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Why Bishop Morris was sacked


Illustration of Benedict and Bishop MorrisFrank Brennan launches Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three by Bishop William Morris, in Sydney on 23 June 2014.

I am delighted to be asked to participate in the launch of Bishop William Morris' book. Bill was bishop of Toowoomba for 18 years. This book is the story of his forced retirement at the insistence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and at the instigation of three Roman curial cardinals all of whom have now left the Vatican, having passed retirement age. Naturally, we were not expecting any of those four to be with us this evening. Sadly Bill could not be with us either, being laid up in a hospital bed in wintry Queensland.

In the 1960s, I lived for five years in the Toowoomba diocese while attending Downlands College, a boarding school for boys conducted by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. At that time, I had regularly to deny any relationship to the then Bishop of Toowoomba William Brennan who gave very long sermons on hot and cold days much to the displeasure of the Downlands students. I used to emerge from chapel rightly claiming to be from another branch of the family back there in the bog.

Some of the key priests who appear in Bill Morris' book also were educated at Downlands. The MSCs had a no nonsense style to them, enjoying their independence from the local bishop while being very dedicated to the pastoral care of people in the far flung country diocese and always attentive to the pastoral requests of the parish priests, a disproportionate number of whom went to Downlands.

I remember one MSC arriving unexpectedly at the school mid-year to teach French. It was just after Humanae Vitae and he had expressed some reservations while ministering south of the Tweed River.

One of the ex-Downlanders to appear in the book is Bill Morris' Vicar-General Peter Dorfield who, true to form as one of the world's most punctilious note takers, provided a detailed account to Bill about his unfortunate meeting with the papal visitator Archbishop Charles Chaput who came to the diocese for four days (including Anzac Day) in 2007 to report on the state of the diocese. Chaput told Dorfield that Morris was:

a good, humane and prayerful bishop but innocent and naïve and open to manipulation because of (his) great desire to see good in everyone, and that people had taken advantage of (his) goodness and trust. (He) had been captured, manipulated and misled by a so-called progressive group of priests in the diocese who were in fact 'running the diocese'; as a result of the actions of these priests, (he) had been led astray and now needed to recant, and in effect throw (himself) on the mercy of the Vatican authorities, promising a more orthodox and obedient future.

After discussing Bishop Morris' 2006 Advent Pastoral Letter, Chaput then raised the topic of 'outrageous liturgies' and then made 'a series of denigrating comments about different priests'. When Dorfield had the temerity to defend them, Chaput 'suggested it might be time for a new vicar-general because of (Dorfield's) perceived undue influence over (Morris) as a bishop and (Morris') personal inadequacies in theological practice'.

This gives you some of the flavour of the book. It contains accurate recollections of a sham process instituted in Rome to get rid of Bill Morris at any cost, and regardless of any particular charges.

Speaking with Peter Dorfield in preparation for tonight's launch, I asked him what are the key lessons now for the Church of Toowoomba. He reminded me that Christ's faithful in Toowoomba wanted nothing more than the truth. It is important to remember that William Morris was removed from office; he did not resign. He always displayed the highest pastoral integrity and paid the price for it.

He was the consummate team player who planned his pastoral strategies in close consultation with his presbyterate and the various consultative organs he set up in the diocese. As the people of Toowoomba continue to live faithful lives as Catholics, they still hold Bill in high esteem; meanwhile all the people in Rome are now gone. As Peter says, it was 'a poor decision based on poor advice'.

I first met Bill when he was Secretary to Archbishop Francis Rush, Archbishop of Brisbane and President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Rush and his fellow Queensland bishops had appointed me prior to ordination as their Adviser on Aboriginal Affairs in the wake of controversy between the Queensland Church leaders and the colourful Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen in the lead up to the 1982 Commonwealth Games.

Even under Bishop Edward Kelly MSC, the Toowoomba presbyterate were quite engaged on justice issues. I remember spending a week motoring all the way out to Quilpie and back with Peter Dorfield to meet with each deanery to discuss Aboriginal rights.

