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Trust at stake in Toowoomba


Bishop Bill MorrisThe Australian Bishops' response to the forced retirement of Bishop Bill Morris was as good as could have been hoped. It affirmed the Pope's right to dismiss bishops, affirmed the personal and pastoral qualities of Bishop Morris, simply reported the situation that led to the dismissal, and promised to take up the question of the process with the Pope.

The kindly tone of the letter offers good hope that the bishops will maintain the personal links with Bishop Morris that matter more than words.

It may be helpful to look at what happened in Toowoomba against the much larger question of trust in governance. Significant cultural changes have affected all institutions, including national governments as well as churches.

All governance relies on a passive trust on the part of the people if it is to function well. If trust is not given, laws will not be obeyed. When trust is withdrawn, societies stagnate because they lack any sense of the common good. They become polarised, and governments often rule by repression. The officials responsible for day to day governance become demoralised and unenthusiastic.

In Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East, apparently impregnable regimes can be brought down because trust is lacking.

Traditionally, institutions have encouraged trust by depicting their rulers as strong and benign and as guided by the best of values. But these images, and the trust they engender, have been put under pressure by the development of communication technologies and the lack of control over them. Images have become personalised.

Leaders of institutions must use sophisticated means of communication to project their own image and the values they represent. Their personalities become the face of the institution and the guarantee of good governance.

But the inability of institutions to control communication leaves them vulnerable. The link between the projected image and values and the reality is constantly tested by a stream of information and of critical judgments. The strong leader is shown to bow to pressure groups; the defender of family values is revealed to be a philanderer; the exact administrator is shown to run a shambles.

This erosion of trust results in a general public disillusionment with leaders and their professed programs. It also encourages the political paralysis visible in Australia, Europe and the United States.

We might expect to see two responses to this challenge. The first will be to look for substance rather than style in leadership, and to ensure that the fit between the image of leaders, their stated values and their governance is so adamantine that exposure will not corrode the image. The second is to control the image by controlling communications, marginalising critics and criminalising leaks. This hard choice underlies the anxieties revealed by the debate over Wikileaks.

The retirement of Bishop Morris is illuminated when seen against this broad context. The Catholic Church has also been affected by the changes in communication. Particularly during the pontificate of John Paul II, whose travels were carefully choreographed, it has promoted the image of the Pope and the values he professes by focusing on his personality.

This focus also inevitably leads to speculation about the match between the image of the Pope and bishops and the reality of their commitment to the values of the Gospel they profess. The image becomes uncontrollable.

The catalyst for a widespread perception that in the Catholic Church image and reality do not match has been the publicity given by the media to widespread incidence of sexual abuse in the Church and to its mishandling by bishops, including by Pope John Paul II. It seemed that human beings mattered less than the institutional interests of the Church.

The treatment of Bishop Bill Morris risks further blurring the image of the Catholic Church. The story told of a good man who encouraged his church, who was resolute in dealing with sexual abuse, but was removed in an untransparent process, will confirm many in their distrust of the Catholic Church. They wlll conclude that it has taken the authoritarian option.

We may ask, of course, whether this matters.Such judgments can be represented as simply a matter of public relations, without anything to do with truth and reality.

This argument has some weight. For most Catholics, bishops and popes are not central in their faith. They remain committed to churches because they find God within face to face connection with other Christians. They presume that their bishops and the Vatican will tend to the good of the Church, but are not much interested in their interrelationships.

But for many people, especially those living in Bishop Morris' own church and those who are well-read, it will erode trust in Pope and bishops.

Pope and bishops are images of the Church and of its commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It matters that the values of the Gospel and the best values of our society are reflected in the way in which they act. It is a condition of commending the Gospel and its values within a sceptical society.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Bishop Bill Morris, Australian Bishops, letter, Pope, forced retirement



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Existing comments

And they said "Lord to whom would be go. You have the words of eternal life". It is the same here in the American Heirarchy. eg Elizabeth Johnson, the Maryknoll preist Roy B who I met and celebrate with at the SOA Watch. But only male priests can give us the Eucharist so I still go to celebrate but pay little heed to the heirarchy. we in the pews are the Church, Blessing to your bishop and pray for a new Pope and cannonization of John XXIII!

