Papal power in Toowoomba


Pope Benedict and sacked Bishop Bill MorrisThe forced retirement of Bishop Bill Morris raises many questions.

Some questions concern the facts of the case — why the Bishop's pastoral strategies and his reflections on ways of addressing the shortage of priests in rural dioceses were found to be inconsistent with Catholic values. These questions cannot be usefully discussed because the evidence against him and the evaluation made of it have not been publicly disclosed.

Even more significant questions concern the process that culminated in his retirement. An understated paragraph of the pastoral letter in which Bishop Morris communicated to the Toowoomba Church his decision to take early retirement raises the question sharply. He says:

I have never seen the Report prepared by the Apostolic Visitor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and without due process it has been impossible to resolve these matters, denying me natural justice without any possibility of appropriate defence and advocacy on my behalf. Pope Benedict confirmed this to me by stating 'Canon Law does not make provision for a process regarding bishops, whom the Successor of Peter nominates and may remove from Office'.

Outside observers used to the English legal system are likely to see this lack of due process and of natural justice as scandalous. They would notice the parallel with the non-statutory process by which asylum seekers on Nauru had the claims for protection assessed. It resulted in a morass of arbitrariness, and was experienced by its victims as abusive of their human dignity. In Australia, it is the case that where there is no statutory review there can be no confidence in justice.

Of course the legal system of the Catholic Church is not based on English law. It goes back a long way further than that. So it may offer assurances of justice that the outside observer might miss. But the gap makes even Catholic observers ask why the Pope should see the denial of due process as demanded by his position. And they might also muse whether the received Catholic understanding of the papacy must really exclude due process.

To understand the Pope's claim, you need to go back to the Gospels. The place of the papacy in the Church is based on the position of Peter among the 12 disciples whom Jesus chose. The Bishop of Rome is understood to stand in the same relationship to the other Bishops as did Peter to the Twelve. Peter is one of the Twelve, but is given by Christ a primacy among them. He is to strengthen his brothers in living and preaching the Gospel.

Encouraging others in faith naturally included the soft means of encouragement and example. But it has also embraced the hard responsibility to resolve disputes about faith and order when asked to do so, and also uninvited when necessary.

The analogy between the Pope and Peter suggests that the powers of the Pope are personal to him, and do not depend on the consent of the other bishops.

Over the centuries attempts were made to limit papal power by subordinating it to imperial power, to the authority of Church Councils and to the consent of other bishops. These limitations were successfully opposed on the grounds that they minimised the commission that Christ gave to Peter, and so to the Pope, to strengthen the unity in faith of the universal church.

Pope Benedict's statement that he may name and remove bishops without judicial process reflects this long defence of papal primacy in the Western Church. The personal character of Peter's powers means the Pope is not subject to church law when exercising them. This view is adamantine. Such is the volume of water that has gone under this bridge that we are unlikely to see it flowing back again.

But even if the right of the Pope to remove bishops in extraordinary circumstances is conceded, it remains in both his interests and those of the Church he serves that this be done in ways which encourage unity in faith. Such encouragement will increase or diminish according to the extent to which Catholics are confident that the Pope exercises his powers wisely and responsibly.

Confidence in any governance, including that of the Church, is weakened where there is a lack of transparency and of due process in the making of decisions that cause harm to people. Lack of accountability injures the human dignity of the people affected. Confidence grows when there is due accountability.

In received Catholic theology, the Pope is directly accountable only to God when he acts to strengthen the faith and order of the universal church. But that is perfectly compatible with a process within which his final decision is made only after a review of the reports and recommendations made by his officers. The person whose future rests on the decision should have the right to see the report and evidence upon which it is based, and to argue his case. The review of the case would thus contribute to the Pope's final decision, and not overturn a decision already made.

Modern societies rightly put much weight on transparency. Its absence is taken to discredit the institutions in which it is lacking. After the forced resignation of Bishop Morris it will be even harder for Catholics to win a hearing on issues that affect the public order.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Charles Chaput, Bill Morries, Toowoomba, bishop, forced retirement, due process, natural justice



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Existing comments

As you said Andrew ,we are supposed to be a universal Church but the opposite is so as Rome totally dominates .
Of cource some of us were well aware of this potentiality when he( Bishop Morris ) defied direction from Rome to deny any responsability towards child abuse victims .

john kersh | 05 May 2011  

Any questioning of the Church brings expulsion, but abuse by clery no matter what standing the abuser has, has NOT brought expulsion but continued support and continued abuse of the victims. Where is the justice and the message of Jesus in the gospels. afteral that's where the 'Church' gains its unwelding theology and practice! No wonder people are leaving the Church in droves.