In Toowoomba, we had a formal meeting at the bishop's house followed by a fine meal with silver table service. In Dalby we met at the presbytery and chatted over a meal. In Roma, we gathered on the presbytery verandah over a few beers. And out at Charleville, we had a muster by the river and a fine barbie. Pastoral style became more relaxed and theological niceties less relevant the further west you went.

I well recall attending Bill's episcopal ordination in Toowoomba in 1993. It was a very joyous and participative liturgy. Aboriginal Catholics played a central role. Darling Downs farmers presented some of their produce at the altar. Women were spotted on the sanctuary. The formal reading of the Latin papal bull was performed at an earlier ceremony much to the consternation of a handful of conservatives.

After the mass, the then papal nuncio Archbishop Brambilla called aside the MC who was the parish priest of Cunnamulla with a fairly layback style. His Grace detailed the 35 liturgical abuses which had occurred. The MC heard him out and then said, 'Yes, we must make sure we get it right next time.' All being well, and Bill avoiding further promotion, next time should have come around in just another 26 years.

Shortly after the ordination, I was conducting a day of prayer and reflection for the priests of the Wagga Diocese. I had been invited by their bishop William Brennan, the nephew of the William Brennan at whose feet I had sat as a school boy. After lunch, the bishop and I went for a stroll. I said how much I had enjoyed Bill Morris' episcopal ordination. He said with a smile, 'Actually, I prefer the Roman rite.' Even back then I suspect Bill Morris was a target for the temple police.

In 2010 I was honoured to deliver the Concannon Oration, the premier annual Catholic event for intellectual reflection on the faith in the Toowoomba diocese. I knew by this time that there was trouble brewing in Rome for Bill Morris. In the 2009 Spring issue of the priests' newsletter The Swag, Fr Jeff Scully, the parish priest of Quilpie and one time Roman classmate of Cardinal George Pell, had written with his characteristic light touch and humour:

How can a respected leader of a local church be investigated without ever finding the content of the report based on these investigations? Is this not unthinkable in this age of transparency and accountability? I kid you not, Archbishop Chaput's visit did nothing to increase respect for the way Rome's officials do business. After the Chaput visit, not many Toowoomba people were expecting to find in their mailboxes a wee note from Denver, Colorado, saying how much he enjoyed his visit to our part of the world, how enriching the experience had been for him, and how much he had learnt. Learning did not seem to be part of the exercise.

In the oration, I said, 'As far as we all know, the investigation is ongoing. Is it not time for the open conversation to commence? Is it not time for all of us learn new pastoral ways of being Church before new generations in country areas of Australia are completely denied access to the sacraments?' The MC for the evening was Patrick Nunan, one of Toowoomba's most respected solicitors. He had been school captain of Downlands in my first year there. At dinner, clergy and the legal profession discussed the appalling abuse of process which was occurring in Rome in relation to their bishop. We hatched a plan for putting the spotlight on the administrative abuses being orchestrated from Rome.

Speaking to Jeff Scully in preparation for this evening, Jeff was very upbeat about the new direction of our Church under the leadership of Pope Francis. He is confident that whistle-blowers and the disaffected temple police wouldn't get the same inside run in Rome now as they did when they set out to do in the bishop of Toowoomba. Jeff thinks Francis would have the good pastoral sense to refer the matter back to the Australian bishops' conference. He thinks the bishops would need to show some resolve either siding with the whistle-blowers or with their fellow bishop.

Jeff insists that Morris always took advice of his own clergy and his pastoral team. He was a servant of the servants of God who was welcomed and was welcoming from Toowoomba to Birdsville. Under Francis we can be sure that the local church is not just to be treated as a branch office of Rome Central. Jeff recalls how exemplary Morris was in dealing with child sexual abuse. You will recall that he asked Rome to delay his forced retirement until he could deal with the abuse crisis in a Toowoomba school where he had even had the foresight to engage a retired High Court judge to mediate the issue. Rome had other priorities preferring that the diocese be without a bishop while that matter was resolved.