Mary Margaret Flynn MD | 16 May 2011  

It seems to me that Bishop Morris effectively used communication to tell his story. His story effectively led to people supporting him. What this communication told many outside of Australia was that he had created his own cult and was defending it at the expense of the Church and the souls entrusted to him. Somehow a 13 year process in which the Bishop refused to meet with people in Rome is translated into suffering. Trust is a tricky issue. I don't trust Bishop Morris.

Mary | 16 May 2011  

I am not sure why there is so much angst about this. God has never said that He is 'democratic' as far as I am aware. The Pope is God's representative on Earth, and is infallible as a result of this direct link. God, therefore, sacked the Toowoomba Bishop. How can there be any complaint? However, if that has passed the Roman Catholic congregations by for the last couple of thousand years, maybe now is the time to accept that the superstructure of the Roman Catholic (and all other) church has reached its use-by date. This act of Godly intervention by the Pope, should alert people to the need for the church, as a corporate business, to whither and die. Individuals can retain their faith, and decide for themselves, in conversation with their interpretation of God, what to do. Yesterday I was in Brisbane outside the Trades Hall when the sacked priest Kennedy's and his congregation came out to their cars. They all looked happy enough to be free of Bathersby and the Pope. Roman Catholics do not need the Pope, he too should be sacked, not by God, but by the people of God, the parishioners who know better.

Harry Wilson | 16 May 2011  

I believe that the sentiments expressed in the first sentence of this feature,

“The Australian Bishops' response to the forced retirement of Bishop Bill Morris was as good as could have been hoped.”

to be totally at odds with any rational reading of the cutting down of Bishop Morris, a good and courageous leader, a true Shepherd of his flock.

The passive acceptance of the Australian Bishops Conference is yet another example of their lack of courage in facing the obvious and inevitable conclusion that we the faithful have the right and responsibility to challenge papal authority in circumstance like this where decisions and actions are demonstrably inappropriate, or if you will, just plain wrong.

This rule by fiat and the tacit acceptance of it is undermining the trust relationship between congregation and leadership.

We elect leader in all walks of life, the time has come when we must reclaim the right to have a say in the election of our Bishops to office and a say in their removal – or not – as the case may be. Domine, exuadi orationem meam.

Dermott Ryder | 16 May 2011  

Err, the Faith was at stake in Toowomba. Bishop Morris was removed for teaching in error. The Pope cannot have Toowomba's Bishop teaching error and leading others into error. There is fairness owed to Bishop Morris when he persisted in deviating from Church teaching. Sorry, but Bishop Morris and others here who want a kinder, gentler, permissive church should join the Uniting Church.

Godfrey Saint | 16 May 2011  

It took the women of the church in religious orders to speak out strongly in support of Bishop Morris. Don't the powers to be in Rome know they have lost the power of authority on everyday Catholics? It is a shame they can still sack good Pastors

Maureen Stewart | 16 May 2011  

"It seemed that human beings mattered less than the institutional interests of the Church" was the best quote in the above article - "pray and pay and never rock the boat" is still in operation

pat | 16 May 2011  

Dear Andy, Congratulations on adding this postscript to your earlier article on this vexed subject. As parishioners many of us care deeply about the image that our church presents and the Bishop Morris saga troubles us greatly. Justice must not only be done, but it needs to be open and transparent. The process carried out doesn't nearly meet these criteria. Our church hierarchy must respond to this or lose further credibility in the eyes of its followers and the wider community.

