?

How is the decreasing availability of Eucharist, 'the source and summit' of our lives' to be addressed into the future?

What do we say to the people who have lost an inspirational shepherd and pastor in a time of great need?

Having heard from their members working in the Toowoomba diocese, they have said, 'The majority of the Diocese saw Bishop Morris as outstanding in encouraging lay people to take up appropriate leadership in the local church and vigorous in promoting prayer and ecumenical dialogue. He has been tireless in moving our church and society forward in the difficult and sensitive area of professional standards in ministry.

'At a time when many good people in our country are feeling disengaged from the Church we so need Bishops who are first and foremost Pastors who like the Good Shepherd care for their people.'

Let's pray for the flock of Toowoomba and for their erstwhile shepherd Bill Morris. Let's pray for the gatekeepers in the Vatican and for our ultimate earthly shepherd Pope Benedict. Let's pray that the gate is kept open and that cowboys can be intercepted before they do further harm to the flock.

Let's pray for ourselves that we can maintain hope that our Church is the privileged place where we can expect to find gate, gatekeeper and shepherd working together in truth for our freedom, love and life to the full.

Frank BrennanFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at
the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.This text is from his homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter at Holy Trinity Parish, Curtin, ACT.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Bishop Bill Morris, Toowoomba, Charles Chaput



submit a comment

Existing comments

Helena Sweeney | 18 May 2011

Thank you for writing this article. You have been very insightful into how you worded this article.

Have the Bishop's and clergy of Australia thought of a way to 'take a stand' on this matter in active way that may get attention from the 'cowboys'?

Julia Trimboli | 18 May 2011

Thanks, Frank, for a clear articulation of the disappointment this event has triggered in so many of us who love the Church. Thanks, also, for words that encourage our continuing hope. It is not the first instance where natural justice has been denied within the Church; nor will it be the last: being both human and divine, the Church's brokenness is often all too evident. The challenge to our faith is not to be surprised into despair when it happens. As pilgrim people, we sometimes wander around and cross-over old tracks.
Anne Benjamin | 18 May 2011

Thank you Father Brennan. I wonder if Bishop Morris had been removed if he had served elsewhere in Australia? The Darling Downs is a very conservative area with 'ecclesiastical cowboys' thick on the ground, not only in the Roman Church, but throughout the denominations. It's the 'flat earth' approach to faith that has ended up 'burning' many clergy of many different denominations in the Darling Downs.

I'm a resident of the Downs and a clergyman (not Roman) and have seen it again and again. We hang our heads in shame. Bishop Morris did more for ecumenism in the Darling Downs than anyone. A wonderful pastoral man. I hope the best for him. He deserves it.
Keke | 18 May 2011

Thanks Frank. Courageous and correct.
Jim Fitzgerald - Franciscan | 18 May 2011

Thanks for a balanced non judgmental account of the resignation of Bishop Morris Natural justice appears to have been denied in the eyes of the laity{the church}With so much emphais on Human rights today it does seem that a more open approach to the situation would hvae been wiser and more in the interests of the Church and the Bishop Without the facts being released it leads to much misinformation being circulated re the media on a sometimes gullible society including Catholics

One positive appears to be the Australian Bishops statement and their resolve to address the situation on their visit to Rome Once again thanks for your words on the sad situation of Bishop Morris and look forward to hearing some answers to the Questions to be presented
pamela byrnes | 18 May 2011

Than you Frank. To an Australian Catholic lawyer, the denial of natural justice is clear. But there are two other breaches of principle in what the Vatican has done.
Bishop Morris was told, "Canon Law does not make provision for a process regarding bishops". Is there not implicit in that statement the proposition that the Vatican is not bound by any other than positive enacted law?. How ironic for the Catholic church, most of whose moral doctrines are founded on principles derived from the Natural Law! Is it suggested that they do not bind the Vatican? They are the more important precisely because of the absence of explicit Canon Law on the subject.

You advert to another fundamental defect in the way that the Vatican has dealt with Bishop Morris. That is that there is no official statement of reasons. How are our bishops, or indeed we ourselves, to know what not to do if there is no statement of precisely what Bishop Morris did or said that amounted to "problems of doctrine or discipline"?

Alan Hogan | 18 May 2011

Frank, as always there is a lot of wonderfully valuable stuff in your homily. But there's also, and, pardon me, because I say from my heart that I would never want to speak insultingly to you, too much of the traditional pussyfooting around the rule by fear that the "gatekeepers in the Vatican" maintain in order to control the minds of the faithful and to enforce obedience to an institution seen as they, and not the Church proclaimed in Vatican 2, sees it.