Peter Lynch | 05 May 2011  

Well said. Without transparency the pope is not accountable in any way. The Pope may represent Jesus but he is not Jesus, is human and can sin. Transparency is the only protection both he and the church have against a misuse of his authority.

Frank Purcell | 05 May 2011  

As a Roman Catholic who no longer takes any notice of what the Pope, whoever that is from time to time, says, I am not the least bit shocked by Bishop Morris's sacking.

The arrogance of this situation is there for all to see, if only the deliberately placed blinkers were to be removed from the fearful Papal eyes.

It is bad enough that our church is, these days, better known for child buggery and rape, for child abuse and for cover-up lies than for any genuine association with the message of Jesus but this sacking of a clearly mild mannered modestly liberal minded Bishop is almost beyond belief, since it represents such a massive increase in the levels of church-wide denial.

Those local parishioners who had the gall to complain really need to come out and identify themselves and their detailed plan to increase the credibility of our church.

They will, of course, remain hidden and continue their fifth-column work until there is no church left.

And that, frankly, is the situation we deserve.

If we cannot behave in a civilised manner off our own bat, then maybe the state should step in and remove all our privileges, as would happen to a recalcitrant child, or a crimminal?

Of course, our church is not alone in the abuse of the innocent. The Salvation Army in Australia has recently apologised for sixty years of mental, physical and sexual abuse of cildren left by the state in their care.

And Toowoomba Anglicans still wince when the memory of Toowoomba Prep' School and the ex- Governor General are raised, but given the crimes of so many who would pretend to be Christian, from so many churches across the Christian fold, it seems to be a total failure for parishioners and Popes to be focusing on Morris and his 'crime' of telling the truth.

Harry Wilson | 05 May 2011  

Once again thanks to Andrew Hamilton for clarity of perception of the issues, for the wisdom he brings, the challenge he offers to us all in our own response to such issues.

MARYANNE CONFOY | 05 May 2011  

I wonder if in 300 years time, following the precedent set by the papal apology to Galileo, the then pope will issue a statement saying, 'Sorry, Bill, we stuffed up'.

Br Brian Grenier | 05 May 2011  

l love Andrew's writing but this piece is a little too conciliatory for me. No matter the theological perfume, the mechanism that allows the Pope to act against a Bishop in this way is a total anachronism and a clear breach of any reasonable civil standard let alone a medieval ecclesiology. More concerning is the reported reason behind the sacking, a suggestion that we give some thought to married clergy and, God forbid, women priests. What an absurdity. That the intellectual life of the church is so policed betrays the fragility of Rome's position. That women continue to give service to a church in which they enjoy a second class baptism is even more amazing.

Michael Elphick | 05 May 2011  

Dear Andrew, I think you have been exceedingly charitable in endeavouring to defend the indefensible. Honouring due process is not merely an aspect of English Law, with the hint that the church’s law is supra-cultural, but is fundamental to the notion of natural justice. The current Code of Canon Law upon which such determinations as the sacking of Bishop Morris are made and “justified” is not supra-cultural but rather contra-cultural.

It is antithetical to the very notion of justice by which Australian Catholics live their lives and any actions “justified” by recourse to it become a source of scandal for ordinary Australians both Catholic and non-Catholic. Of more concern is the complicity of Australian bishops in the promotion of this non-autochthonous and adamantine Code. As you rightly contend,”

Such is the volume of water that has gone under this bridge that we are unlikely to see it flowing back again.” It is time for Australian bishops to insist on the reform of the contra-cultural document and to give leadership to that reform here in Australia. Sadly it is probably the case that unless they hang together they will simply hang separately. “As sheep to the slaughter” might well have impeccable biblical warrant but as a standard for modern leadership it leaves much to be desired.