It's been very difficult to work out why Bishop Morris was sacked. It's been a moving target. At first the concern seemed to be over the third rite of reconciliation and his failure to drop everything and come to Rome when Cardinal Arinze specified. Bill pointed out that he was due in Rome four months after the specified date, so surely things could wait until then. It seems that over time Bill had mended his ways on the third rite to comply with Rome's new strictures. So then there was his Advent pastoral letter of 2006.

We are left confused as to whether Morris was sacked chiefly for what he wrote in that letter, or for what was reported by Chaput in 2007, or for what was reported to Rome by those sometimes described as 'the temple police'. The offending section of his pastoral letter was:

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 of ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally

• 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

While we continue to reflect carefully on these options we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.

If he was sacked for what he wrote in his Advent letter about the possible ordination of women, married priests, and recognition of other orders 'Rome willing', there would have been no need for Archbishop Chaput later to make his visit and his report. And let's remember that Morris had published a clarification of his pastoral letter on his website saying:

In my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006 I outlined some of the challenges facing the diocese into the future. In that letter I made reference to various options about ordination that were and are being talked about in various places, as part of an exercise in the further investigation of truth in these matters. Unfortunately some people seem to have interpreted that reference as suggesting that I was personally initiating options that are contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. As a bishop I cannot and would not do that and I indicated this in the local media at the time.

But then again if he was sacked for matters detailed in Chaput's report, we are left wondering why Chaput being apprised of the Advent letter and having completed his visit would have told the Diocesan Chancellor Brian Sparksman how extraordinarily surprising it would be if Morris were to be sacked. As they drove back to Brisbane after the visitation, Chaput told Sparksman, 'I would be astonished if you were to lose your bishop.' The matter is a complete mess reflecting very poorly on a Church which prides itself on a Code of Canon law which provides for the protection of the rights of all Christ's faithful, including priests and bishops.

As Jeff Scully says, 'You wouldn't give Bill Morris full marks for preaching but you would give him 11/10 for teamwork.' If Pope Francis were to refer future complaints back to the bishops' conference, we could at least expect greater sensitivity to the pastoral needs and concerns which preoccupied Bishop Morris. There would still be the occasional outrider like Cardinal Pell who erroneously claimed when speaking to an American Catholic news agency that 'the diocese was divided quite badly and the bishop hasn't demonstrated that he's a team player'. That's quite a claim coming from an archbishop whose own auxiliary Geoffrey Robinson had cause to say, 'He's not a team player, he never has been.' I think part the problem has been that in our Church people have had in mind two separate teams. There is the Roman curia team, and there is the local church team. There are those like Cardinal Pell who have played with the Roman curia team providing exclusive avenues for reporting on the local team, and then there are those like Bishop Morris who have played with the local church team knowing little about the workings of the Roman team. One message of Francis is that it's time to bring both teams together, and the Roman team is not always right.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis says:

Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rath­er than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friend­ship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: 'Give them something to eat' (Mk 6:37). 

Bill Morris wanted to feed the people with the Eucharist all the way from Toowoomba to Birdsville.

Some of the most heartening remarks out of all this profoundly disheartening saga detailed by Bishop Morris have been the public affirmations of some of his fellow Queensland bishops. Ray Benjamin, the long retired bishop of Townsville, joined issue with some of the Catholic press in Australia labeling his brother bishop a heretic. Benjamin wrote:

I was distressed to read that The Record has associated Bishop Bill Morris with the ugly word 'heresy', especially coming from a publication which I have known and respected for many years. In what sense could he be demoted to such a level? His thoughts on women as priests, (shared with half the Bishops of the world) were always expressed in humble submission to the Church's authority. At no stage did he ever nominate or encourage any woman towards priesthood. Surely no heresy there. Regarding Bishop Bill's attitude to Non-Catholic clergy, we must not find ourselves transported back to the bitterness and name-calling of past centuries. Our Catholic attitude to other church communities has developed in many positive ways. Our Popes and senior Prelates have, for years now, been regularly visiting and sharing with their non-Catholic counterparts, in prayer, preaching and seeking the truth together. Why is Pope Benedict insisting on attending the upcoming Assisi Inter- Faith Conference, against the wishes of his 'safe' advisers? We have a whole Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, with a Cardinal at its head, urging all Catholics everywhere into ecumenical endeavours. Students for our Catholic Priesthood are studying Scripture at the feet of Protestant scholars. With the so-called 'mainstream' Churches we willingly share one-another's Baptisms and Marriages as sacred, binding, and life giving. In sixty-two years as a Catholic Priest and Bishop, after some early years of self righteous superiority (of which I am now a bit ashamed), I have come to accept that the vast majority of non-catholic pastors I meet are truly men of God, committed to a lifetime of humble service, responding not only to the 'vocation' of their communities, but equally responding to the urging of God's Holy Spirit. Who else will care for those waiting Christian communities? In our many ecumenical endeavours, for any Catholic to smile and offer the right hand of welcome and friendship to such good people, while keeping the left hand tightly behind our back, reminding us that they are, after all well-meaning heretics, would, I feel, be more heretical than anything Bishop Morris ever said or even imagined.

After attending the huge farewell mass for Bill Morris in Toowoomba, James Foley, bishop of Cairns wrote:

The reasons, the causes and the motivations for what has occurred may be known only unto God, Who alone may judge. Consistently and officially it has been stated that neither Bill's own integrity nor his pastoral effectiveness are questioned. The fruits — the proof — of this were palpably evident in Sunday's celebration. Now, after almost two decades attending episcopal testimonials and funerals, I have never witnessed so simple yet profound an outpouring of appreciation and love. As one of the other bishops there observed afterwards: The best way to go may be to get sacked!...Never have I been more struck than by the sincerity and depth of Faith at this recent Mass of Thanksgiving. The solid no-nonsense Catholic Faith of the people of the Toowoomba Diocese was un-self-consciously and un-pretentiously on display.

Bill's book highlights especially through the process suggested by the group gathered for dinner after the Concannon Oration — a report commissioned from retired Justice William Carter and the subsequent canonical report by Fr Ian Waters - that Bishop Morris was denied natural justice. As William Carter said at the Brisbane launch, 'Scripture abounds with references to justice and to our need to 'act justly' in our personal lives. Show me the law or doctrine which exempts the pope and the cardinals three from compliance with this same requirement with this same requirement in the circumstances of a case like this? This is why this book had to be written.'

In 2012 on the feast of St Benedict, I was back in the Toowoomba Cathedral for the episcopal ordination of Bill Morris's successor, Bob McGuckin. The presiding prelate was Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Coleridge was very severe in his homily. He said:

[T]here's one point in the Rule where Benedict abandons moderation and speaks with a quite untypical severity. He is describing the four kinds of monk, and he speaks approvingly of cenobites and hermits, both of whom live under the rule of an Abbot, one in community, the other in solitude. But then he lashes the free-wheelers he calls sarabaites and gyrovagues. These are the wandering monks who submit to no authority but their own and call holy whatever pleases them, moving from monastery to monastery and abusing hospitality to gratify their own desires at every turn. They are do-it-yourself monks who are a law unto themselves. In the terms we have heard in the Gospel of John, they do not remain in the love of Christ but stay imprisoned in the love of self which, according to St Benedict, is the way of perdition ...

If a Bishop fails to listen to the words of the Master, he will prove to be a law unto himself, every bit as bad as the wandering monks, or worse since he is the shepherd of the flock ...

Our own situation is different in many ways, but the Diocese of Toowoomba has known turbulence in recent times. St Benedict points the way forward — not just for the new Bishop but for the entire community of the Diocese. The way beyond all turbulence is a new listening to the voice of Christ at the heart of the Church, a new obedience to the Lord, which alone can guarantee that we remain in his love.