Intellectually, their reliance on a priori argument as against Bill Morris's argument from induction, is totally discredited. It comes down(and they must know it deep down) to a ruthless, if disguised, form of self interest. And as for our "ultimate earthly shepherd, Pope Benedict", he's still behaving like the "Wolf of Woytijla" that he was for so long. Until they are all forced to realise that invoking the worldly traditions of an institution to justify injustice and dishonesty is beneath contempt they won't change.
Joe Castley | 18 May 2011

i] All Australia knows why + Morris was sacked except Mr Allan Hogan and + mORRIS!!!! ii]+ Morris had 13 years of dialogue with 3 dicasteries and the Pope to catch on iii] I am sure he can watch tv and read media TELL + Morris reasons for dismissal are written on the pagellum- iv] Tell + Morris to read the rescript v] failing that all USA/UK knows!!! vi] finally a safe bet is to phone apostolic nuncio or president of ACBC or even Toowoomba branch of Hari Rrishna and of course if all that fails the local kindergarten can update him [resourcemento]

Vale Fr. Frank Brennan. The case is beautifully stated.
Trevor Fogarty | 18 May 2011

Thank you Frank and to those wonderful Shepherd’s who love Our Church. Yesterday I received a beautiful response from the Diocese of Toowoomba in response to an email of support which I sent to Bishop Bill Morris and the community of the Diocese of Toowoomba on 4th May. More importantly they made a request and I quote ...“He really appreciates your support and asks that you keep our diocese in your thoughts and prayers as we struggle through this very trying time”. In the past 24 hours I have been inspired to ask others to prayerfully support Bishop Morris and the communities of the Diocese of Toowoomba. Might I make one simple yet powerful suggestion? My simple idea is to place a permanent prayer, in the Prayers of the Faithful to be said at every Sunday Mass in every Church, Australia wide, on a permanent and ongoing basis in support of Bishop Bill Morris and the communities of the Diocese of Toowoomba. Imagine how powerful our combined prayers would be. It would be Our Prayer, the Prayer of the Faithful God Bless
Bernadette McPhee | 18 May 2011

I was in the congregation and was pleased to participate in the applause that followed this homily. This was something that I had never heard in an Australian Catholic Church. My only regret was that I was not the first to start clapping!
Peter Evans | 18 May 2011

Following your final two paragraphs, let us pray also for Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who will have the delicate task of conveying adequately to the Pope and the Vatican officials, on the Bishops' ad limina visit to Rome later this year, just how dismayed and angry their actions in this affair have made us.
Alan Hogan | 18 May 2011

Since when is the Catholic Church a democracy.

And, does everyone think Jesus is asleep in the boat??

Michael | 18 May 2011

Alan Hogan your gratuitous assumption that 'we all' are upset at l'affaire Morris is badly in need of scientific research.

"off-the-cuff" surveys are on par with tea leaves reading[now passe with tea bags].

Frankly I am ecstatic at Rome's interventionism
p.s.[Being hemiplegic stroke paiient I am not even a "temple guard"]

Thank you again Frank for an insightful argument. Those who suport the Bishop's dismissal offend against charity.Would Jesus have done this act I wonder?
Gavin O'Brien | 18 May 2011

I said elsewhere, and I repeat it here; Jesus said: "You know that among the pagans their rulers lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt. THIS IS NOT TO HAPPEN AMONG YOU" (Matt., Mk. & Lk)
In the light of what has happened in Toowoomba, the idea that anyone in the Vatican can claim to represent the speaker of these words is ludicrous!

I deeply respect everything you have said here, Frank; but why do we as Catholics continue to co-operate with this great denial of the Christ by colluding with such power abuse from the Vatican. Surely the whole story of Jesus' struggle with the High Priests and other power brokers, and his words quoted above, are every bit as important as his expressed desire for unity. Rome needs to be confronted, not placated!
Karin | 18 May 2011

Thank you for speaking up . . not only are we left in the dark, we're been issued with ear plugs too. The days of denying adult Catholics the right to discuss and question should be well and truly over. For some reason, it seems the cowboys get a very good hearing with the hierarchy ... WHY?
Glen Avard | 19 May 2011

Your comment 'I have known Bill as priest and bishop for 30 years. He is a good man — no flash academic but the most down to earth pastoral guy you could meet.'
Funny you know Peter was a fisherman, Christ a carpenter. Theologians are like the definition of experts. X... an unknown quantity! There is a quote in management areas, "Never appoint an assistant who has skills over yours!"
Bills skills on the ground would far outweigh those of an ordinary man in a far off country who listens to advisors with aspirations of their own. Did not Christ tell Peter that he would find himself (the church) being led where he did not want to go???
Maat | 22 May 2011

I fully support Pope and Rome. Seems to a big issue in Australia that Bishop that trying to raise dicussion about topics there are officially against Church Magiterium has been asked to retired earlier. This process took several years (since 2006 as per this article) to complete so I belive all pros and cons of this decision hs benn taken into consideration. There was also visitation of the parish which give Bihop a possibly to prove his good work. Thanks God there is no demoracy in the Church and there is someone taking control of it even in far Queensland. Its been like this for long time and hopefully it will be like this for many more years. This Article is saying about "some people wrote to pope" I am gald for those people who notice unpropers Bishop teachings and report it to Rome. God Bless the Pope!
Matt | 29 May 2011

Dear Father. Thank you for a wonderful letter,but,I like most Catholics remain so confused and so irritated by an apparent "lack of fair play"...The end never justifies the means,I believe is an old Jesuit saying.
john m costigan | 30 May 2011

Thank you Frank! An honest look at the facts.
Will the Church implode before we have transparency?