Trevor Fogarty (Maffra) | 16 May 2011  

It seems a few people posting comments are confused... firstly Harry. The pope speaks infallibly only according to strict criteria. The appointment and removal of bishops does not meet that criteria, nor could it. Secondly, to Godfrey. Bishop Morris was not deviating from church teaching, but rather willing to have converstaions that Rome was not. It is for this he was removed. Other reported liturgical variances were promptly dealt with by the Bishop when raised (re: celebration of third rite of reconciliation) The situation is very different to South Brisbane, in which a priest was teaching contrary to the faith, and baptising using an invalid formula (putting at risk the recognition of baptism within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the wider Christian community). Bishop Bill was trying to engage in pro-active discussion to ensure the continued survival of Eucharistic communities in his diocese. He stepped outside of the parameters for discussion allowed by the Vatican, and his early retirement is the result.

Luke | 16 May 2011  

Thanks for another good article, Andrew.You tackle so many issues with strength and balance. BUT - personalities, image, autocracy, none of this works any more in our changing society. "In Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East, apparently impregnable regimes can be brought down because trust is lacking." Trust in the Catholic Church's governance is now so eroded that something big has to be done to change this particular regime. So many strong groups of bishops, priests, nuns and lay people meet together and make resolutions and statements which they direct to both the public and to the Pope. But the Pope sits on a high throne and turns a blind eye to the foment beneath. Thus all these myriad protests count for nought. A surge of people power, that's our need now if we want to change the 'status quo immobile'. The people of the Church who still call it home despite much distress will have to rise up in such vast numbers that the throne will be obliged to adjust to its proper level.

Jan Coleman | 16 May 2011  

Andrew, I wonder if we changed the sentence, "Pope and bishops are IMAGES of the Church and of its commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" to "Pope and bishops are REPRESENTATIVES of the AUSTRALIAN Church and of its commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" whether it would be in any way true. I suspect few Australian Catholics, and even less in Toowoomba, would agree with it.

John Edwards | 16 May 2011  

Excellent article. Hits the nail on the head - especially the words
"The second is to control the image by controlling communications, marginalising critics and criminalising leaks"

A great injustice has taken place. More of the same will happen if most people press the "stay silent" button

One thing we can do is pray that the next pope will not continue the present trend of deleting Vatican Two

One way to pray for the next pope:

Fr John Wotherspoon o.m.i | 16 May 2011  

It seems that the bishop failed to get the message after 13 years of discussions. Either very recalcitrant or staggeringly self- obsessed.

A bit like a football player who insists on playing to his own rules and incurs numerous penalties against his own team!The bishop has certainly burdened the church with penalties inflicted by parishioners and the largely uninformed secular press. Any good coach would drop such a player. The team would obviously do much better without him.

john frawley | 16 May 2011  

In our Sunday supplement at St Bernadette's, Castle Hill, NSW, we were told that in Toowoomba there were issues to do with doctrine and discipline, not pastoral devotion. This article does not mention this.

The 'image' of journalists, not simply the image of the Church, is tarnished when full objectivity does not govern their practice. To write, implicitly, as if there were no serious issues of doctrine and discipline at stake (though we don't know what they were) is to fail journalism and the common good.

Dr Susan Reibel Moore | 16 May 2011  

Thank you, Andrew, for raising the subject of Bishop Morris' retirement above the level of internecine conflict - so beloved by the secular media.

"problems of doctrine and discipline" remain unresolved. I think in that statement a majority of the Bishops is nailing its colours to the mast.
To mix metaphors they are saying: "Yes, Benedict, you're the umpire. You've made your decision.That's your job. But we'd like to have a discussion at the Match Review Committee to learn what particular rule(s) has/have been broken. And whether or not it was within the spirit of the game to send our goalkeeper off when he was one of the few players keeping us in the game. And keeping our supporters loyal."

Uncle Pat | 16 May 2011  

Might this have anything to do with Bishop Morris' pastoral letter posted on the Toowoomba Diocesan Website? "...Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. As has been discussed internationally, nationally and locally the ideas of: • ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community; • welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry; • ordaining women, married or single; • recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders. We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas..."