Many of us in that Cathedral felt assaulted and we thought the pulpit was being used to commit another wrong on the ever pastoral William Morris who sat there on the sanctuary, dignified, silent and condemned. These were the fading days of Benedict's papacy. Hopefully under the leadership of Pope Francis we will hear no more homilies like that from our church leaders in Australia, and we will treasure the pastoral insights of bishops like Bill Morris as well as the theological acumen of popes like Benedict at his best, spared the reckless lack of concern for justice and transparency shown by the three cardinals and some others on the Roman team who simply thought it was time to teach the Toowoomba team a lesson. Mind you, Benedict was well past his prime when he wrote to Morris that John Paul II 'has decided infallibly and irrevocably that the Church has not the right to ordain women to the priesthood'.

It is no longer appropriate for Church hierarchs to claim that notions of transparency, due process and natural justice are antithetical to the hierarchical nature of the Church or to the primacy of the papacy. The primacy is not to be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously; and defenders of the Church will want to go to great lengths to ensure that the papal office is not perceived to be exercised without sufficient regard to the circumstances and evidence of a case. For the Pope to be totally free in the appointment, transfer and removal of bishops, he and his flock have to be assured that his curial officials exercise their power to recommend appointment, transfer or removal in a just and transparent manner.

The laity, the religious, the presbyterate and the bishops in Australia are sure to have a heightened 21st century notion of justice, transparency, and due process. This heightened notion is a gift for the contemporary Church. As the present royal commission highlights, it is a precondition for the Church's continued institutional existence in this country. It is one of the works of the Spirit. It is not antithetical to the nature of the Church. Lumen Gentium puts it well:

Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them.

The Church of the 21st century should be the exemplar of due process, natural justice and transparency — purifying, strengthening, elevating and ennobling these riches and customs of contemporary Western societies which are the homes and social constructs for many of the faithful, including those most directly impacted by the decision to force the dismissal of Bishop Morris.

While there can be little useful reflection and critique of the final decision of Pope Benedict to force the early retirement of Bishop Morris, there is plenty of scope to review the processes and the evidence leading to the submission of the brief for dismissal provided by curial officials to the Holy Father.

I have followed the Morris saga closely. My one new insight from reading Bill's book is that he was sacked because he was too much a team player with his local church. By sacking their local leader, the Romans hoped to shatter the morale and direction of those who had planned the pastoral strategies of a country diocese stretched to the limits as a Eucharistic community soon to be deprived of priests in the Roman mould. I imagine it is still not possible for Pope Francis to apologise for the wrong done to Bishop Morris and the diocese of Toowoomba. The Roman Curia and its mindset would at least have that much of a hold over him. But wouldn't it be a grace for everyone, including those who perpetrated the wrong if he did? On your behalf, I do apologise to William Morris in the name of Christ's faithful here gathered immediately following the feast of Corpus Christi. I commend the book, urging you to buy it, and I commend the author to your prayers as he continues to minister as a bishop in good standing, convinced that 'the Church is at its best when it is most transparent, when the eyes of justice and the eyes of the Gospel are so clear that all rights are respected for individuals, no matter who they are in the community'.

Click here to read the speech of retired Supreme Court judge Bill Carter QC, at the 19 June 2014 Brisbane launch of Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ AO is professor of law at the Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Benedict, Bill Morris



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Existing comments

This was a masterful speech. I felt angry and perplexed about so many of our leaders and prospective leaders and full of admiration for Bishop Morris and many of the people of the Toowoomba diocese.

Graham English | 23 June 2014  

Thank you Fr. Frank Brennan for describing the thoughts and feelings of so many of us. It is good to hear that there are some bishops who supported Bishop Bill. Pat Priestly

Pat Priestly | 23 June 2014  

As a rejoinder to Fr Brennan SJ: # As a former nursing home resident with the late Bishop Brennan, myself also debilitated by a stroke + cancer rehab, I had immense respect for this conspicuous champion of Catholic orthodoxy; equally so for my .'ordaining-Bishop' Kelly MSC, He later most benevolently offered me residence, noting my retreating from MSC, as an incurable papist priest [ an adamant supporter of Humanae Vitae-very naughty!!] # I bought +Morris' 'apologia pro vita sua' in the pdf format before its launch. I note an understandable missing piece in his book; yet such, inexplicably, also in above article, re the great white hope Pope Francis, viz. that in " Evangelii Gaudium:104", the Pope wrote, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion..." Perhaps above to be inserted in updated reprints ' under counter'.