John Edwards | 05 May 2011  

Dear Andrew, I think you have been exceedingly charitable in endeavouring to defend the indefensible. Honouring due process is not merely an aspect of English Law, with the hint that the church’s law is supra-cultural, but is fundamental to the notion of natural justice. The current Code of Canon Law upon which such determinations as the sacking of Bishop Morris are made and “justified” is not supra-cultural but rather contra-cultural. It is antithetical to the very notion of justice by which Australian Catholics live their lives and any actions “justified” by recourse to it become a source of scandal for ordinary Australians both Catholic and non-Catholic. Of more concern is the complicity of Australian bishops in the promotion of this non-autochthonous and adamantine Code. As you rightly contend,” Such is the volume of water that has gone under this bridge that we are unlikely to see it flowing back again.” It is time for Australian bishops to insist on the reform of the contra-cultural document and to give leadership to that reform here in Australia. Sadly it is probably the case that unless they hang together they will simply hang separately. “As sheep to the slaughter” might well have impeccable biblical warrant but as a standard for modern leadership it leaves much to be desired.

John Edwards | 05 May 2011  

So much for the shibbolith of Collegiality of Vatican II. Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger and Fr. Karol Józef Wojtyla (Anglicised: Charles Joseph Wojtyla) in their times as Bishop of Rome have never inspired any confidence in me in their various actions,- neither has Bishop William Martin Morris

Trent | 05 May 2011  

Do you really believe that the notion of the Pope's right to absolute primacy has any better foundation than does the divine right of kings? Surely they both belong to an age or culture when power was absolute and personalised. If Jesus was setting up his church today, would he use the same model?

Ginger Meggs | 05 May 2011  

A very fine three minute video of Bishop Bill Morris can be found at

frank Brennan SJ | 05 May 2011  

Thanks Andrew for enlightening us on the sacking of Bishop Bill Morris, particularly your explanation of why 'Canon Law does not make provision for a process regarding bishops, whom the Successor of Peter nominates and may remove from Office'. I see that, when it comes to Church authority, the Church errs in literalism - taking too literally the story of the Gospels. It took us over 300 years to learn to not take the creation story of Genesis as historical (far less scientific) fact. We can expect it will take longer to recognise that Peter's Christ-given primacy among the Twelve, in keeping with religious and civil society of his time, cannot serve as the model for papal authority for evermore. As adequately pointed out in prior comments, the Church cannot expect to retain the commitment of modern Catholics when it acts in ways which we consider abhorrent in civil society the world over. When papal authority is made subject to at least a collegiate system of cardinals, it will still be following the model of Jesus' elevation of Peter to be the leader, in the manner of his time. Will there still be any Catholics left to enjoy the change?

Ian Fraser | 05 May 2011  

The resignation of the bishop (not "sacking") is not analogous with the horrors of paedophilia and comparisons with it are irrelevant to this debate. The bishop was foolish to publicly embrace a position that he knows is contrary to gospel and Church teaching (or interpretation). He certainly would have known the controversy that would follow and the damage that would do to the common good within the Church. This is evident in a number of the comments here.The Euroentric Vatican response has, however, done more damage.Both the bishop and the Vatican should recognise the damage each has caused and apologise to their people.Both sides have failed in their obligations to the faithful. Perhaps the bishop is trying too hard to be a common man. Perhaps he has forgotten the uniqueness of his ordination as one of Christ's priests.

John Frawley | 05 May 2011  

In this debate we are avoiding the ‘P’ word and the ‘I’ word, both defined by Pius IX [1792-1878] at the first Vatican Council [1869-1870]. This demonstration of enlightened self-interest further promulgated the view that the pope was, and presumable still is, an expert on everything. How can this possibly be true? These claims, and those of Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctum [1302], are unsustainable. Refer: The Telegraph [23 Nov 2006] The Pope has shocked theologians and opened a chink in the theory of papal infallibility by saying that people should feel free to disagree with what he has written in his latest book, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ a meditation on Jesus Christ. In the matter of Benedict vs Morris, Benedict has acted beyond the scope of his powers, ‘ultra virus’, neither a sound nor practical judgment. By any reasonable assessment, the Holy Father as denied Bishop Morris the transparency of natural justice, the right to know the evidence given against him, the right to face his accusers, the right to mount his own defence, and the right of appeal. How, in good conscience, can the Australian Bishops Conference tacitly support such a course of action?

Dermott Ryder | 05 May 2011  

Some suggest the decline of the church commenced with Vatican II. I'd suggest it started with the declaration of infallibility in the mid 19th century. Once you allow a human to be god like, it's a slippery slide towards a cult of worship that is not aimed at God. You just have to look at WYD where it's all about the Pope and not much else to see what I'm getting at.