Casey Collins | 16 May 2011  

Andrew, this is a fair and honest commentary on an issue which is central to the identity, survival and continued growth of the Church. No institution can expect any of these things without trust built on transparency and truth. Unfortunately, apart from primary sources coming out of Toowoomba, we are left in the dark about the +Chaput report to Rome and the matters of 'doctrine and discipline' which led to +Bill Morris' early retirement. This kind of 'Pontifical Secrecy,' on the level of perception alone, appears to be the protocol of an ecclesiastical Institution from another age not our own.

Dr Reibel Moore, quite defensively I think, finds this piece of journalism lacking objectivity and honesty when it is Rome itself that hinders the search for truth by exercising its own obscure ideological self-interest.

One of the great evagelical virtues Mark (8:32) stresses in Jesus' discipleship teaching was that of candour, "And he said this plainly (parhresia)." So far that kind of plain talking has emerged largely only from Toowoomba not from Rome

David Timbs | 16 May 2011  

As one of those ordinary Catholics (not well read) as Andrew Hamilton puts it) I am happy to practise my faith and rejoice in my personal relationship with God. I sit back and smile at the power play and bickering that goes on even at the parish level. Sometimes I think it is a case of too many "chiefs" trying to run the church. Let us not forget the real Chief - GOD - Could some of the chiefs ask themselves "What would He do in circumstances like these?" Just an added observation. We're running out of indians!

Clare Walsh | 16 May 2011  

Gee we do need some leaks here! Who among us is informed sufficiently to report or comment upon a matter which is clothed in so much secrecy. Andrew is right. The issue is one of communication at all levels within the heirarchical and clerical levels of the Church and with the People of God, of which they are but a part. Pope John Paul reminded priests that they are but administrators of the heritages of Christ for the People of God whom they are appointed to serve. Pope and bishop are firstly priests. Somehow it has all been set upside down.The People live off the crumbs that fall from the communication desk in any matter that differs from the perceived status and function of those set in charge over them or does not grab there personal interest.

We do not need WikiGee leaks to come back to essentials. Each one of us is in a personal relationship with God sought by the Father, sustained by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Sacraments are the principle sustenance. Though the People may not have these available to them, because of factors relevant to papal authority as it is seen to exist, and even where they are available, pope, bishop and priest are not essential to one's relationship with God. To a large degree these clerics supplant God in many minds and practices of the People of God.

Also recall what Jesus said to the first Pope - get behind me satan and man of little faith.That Pope betrayed Jesus three times. Nothing different should be expected from our present Pope.Trust that Jesus speaks to him in the same manner with the same terms, as necessary.And may this flow through to all episcopals and clerics.

All we need now is to love Pope, bishops and priests for they are good,holy People of God doing their best with what seems to be one of the most ungodly lot that has lived on this earth.In the meantime may God strengthen his People in coming to Him whatever circumstances exist within our Church.

WikiGee | 16 May 2011  

The dismissal of Bishop Bill was given without his right to go to the third umpire.
Every one watching from home now know that his bat was no where near the ball.
For many fans they have finally had their worst suspicions confirmed that the game is rigged.

With their trust betrayed will the fans continue their interest in the game?

terry fitz south brisbane | 16 May 2011  

The poverty of the church is glaringly observed in its dealing with child abuse. Human needs are not being held above institutional needs.Women have only in the last century been given the Right to Vote,and indigenous people only recently seen as 'humans' and Citizens.It is no surprise that the church is behind the times,but Pope John XXXIII opened its windows and its ongoing renewal has become stilted and IS long overdue.

Catherine | 16 May 2011  

There are things about this case that we know, and there are, perhaps, some personal, confidential matters we do not know. This process is not restricted to the Church. It is clear that there are people who do not trust the bishop and there are others who do not trust the pope. It is this that is reflected in the comments.