Father John George | 23 June 2014  

This was a story told in a prophetic spirit. Thank you, Fr. Frank, for crying out against injustice and thus helping us to find a way to a Church that's more just, and therefore more united in Christ.

Joan Seymour | 23 June 2014  

Thanks to Fr Frank Brennan for his wonderfully written support of Bishop William Morris who will always have my deepest respect!

Leanne Roche | 23 June 2014  

Frank a sincere, truthful and beautiful testament for a beautiful and inspiring person who has no rancour but grace and forgiveness. A living example of the true Christ.

Patrick Nunan | 24 June 2014  

This is an old story about a former bishop, fired by the former Pope, three years ago. It is all over. Of course, it will happen again, as it happened again this year. The Bishop of Limburg in Germany was suspended in October last year by Pope Francis and resigned in March this year. Bishop Morris' dialogue with Roman Cardinals went on for 5 years - but the Bishop of Limburg was finished off within a few months. No warning, no appeal, no process. I hope Frank Brennan, who is a champion against Papal tyranny, will also denounce this decision by Pope Francis.

Chris Boyce | 24 June 2014  

Thank-you Fr Frank Brennan for sharing your thoughts. I remember attending World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney with others from the Toowoomba Diocese. While all the Bishop's filed in to take their positions at the altar during one of the evening gatherings at Barrangaroo, Bishop Morris sat amongst the crowd and shared a meal with us. There was no pomp, no ceremony and no formality, just the simple sharing of a meal. What better way to live out the message of Christ!

Liam Holcombe | 24 June 2014  

All through the book, the only time Bishop Morris uses the word "conscience" is when he is told to relinquish governance. On those occasions, his "conscience" would not let him resign. His "conscience" never told him to proclaim Catholic teaching clearly and courageously. The most he could ever claim is that he did not speak against Catholic teaching. This is not enough; he also had a positive duty to proclaim Catholic doctrine explicitly and with conviction to all his people - which was obviously beyond him.

Dave Davidson | 24 June 2014  

There is of course, always two sides to the story. The other side will not of course be told on Eureka Street, and certainly not by Frank Brennan. Five years of dialogue with Rome suggests that this was not a knee-jerk, mean spirited act by 'the Romans' as Frank likes to call his fellow Catholics in the Vatican - but suggests a long process of discussion and discernment. Was Bill Morris unwilling to respond to directions? Was his Diocese failing to meet the needs of many of its members? Is a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church an island; a law unto himself? Was Bill Morris evasive, uncooperative? I find it extremely disappointing - but not surprising - to read Frank once again disparaging Pope Benedict. Funnily, Pope Francis' foibles, stumbles, mis-speaks don't get much mention from Fr Frank. Why might that be I wonder? hmmm.. Have you noticed Frank , that Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Vatican's stance against the LCWR? Surely that deserves an outraged commentary? Why aren't you fuming about that heavy handed action by your "Roman" Pope?

Michael T. | 24 June 2014  

Michael T you are the only person who has made a comment who has not provided a full name. Please supply your full name or refrain from commenting.

John Francis Collins | 24 June 2014  

Well I knew Mark Coleridge has his eyes on the Sydney job but the strictures he issued at the episcopal ordination of Bishop Morris’ successor were worthy of a Pope!

Joe | 24 June 2014  

Thank you for your honesty in supporting a truly good man and Bishop and for raising questions about Church processes that are far from life giving. This article gives me hope!