Erik H | 05 May 2011  

Thanks for this article. I have been very surprised that this has not received attention in the main stream media. I remain gobsmacked at this decision, particularly given married (ex-Anglican) priests already in the ranks of the Roman clergy, and married priests in many other rites of the Catholic church. As for women priests, if the reasons for male-only ordination are truly compelling in their definitiveness, let's have that discussion. Many are willing to be persuaded but the church's refusal to even countenance a discussion on the issue is mind-boggling. Given Bishop Morris' empathy with victims of abuse by the church, and given the church's treatment of abusers in the clergy, it is at times very difficult not to be cynical.

MBG | 05 May 2011  

Is this the straw that is going to break the back of the autocratic centralism that is Curial rule? Bishops of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Uncle Pat | 05 May 2011  

This article is so to the point. How can Catholics trust the Church and even the Curia & Papal authority when there is a lack of due process and clarity. God knows the church at all levels was anything but transparent in relation to clerical sexual abuse, even to the point of serious omissions of justice in relation to the victims, until recent times. Now we have a Bishop greatly loved & respected by his fellow priests & the people of his Diocese forced to resign. No wonder the church is loosing credibility & loosing once devout Catholics fast! We need to pray for all concerned in this saga especially Bishop Morris. Margaret M.Coffey

Margaret M.Coffey | 05 May 2011  

Andrew: I must concur with a number of commenters in pointing out your reserve on this matter. I do think, however, that you do indicate that a principal evangelical role of the flawed Peter is to strengthen his flawed brothers and sisters. A major problem here is that Peter has been either unwilling (JP II?) or too defensive and ecclesiastically self interested (B XVI?) in dealing with the real 'skandalon' of egregiously flawed brethren at the expense of a perceive peccadillo of a bush Bishop. One of the major concerns on +Bill Morris was to guarantee the Eucharist to his people and, in the process, simply speculated along with others in the wider Church on possible pastoral strategies which might be required to achieve this. I think your confrere Karl Rahner sj had similar thing to say about this as far back as the late 1930's. More importantly though is that the highest levels of the Church are presenting an institutional image not at all that far removed from the 'immaculate purity' of totalitarian regimes such as the old USSR, China, Nth Korea or the theocracies entrenched in places such as Iran. These institutions are fundamentally weak and ultimately doomed because they will not allow themselves to be scrutinised, examined, called to account or tested under the blow torch of critical questioning. Above all and sadly, I think, we are witnessing the Church losing its nerve and failing in love.

David Timbs | 05 May 2011  

Many thanks Andrew for your critique of Justice as exercised by Papal Central authorities - dishonesty, secrecy and unaccountability to any human rights. Paul would not have heard of these cautions when he publicly told Peter off for being plain wrong - no doubts there.

Brian F KENNEDY | 05 May 2011  

Congratulations Andrew for your explanation of the pope's authority. As in all things pertaining to personhood - there are two aspects: the spiritual and the human. Based upon an interpretation of Matthew's Gospel Peter was appointed personally by Christ to head up a Church. It is strange that the word church appears only twice in Scripture (Mtt 16:18; 18:17). In the same chapter Matthew tells us too that Jesus called Peter Satan (16:23), "you are a stumbling block to me." As the elected pope Ratzinger has personal accountability to God, but as a human being he is accountable to each other human person on this planet. The overall message in Scripture is Christ's example of how we should live: we are here to serve each other. It seems to me that the pope has placed himself outside of society, and the people of God by destroying the meaning of relationship. The reason Jesus allowed himself to be executed was to show that love does not destroy relationships. I think the best way to change the way the pope thinks is for the Australian bishops to band together and protest.

Trish Martin | 05 May 2011  

Christ established His Church to provide guidance to His people in living good lives. He articulated clearly in the gospels, particularly in His Sermon on the Mount, what it meant to be a 'Christian'. I find it increasingly difficult to find Christ-likeness, Christ's message of love, in the leadership of Christ's Church. Andrew has carefully demonstrated that the Pope's action in forcing the resignation of Bishop Morris fails, at the least, the secular good governance tests of due process, transparency and accountability. More importantly, the Pope's action fails the fundamental Christian test of behaviour based on Christ-likeness, of love. The Church's decision making is that of an arrogant autocracy. The Church has lost its way. What can and should the People of the Church do about this? Answering that question is now urgent. 