Mal | 16 May 2011  

The logic of Harry Wilson would have us believe that the Pope is God's representative on Earth and therefore God. No human being is God, indeed this is not only palpably impossible and ludicrous, it is also heretical in the extreme.

Harry’s non sequitur is unfortunately made by many people inside and outside the Church, indeed is adopted as a dogmatic truth. There are many in the Church who behave as though it is the truth. Even if you take kindly to infallibility of the Pope and put aside the reality that he is still just the same fallible person who was elected to the position, you would not want to equate infallibility with being right about the dismissal of a bishop.

But perhaps Harry is being sarcastic. Later in his comments he seems to be no great friend of the Pope, in fact says that if the bishop must be sacked it should be by the people of God “who know better.”

Surely the real problem is being exposed here: no one is in a position to sack bishops. How do you remove a bishop, even if you want to? And in this case, why would you want to?

Desiderius Erasmus | 16 May 2011  

Thank you, Andrew, for your analysis. In my old age (80), I find myself wondering if a Church that dismisses such a bishop, sends a wandering arch-conservative to "enquire," and beatifies someone like JP2, is a Church that will lead me to Jesus.

Terry Quinn | 16 May 2011  

Yes trust is at stake. Trust that a bishop will do what is in his job description, not what is in his own imagination.

Peter | 16 May 2011  

Yes Andrew, I agree, but change the tense: it HAS eroded my trust in Pope and bishops.

It does matter to me that the values of the Gospel have not been reflected in the way in which the Roman hierarchy has acted.

The message I am increasingly getting from people who are still churchgoers like me is that (for now) we will live in the little cocoon of our own church community and pastor, and ignore the machinations elsewhere: trust in God, not in "man".

Frank S | 16 May 2011  

Godfrey Saint writes that "Bishop Morris was removed for teaching in error" Really? Who says so? To an Australian Catholic lawyer, one of the most objectionable aspects of the Vatican's behaviour in this episode is precisely that no reasons are given for his forced retirement (not removal). Of the many things that he has said and done, which of them are said by Rome to be contrary to Catholic Faith? How am I, or any others, to know what it is that we should not do, if the Vatican has not stated publicly what precisely was his offence, and on what evidence was he convicted of it.

I have been a judge, and if I had ever made an order without stating adequate reasons, my judgment would have been set aside without further argument as being a denial of justice. Surely the Catholic Church, which relies so much upon the principles of Natural Law for so much of its moral teachings, is bound by that same Natural Law. This is a separate and additional defect to the failure to allow Bishop Morris to see and respond to the adverse report.

Alan Hogan | 16 May 2011  

"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 here, that anyone in the Vatican can claim to represent the speaker of these words is ludicrous!

Karin | 16 May 2011  

This tragic saga regarding Bishop Morris, does nothing to make me respect or trust the Institutional Church and it's "machine". It has abused it's power by scandalous mishandling of sexual abuse issues and has acted without transparency towards a pastoral Bishop and his flock.Thank God we still have the Good Shepherd Jesus.

Margaret M.Coffey | 17 May 2011  

We should all have a good look at Galatians Ch. 2. If Paul hadn't told Peter he was wrong, where would we all be? What a mess that no one can tell the current Peter that he's wrong. And as for the idea that the Australian bishops will have the opportunity to explain their views during their ad limina visit: spare us the nonsense.

Jim Jones | 17 May 2011  

Well I have much greater trust in Pope Benedict now he's forced Bishop Morris into retirement. I had been tending to give up hope as the years went by and nothing seemed to be happening. Now the chronology of the affair has been made public by his colleagues, it's clear it wasn't that Rome wasn't doing something about this shocking behaviour, but that Bishop Morris was playing every trick in the book to avoid facing up to his just deserts. I among many other Catholics was sickened to read Bishop Morris' 2006 manifestly unpastoral letter, wondering aloud to his flock about the possibility of women priests, as if Inter Insignores and Ad Tuendam Fidem never happened. And about protestant ministries, as if Trent canons and decrees and Apostolicae Curae were just mouldy old curios in the seminary library. His complaints that he was "deliberately misunderstood" are totally unbelievable - unless of course he is blaming his secretary for mistyping the offending phrases, in which case he could have issued another corrected version of the pastoral (he didn't). And anyone who thinks that it wasn't made clear to Bishop Morris why he had to go is, quite frankly, living in la la land.