Narelle Mullins | 24 June 2014  

Thank you, Fr Frank Brennan for your insightful words about a genuinely pastoral man - the Toowoomba Diocese unjustly deprived of a great leader. While reading, my mind kept straying to the unjust "trial" of Peter Greste and colleagues in Egypt. An extreme comparison but there are similarities.

Pauline O'Brien | 24 June 2014  

Thank you Frank Brennan. I am an observer from afar, only tangentially aware of what happened at Toowoomba and never understanding the background details. I have been engaged in a different "dialogue" with my own suburban church and the disapproval of an 'hieirarchy' that pretends not to exist and like Bill Morris have been accused behind closed doors od offenses that have not been revealed. It is not only Rome that offends us, but also at least one of the other branches of the church you nominated as having their orders recognised by Rome. That such acrimony can be heaped upon Bill Morris gives me the courage to continue protesting. I will certainly reading the book.

Des Byrne | 24 June 2014  

Fr John George is concerned that I omitted from my book launch speech Pope Francis’s remark in Evangelii Gaudium: 'The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.' Not everything can be treated in a book launch speech. In any event, I had addressed that sentence of Pope Francis in my earlier piece on 1 December 2013. I wrote: “Surely it must be even more divisive if those who reserve to themselves sacramental power to determine that they alone can determine who has access to that power and legislate that the matter is not open for discussion. Given that the power to determine the teaching of the magisterium and the provisions of canon law is not a sacramental power, is there not a need to include women in the decision that the question is not open to discussion and in the contemporary quest for an answer to the question? Francis's position on this may be politic for the moment within the Vatican but the position is incoherent. The claim that the matter 'is not a question open to discussion' cannot be maintained unless sacramental power also includes the power to determine theology and the power to determine canon law. Ultimately the Pope's claim must be that only those possessed of sacramental power can determine the magisterium and canon law. We need to determine if 'the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life' could include the power to contribute to theological discussion and the shaping of the magisterium and to canonical discussion about sanctions for participating in theological discussion on set topics such as the ordination of women. As Pope Francis says, 'Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.' This paragraph of the exhortation on women's ordination adds nothing to a resolution of the question or the way forward. This exhortation contains some wonderful material but on this issue, Francis has attempted to lightly evade the question riding the jet stream of opposition entrenched in the magisterium and in canon law by his two predecessors. Francis makes no pretence to having all the answers. He won't be moving any time soon to change Church teachings. But he has done a lot with this exhortation to move the Church back into the world and to open the Church to all sinners without discrimination. He makes appealing his vision of a Church that is 'bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.'” See http://eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=38583

Frank Brennan SJ | 24 June 2014  

Thank you Frank for this fine testimony.

Jennifer Herrick | 24 June 2014  

i know a priest who fled his diocese precisely because he felt Bp Morris did not listen to him. If you did not agree with Bp Morris, life was not smooth sailing. The only option for this priest was, as he said, 'to flee south'. From hearing this priest's stories I would say the portrait above is a bit mythological and there are other aspects to the story which have not been heard.

Skye | 24 June 2014  

Pray Skye, tell us more.

Frank Brennan SJ | 24 June 2014  

Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), the third of the Vatican II documents was agreed upon and passed by the Second Vatican Council delegates by 2,151 votes to 5. The delegates were the bishops, archbishops and cardinals of the Church. This document quoted in support of this very good summary of the Bishop Morris affair (while still admitting that there remain many grey areas in the understanding of the matter) also states, "...the fullness of power belongs to the Roman Pontiff and is not called into question" and further, "It is up to the judgement of the Supreme Pontiff , to whose care Christ's whole flock has been entrusted to determine according to the needs of the Church as they change over the course of centuries, the way in which this care may best be exercised - whether in a personal or collegial way." And again, "...it is a question of the bishops acting in conjunction with their head, never of the bishops acting independently of the Pope". I suppose it is possible to support any argument by selective quoting of a document, as I have done here.

john frawley | 24 June 2014  

"The claim that the matter 'is not a question open to discussion' cannot be maintained unless sacramental power also includes the power to determine theology and the power to determine canon law. Ultimately the Pope's claim must be that only those possessed of sacramental power can determine the magisterium and canon law. We need to determine if 'the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life' could include the power to contribute to theological discussion and the shaping of the magisterium and to canonical discussion about sanctions for participating in theological discussion on set topics such as the ordination of women. " Underlying this issue of course is the very role of theologians, women or otherwise. This was a contested issue raised at one of the Plenary sessions at this year's Catholic Theological Society of America's convention, which I attended. Caused quite some fireworks.