Peter Johnstone | 05 May 2011  

For the Pope to argue that 'Canon Law does not make provision for a process regarding bishops, whom the Successor of Peter nominates and may remove from Office' at will, is nonsense. If Canon Law is deficient, it can easily be amended as any set of laws anywhere in the world. They were made by men, not God. At present it appears that God is really Canon Law worshipped by and controlling an objectively disordered Pope. If he thinks, as he obviously does, like his predecessor, then the hierarchical church is on a steep path to oblivion. It's time for us to let Rome know we stand. We cannot depend on the bishops to emerge from their bunker. The continuing official silence from the members of the Australian Bishops' Conference, meeting this week, is itself scandalous. It it just another 'elephant in the room' to add to their shameful list of "no-go" issues? They have the chance, at their coming 'Ad Limina' jaunt to Rome later this year, to stand up to Benedict and his Curia. But don't hold your breath!

Richard Flynn | 05 May 2011  

What’s profoundly sad about the forced retirement of Bishop William Morris is that Rome has given credence to the small percentage of clergy and laity of the Diocese of Toowoomba who have complained to Rome about his leadership. Bishop Morris had the support of the vast majority of his clergy and the laity of the Diocese as evidenced by the letter of the Consulters of the Diocese posted on the Diocese website. The “god police” have done it again. They even succeeded in embarrassing the Apostolic Nuncio not so long ago who was forced to withdraw his endorsement of a decision by the late Bishop Joe Greck, the Bishop of Sandhurst, approving the use of one of our Bendigo churches by the local Anglicans whose cathedral was/is out of repair, for the ordination of candidates to their priesthood. Rome acted because some of the candidates for ordination were women. The vast majority of Catholics of Bendigo were stunned at the decision to withdraw permission. (From memory, Eureka Street was quite equivocal about the matter!) Thirty years ago in Toomoomba my family and I sat through an unedifying display by a small number of the congregation at the Mass we were attending in one of the churches there (I can’t remember which one) who openly and stridently objected to an appeal by the priest in his homily for compassion and re-acceptance of those of the faithful who had had the misfortune of a broken marriage. Poor Bishop Morris; what a poisonous atmosphere to work in!

Joe | 05 May 2011  

Words such as transparency and accountability get used so often these days that their meaning becomes unclear. They become like icons or false idols. Andrew you may bow down to the alter of accountablity but doing so undermines yours and others faith in the Church and the Pope. Bishop Bills comments about ordination and marriage are contrary to that of the Church. A man in such I high position saying such things does damage to the Church. Forced resignation was clearly the right decision. Seeing some of the Bishops flock on tv they were clearly swept away by the false spirit of V2. Your article in itself undermines people faith in the Church.

Alex | 05 May 2011  

Yep, the ground is swelling!

Trish Taylor | 05 May 2011  

I am disturbed to think that some people attend Mass to watch and report on priests and bishops, rather than enter into the spirit of the Mass. Fundamentalism appears to be the cause. It's a pity they don't realise that the most important fundamental is love.

MBG | 05 May 2011  

I am truly amazed that this pope hides behind obscure church regulations to find guilty a bishop without discussion, without giving him a chance to defend or explain, without compassion. This from the head of a church which has not condemned priests guilty of raping children, protecting the perpetrators, ignoring the victims, and not being all inclusive, but treating women as second class members of the church. If people, like myself, leave the church in drvoves, it really doesn't deserve any better. We expect justice, openness, accountability in all varieties of authorities. What makes the church so different?

Manfred Hacker | 05 May 2011  

In the last thirty years as a Principal of Catholic Schools, the Diocesan Office advertised the positions and members of the local community interviewed and chose the person that they had discerned would be the best person to lead their school.

If the Pope can appoint and dismiss as he wishes, how about we advertise the vacancy and empower a panel of priests and laity to
choose the person that would best serve our Diocese?

Thomas Curran | 05 May 2011  

Once more I am disappointed with the institutional church. I always understood that the role of bishops is one of leadership and equality with other bishops, dioceses and relevant structures. The Local Bishop's role is in my mind what the church is all about This decision seems to me to be about authority - not about the Gospels. Perhaps I am wrong - perhaps our Church is only an institution for structures and conformity. We see here that the Institution is in someway threatened by Bishop Morris and as a result the Institution's decision will affect the People of God.