HH | 17 May 2011  

Thanks Andy. Here is the link to my homily for last Sunday: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=26378

Frank Brennan SJ | 17 May 2011  

In Father Frank's homily he says "we so need Bishops who are first & foremost Pastors who like the Good Shepherd care for their people ".

Well imagine what is like to live in N/Qld where we have a Bishop who " never " served as a Pastor/ Parish priest throughout his total priestly career ,which was spent solely as an academic .Thus without understanding of the faith dimension of the flock,especially those who have held their faith while residing in seriously remote regions . By the way Frank I must tell you that to use the word 'Cowboy 'as a very derogatory term would not be appreciated in these parts .Regards John

John Kersh | 17 May 2011  

Surely one might ask if this article, and given the comments it has spawned, might be technically described as scandal. Is it promoting de facto schism and attacks on the teaching office of the Holy Father and the Church?

Peter, Canberra, Australia | 17 May 2011  

As one commentator on Fr.Frank Brennan's homily suggested - 'he too might be pussy footing around'. I don't know. Now three bishops I know of have been sent to Coventry one way or another for suggesting new ways of looking at matters ecclesiastical. In all the clouds of non-transparency around the Bishop Morris issue there is a rage that keeps rising in me about something awfully wrong having been done. Not one bishop, archbishop or cardinal has been sacked over what I believe to have been instances of protective collusion reference international abuse cases. Now, Bill Morris follows Geoff Robinson, and there was John Heaps who got the shove into exclusion because of his remarkable literary and personal statement about a way ahead for a better church experience. One can only wonder what the Aust. Bishops would be game say when they are on Vatican turf - my biased thoughts on that suggest the tired old wheels will just keep turning while trust and leadership continues to erode on the home front - and the sheep will wander looking for greener pastures.

Paul Goodland | 18 May 2011  

Thank you for what you said, Terry Quinn. Thank you.

Anna Summerfield | 22 May 2011  

I believe that many, if not most, Catholics have long abandoned allegiance to Rome due to their lack of trust in the way the Vatican conducts its business. Those who continue to attend Mass do so out of the sense of Christian community, fostered by other Catholics and their parish priest. In some cases, the local bishop may also inspire loyalty. The most committed give generously of their time and treasure and many priests struggle valiantly to maintain morale and numbers under every increasing attrition.

One would hope that the General Staff of the Church Militant would be at pains to rally the troops but the sad fact is that they do the exact opposite. The secretive and authoritarian dismissal of Bishop Bill is just the latest example of the abuse of power. Most are familar with Lord Acton's dictum, that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but perhaps not all realise he coined in it in relation to the papacy of Pius IX, the inventor of papal infallibility.

If only the Curia could heed the advice of another English lord, Lord Keynes: "When someone convinces me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" Sadly we know the answer. When someone suggests the Vatican may be wrong they are disciplined.

John Cogley | 06 June 2011  

I for one thank God daily for the Pope. He is the rock on which this church is built. I am also so thankful that such matters as the liturgy of the mass and the proper application of the sacrament of reconciliation are under his control and not up for interpretation of every Bishop who thinks he feels the Spirit of Vatican 2 giving him special enlightenment. Always keep one ear to your Bishop and one ear to your Pope, if they appear to be contradictory, then keep both ears to your Pope.

Richard Neagle | 08 June 2011  

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An Anglican angle on Toowoomba

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Anglican bishops are not appointed more democratically or transparently than Roman Catholic bishops, although there are better-known processes and lines of accountability. And they would have better legal redress should anyone try to get rid of them.