Perhaps that is the only way the Holy Spirit has left,working with Rome
leo kane | 30 May 2011

Thank you Frank! An honest look at the facts. Will the Church implode before we have transparency? Perhaps that is the only way the Holy Spirit has left,working with Rome
leo kane | 30 May 2011

The Catholic Church's administration is again shown to be too much about preserving its own power rather living up to the principles of Christianity. The hierarchical, non- transparent processes need to go - but unfortunately those presently in power are unwilling to depart from them. It wd thus appear that those who care about the Church being relevant can only reform it from the outside. I wd therefore suggest we need to set up something along the lines of a Democratic Catholic Church based on the first principles of Christianity. Given the digital age, perhaps an electronic forum on this subject may be a good place to start?
Frank Ross | 30 May 2011

Fr Frank Brennan's S.J. article is by far the fairest,most honest and accurate assessment of only the facts that have been revealed on the forced retirement, in place of the resignation, of Most Rev.Bishop William Morris D.D. One would expect only this from a highly experiences and respected trained lawyer and Jesuit Priest.

Nearly all other comments I have read seem to be full of personal bias and inaccurate half statements of facts, or half-truths as critics wish to see them.

Lots of people seem to be "casting the first stone", so many of these same people must think they are "without sin." themselves. Didn't Jesus teach us something about that? and removing the "log in one's own eye."

Thank God for Bishop Morris who had the courage of his own convictions to live by his own conscience and to pastorally lead his diocese given him by Pope (Blessed) John Paul11 as honestly as he could for eighteen years.
May he blossom in retirement.

Fr Tyrone Deere
(retired Priest of Toowoomba and Cairns Diocese.)1972-
Fr Tyrone Deere | 30 May 2011

Thank you for your very insightful article on Bishop Morris. It is acts like this by the Vatican that that create division, and point the finger of non Catholic. I love my church at a grassroots/parish level. I’m afraid I take little or no notice of the hierarchy, they have very little meaning or relevance for me. So often they seem to be teaching the opposite to what Christ taught! Or so it seems to me.

Judy | 31 May 2011

In an article on Cath News dated 30 May I was surprised to read that the article stated that Bishop Morris is not a team player. I have worked as his secretary for 13 years and I would dispute this as he is a team player, a team builder and community builder. If you are part of our diocese you would know the many and varied organisations and agencies that he has woven in the tapestry that forms the Diocese of Toowoomba. The article also states that we are a divided diocese. Such rot! The huge majority of the people in our diocese are united and are still grieving together. The small majority that aren’t united unfortunately have the voice.
Josephine Rice | 31 May 2011

"'The decision came at the end of a complex process which began 13 years ago and which ended in deadlock.' You would think someone in the Church could have done something to resolve the deadlock in that time."

Yes, indeed - Bishop Morris could have done something to resolve it. For instance, issuing a pastoral letter correcting his earlier reported comments and upholding the teaching of the Church.

"The Church is made up of members many of whom come from nations like ours where there are laws and processes which ensure transparency and natural justice. ... These expectations don't always translate readily to an ancient institution like the Catholic Church."

Ever heard of Cabinet secrecy?

"...he said he 'would ordain single or married women and married men if church policy changed'. So he was sacked, not for ordaining a woman or a married man — but for inviting a conversation about it!"

The comments quoted are not inviting a conversation. These are at best a scandalous prevarication suggesting that the impossibility of female ordination is merely a changeable Church policy. It is not. It is infallible teaching. It is not 'pastoral' to publicly flirt with error and potentially mislead souls.
Mark P | 01 June 2011

Thank you. However I am horrified by Cardinal George Pell's comments in Cath News May 29 2011. Article titled "Bishop Morris sacking 'a tragedy' but Rome was patient" Clearly the Australian Bishops do not the appetite to challenge Rome on this. Just for the record Pell does not speak for me or the people of Toowoomba.
Tim Ford | 02 June 2011

Very sad to note Bishop Bill’s comment about Archbishop Chaput’s visit on the ABC Compass program: “It was very a personable relationship. He asked me certain questions, I responded to that. But overall the 3½ days he was there I drove him around a certain section of the diocese. I was going to take him right out to Quilpie but he said it was too far to go. And basically he was more interested in seeing kangaroos and emus than he was anything else. So I got him to see kangaroos and emus too.” Sad, because it was from the pastoral perspective of remote places like Quilpie that Bill was raising the acute pastoral and ecclesiological questions.
Frank Brennan SJ | 07 June 2011

Yes Frank , despite his access to 747 jets etc ,Chaput did not have the time to go to the likes of Quilpie or Thargamindah .It is not time he lacks but Wisdom to know he should be a present day Paul (who did not hesitate to slowly travel to the most remote regions of their known world ) Most of all he gave much teaching & even more encouragement to the community leaders there regardless of gender .Priscilla comes to mind as one outstanding example of this.Sadly Chaput is more intent on spreading the word of Ratzinger rather than the Word Of God .
John Kersh | 13 June 2011


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up