The Gospels record for me the interaction between Jesus and his contemporary Jewish Institution. Is this again what is happening? Is Vatican 11 teaching on The Church as the People of God still valid teaching today? What is our church all about? Who are the poor and the down - trodden? Is Bishop Morris one of our downtrodden,baptised people, trying to live Christ's demands for his followers? Or is our Church an instrument of authority and power. What a pity that the teachings of Vatican 11 seemingly have been lost and replaced by authority, conformity and excluding the needy. John Elliott

John Elliott | 05 May 2011  

Thanks Andrew for a very polished and balanced article. Although it is clear that the Pope has the right to sack this bishop,but it does not look at all good;paradoxically seems inherently un-Christ-like and demonstrates poor judgement in terms of the good of the Church in Australia and the credibility of its leadership. God help us!

Eugene | 05 May 2011  

Bishop Bill Morris is a worthy successor to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson as co-chair of the National Professional Standards Committee, the one that deals with Abuse and failure to observe a professional standard by Church employees and volunteers. He has shown decisive action on this in his own diocese even to the point of publicly stating he would negotiate settlements with representatives of abused children. He has shown openness and honesty not always available from some of his peers. Has this also made him unpopular?

Anne | 05 May 2011  

Thank you Andrew for your fair and thought provoking articles - as usual.

Whilst few of us are privy to the full background leading to Bishop Morris'forced early retirement, and we certainly wont ever read the mind of Benedict and Curia officials or see Archbishop Chabot's report concerning his performance as Bishop, it is a tremendous let-down to witness another Bishop being penalised for promoting discussion on matters which so many ordinary Catholic people hold as sensible and reasonable anyway. I am reminded of former Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's unfortunate departure a few years ago.

The Church, if likened to a huge international corporation at a secular level, has a lot to learn about modern HR counselling, conciliation and mediation processes irrespective of Canon Law.

I would like to believe that the ACBC demonstrated its solidarity with a brother bishop by actively supporting him when the investigations started. I find the authoritarian structures and procedures of the Vatican unacceptable and quite unnecessary in our supposed enlightened Church. Where is the collegiality of the Bishops?

John Angus | 05 May 2011  

I am able to maintain some of my catholic faith by believing we are followers of jesus who exhibited love & kindness as an example to us all.However the hypocracy & lack of love and compassion exhibited by ou r leadership puts these feelings to the test.The trial -inquisition of bishop morris has gone on for more than 3 years----where is the love and justice --no jury --no explanation.

BRIAN MARTIN | 05 May 2011  

I have a couple of fundamental questions: did Bishop Morris act in accordance with the vows and promises he made as a priest and bishop? Were the 'powers' in Rome acting within their rightful jurisdiction? Did they take a reasonable length of time to investigate what was going on?

There is a lot of passion and pain being expressed, but very little substance about what Bishop Morris is supposed to have done.

The negative attacks on Rome and the 'powers that be' are as worrying as the perceived unfair dismissal of Bishop Morris. Time for some cool heads.

Cate | 05 May 2011  

Where the hell is God in all this? I wonder what Jesus would do if he were a member of the Toowoomba diocese, if he were Bill Morris, if he were the Pope?

Norbert | 05 May 2011  

Unlike much of the near-hysterical reporting of this issue, can I point readers to the report on the ABC Online website, which gives a very balanced report.

Bishops, Priests and Deacons freely vow obedience to those in authority over them. Is this is this a relative or subjective agreement? What does it mean to make this vow?Perhaps Bishop Morris vowed: "I will be obedient if it aligns with my personal opinion."

Its disappointing but not surprising to see some clergy showing little wisdom or restraint in their criticism of those in authority. Where is your obligation to build bridges and foster peace? When read in the light of day, Bishop Morris' resistance to Rome has been going on for a long time. This is not some summary execution as some Catholics are complaining.

I'm concerned by the rise of an emotional 'nationalistic' - parochial- Aussie -Church brigade. It is almost 'separatist' in flavour. There is a price to pay for unity with Rome. Maybe if its too great a price for some. Perhaps someone should found an Aussie "Reformed" Catholic Church where you can be rid of "Papal Power". It will be interesting to see who you elect as your "pope" (and bishops). (Makes me think of that Seekers' song: "We'll build a world of our own"...)

Matthew | 05 May 2011  

'If the grain of wheat dies,it brings forth much fruit'....Fruit is already emerging in the united front against such anti-gospel power, injustice, domination and control. We must continue to unite our voices because 'enough is enough'. Only through such unity will the Spirit breathe over our 'dead bones' and raise us up as the Body of Christ to be Bread broken for our world.

Diana Law s.g.s | 05 May 2011  

Among the many issues you have raised in your article, Andrew, you state the following:

"In received Catholic theology, the Pope is directly accountable only to God when he acts to strengthen the faith and order of the universal church. "

I'm not sure what "received Catholic theology" entails. Does it mean an interpretation of theology by the Church fathers which is meant to be received and dutifully obeyed by members of the Church? If so, it seems to me to be a precocious assumption by the hierarchy.

Surely the commission that Jesus gave to Peter would have included an understanding that Peter, while directly accountable to God, would confer also with his fellow apostles and friends (including the women) and not merely dictate to them? After all, they'd all been friends and helpmates for some time and while Peter was strong and loving he was also vulnerable and hesitant in many ways.

However balanced and logical your article might be, I'm afraid it doesn't really ease the sense of doom this latest incident by a Church official has caused.
Thanks for a good article anyway.

Jan Coleman | 05 May 2011  

Thanks Andrew for a wonderful article. Once again a very sad day for the Australian Church. It is becoming very hard to remain within the official church. I just feel so frustrated that there is nothing practical I or any ordinary Catholic can do to register my/our distress at this latest example of exercise of the ancient rite of Rule by Divine Right which brooks no dissent!

Gavin O'Brien | 05 May 2011  

Some wise person (was it you, Andy?) said quite recently that the church is most at risk not from atheist critics like Christopher Hitchens but from the fundamentalism in its ranks. It seems important at this time to remember that the church is the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself. As a human and dynamic institution, the church must be open to change according to the needs of its adherents for ever closer relationship with God.

Cecily McNeill, Wellington, NZ | 06 May 2011  

My bishop (in Mobile, USA) wants me to respect his authority in the local church. But why should I respect it when the Vatican does not even respect it?

Jerry Darring | 06 May 2011  

Thank you Andrew for another very reasoned article. It is spot on - the recent decision of the Pope deepens the gap between the potential good the church (clergy & lay) COULD achieve in the world & what it ACTUALLY achieves. We are all damaged when our institutional 'leaders' do not put into practice what they preach.

Jim, Concord NSW | 06 May 2011  

It's just the blokes' club in Rome protecting their turf . . . and power . . . as usual . . . so what's new? There is a problem they have not dealt with yet . . or perhaps even realised that it is a problem. The majority of us (in the "West" today) have actually had an education. We are no longer mediaeval peasants who can't read or write. We have all been through an education system to some extent, and even our news broadcasts/newspapers,despite the dumbing down to fit into 30 second grabs, encourage us to think critically. Then, in spite of us being taught to think critically, and consider material from the point of view of somebody who is intelligent, we are asked, when we are in church, to switch this critical faculty off . . . and say, "yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full . . ." or perhaps in this case, "yes holy father, no holy father etc etc" . . . you get my drift? The Bill Morris situation is one of a number over the last few years, where it seems to me that the Pope, the authorities in Rome, Cardinal Pell etc are really trying to say, "Don't bring your critical faculties into Church." Or in simpler words . . . when you come into Church, leave your thought processes at the door and pick them up on the way out.

Robert Rennick | 07 May 2011  

Andrew, it is good that you have drawn attention to the apostle Peter. He seems to have been a great and good man, a disciple who loved Jesus deeply. But the NT also records weaknesses. On a memorable occasion he badly misunderstood Jesus and earned the stinging rebuke, ‘Get behind me Satan’ (Mt 16.21-23). He denied Jesus during the Passion (Mk 14.66-72). As regards his role in the church, he is described as the rock on which the Church is founded and the key-bearer of the Kingdom (Mt 16.18-19), the strengthener of the brethren (Lk 22.32), the pastor of the flock (Jn 21.15-17). The Acts of the Apostles presents him as the leader of the early Christians (e.g., Acts 1.15).

But there are other interesting passages. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaritans were baptised, we are told that they sent Peter and John to Samaria (Acts 8.14). At the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, although Peter gave an important speech, James expressed the ruling (Acts 15.5-29). And Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, writes of a dramatic encounter at Antioch, in which Paul ‘opposed him (Peter) to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong’ (Gal.2.11). (Both Peter and Paul were later martyred in Rome, according to reliable traditions.)

John Wilcken | 09 May 2011  

I can remember years ago sitting with my father and a now retired bishop as the doctrine of "Papal Infallibility" was discussed. The bishop commented along the lines, if it was now the doctrine wouldn't happen. To me I'm infallible because we say so always seemed to me flawed in logic and a rather blunt instrument to use in the exploration of matters of faith. I'm left wondering if the discussion should be taken wider.

John D | 10 May 2011  

Thank you Andew for this balanced and fair assessment of this disturbing process.

charles burford | 10 May 2011  

1. There is no lack of "due" process re. the Pope's nomination and removal of bishops. The Church is not some Enlightenment-inspired constitutional democracy of human devising, with balanced and separated powers. She is a divine autocracy, with the Pope as Her visible head on earth. Who could possibly "review" the decision of the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church? A panel of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael? And to whom would one appeal from that review? The Full Bench of the Heavenly Host? 2. The timetable of this saga, as now revealed by his "Consultors", severely compromises Bishop Morris's complaint that natural justice was denied to him. Rome had every right to summon him and to discipline him on a matter it regarded as of the utmost seriousness. His procrastinations belie a contempt for due authority. For example, he refused the first summons to Rome for "pastoral" reasons. This is nothing more than moral grandstanding: as if Rome's consternation was not itself based on the spiritual welfare of the Toowoomba flock? Who has the ultimate call here? The local ordinary or the Supreme Pontiff? If the former, then why does the about-to-be-consecrated bishop solemnly swear to obey the Supreme Pontiff? Or aren't we to take this promise as anything more than mere puffery? There's a very good case to be made that it is Bishop Morris, not Rome, who has failed to deliver what was due.

HH | 12 May 2011  

FOR BISHOP MORRIS due process and justice is code for submitting to his personal infallible magisterium

FATHER JOHN GEORGE | 13 May 2011  

How can any man (or woman) claim to be “infallible”? Surely only God is infallible. What arrogance can lead a pope to believe that only he can receive the full truth from the Holy Spirit? How has the church reached the point where the pope alone deems who may or may not be a bishop? That only a celibate male may be a priest?

The reading for Saturday 14th May is Acts 1:15-17, 20-26. It covers the replacement of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.

Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers and sisters
(there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place)....So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.

Why has the church not stayed faithful to this earliest tradition, that the people (both men and women) elected their leaders?

How is it that we allow clericalism to continue, and don’t reclaim our power as the People of God: priests, prophets, and kings. Our “leaders” have ignored the specific instruction of Jesus to the quarrelling apostles, about who was the greatest amongst them. Jesus told them that in order to be a leader, one must serve.

And why is it that the Roman hierarchy places great importance in unimportant, peripheral things, things not central to our faith, such as stating “infallibly” that women may not be priests, whilst for so long ignoring important things, such as the shameful and anti-Christian behaviour of some clergy who sexually and physically abused the children in their care.

How could a church hierarchy, if it truly listened to the Holy Spirit rather than sought to exercise power and control, ignore the movement of the Holy Spirit amongst Catholics in Australia, who have a developed consensus that a rapidly declining number of male celibate priests calls for an acceptance of alternative models of leadership. How can we ignore the calling by God of women and married men to priesthood?

How can the Roman hierarchy insult the intelligence of Catholics by insisting only celibate males may enter the priesthood? Look at this:

Why has our church reached the point where the clothing a priest wears during Mass seems as important, if not more important to Rome and a small band of self-appointed temple police than the faith itself?

Do they not see that the church has come full circle since the Jesus’ time, when he railed against those Jewish lawyers who laid impossible burdens on people’s shoulders; that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not vice versa? What is Rome doing to us now?

Frank S | 14 May 2011  

Gosh, as a franciscan and a member of this church I am once again saddened by what I read, saddened by a lot of things these days. Yet, I know that regardless of how sad I get, will get, Jesus as a model of love and compassion encourages me beyond measure that I have a living faith, a living hope and a very purposeful joy in that man does what man does and God,in this infinite love and mercy is my saviour.

Brother Cledwyn Stafford | 15 May 2011  

"By their fruits...". How empty are the churches in Australia? How many vocations have been nourished? Vatican II was meant to bring the people into the Church. It seems rather to have driven them out.

Gabriel Austin | 16 May 2011  

So much time wasting suggesting that other people, Pope and Bishop Morris or theRoman Curia should change and convert to "Jesus and its ghospel".I wonder who should really convert. From what I know, it seems to me that, as Bishop Morris took the reins of the his diocese, should have known some rules and regulations, no matter how preposterously old fashioned they may consider to be. It is like playing football and wanting to bend existing rules to your liking!

Tony | 02 June 2011  

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