Jennifer Herrick | 24 June 2014  

One poster, who declines to give her full name, is quoting a totally anonymous priest as evidence that Father Brennan's account is mythological. Is this National Irony Day?

Simon Crase | 24 June 2014  

John Frawley's quotes from Lumen Gentium help me to highlight both the primacy of Peter and the need for everyone under Peter to provide him with advice that is true, just, compassionate and able to withstand sunlight and the prism of gospel values.

Frank brennan SJ | 24 June 2014  

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have someone like Bishop Morris appointed the next Archbishop come Cardinal of Sydney. The church would show it is prepared to face so many issues in one move...

John Dallimore | 25 June 2014  

There's a very sad irony to this great injustice. Bishop Bill Morris' efforts in Toowoomba would have to be a model Pope Francis would have endorsed if I read his wonderful exhortation, 'Joy of the Gospel' correctly. Bishop Morris was in the right place but at the wrong time! I hope there is now room for him to be bishop again.

John A | 25 June 2014  

I agree completely, Fr Frank, that all members of the Church should be free to offer advice to the Papacy on matters where the Pope may not possess expertise or has been badly informed. I am not sure, however, that domestic matters occurring within an established modus operandi, of which the participant is fully cognisant, should enter the public domain. That causes too much damage to the public good, as happened with the Morris affair. Gracious acceptance of an irritation is sometimes needed in the interest of public good

john frawley | 25 June 2014  

Frank, I don't think you believe in the Church as having a divine (that is, a God-given) constitution. You speak of the hierarchy only in terms of power and control. Nor do you show that you believe the Church proclaims REVEALED truths. When you say the Pope "won't be moving any time soon to change Church teachings," you show, as Bishop Morris said in his book, that you "follow" or "believe" in those teachings until they are changed. In other words, you do not really believe in them as divinely guaranteed truths.

Chris Boyce | 25 June 2014  

What a shame it is that we cannot be pastoral to each other and enjoy each others gifts.

REv. John.Dihm | 25 June 2014  

Chris Boyce, could I suggest that the Second Vatican teaching on the Hierarchy of Truths may assist you in your questions.

Jennifer Herrick | 25 June 2014  

And yet for the wholehearted love of the Truth, another would zealously resign: "[In] one of the letters that they wrote to me they talked about the difficulty of relying on procedures that were not canonically approved." Archbishop Wilson says he was prepared to take the matters involving Mr Nestor to the Pope, and he considered resigning. "I thought that the values associated with the protection of the children and the care of the diocese were of such importance that you couldn't let anything stand between you and the decision you had to take before God," he said. The commission is examining the Vatican's actions in dealing with the allegations. The Royal Commision 25.06.14

Annoying Orange | 25 June 2014  

Mr Boyce Sir you are infallibly correct!

Father John George | 25 June 2014  

Firstly, let me address the commentary by Chris Boyce. Far be it for me to respond on behalf of Frank Brennan, but where does the word " love" appear in your commentary? Why the strictures on the gospel message? Bill Morris had no difficulty sharing the message of love and compassion. Secondly, I, as does Frank, only seek the truth of what happened to Bill Morris. As lawyers we deal in evidence and the evaluation of same. The thing that really irks me is that the supporters of Bill Morris have repeatedly called for a complete disclosure from the Curia of what has happened. What we get instead is a commentary such as "you do not know what really happened.". When those commentators say that (and some of those commentators are high ranking clerics) and are respectfully asked to provide the evidence, nothing eventuates. No factual evidence, no basis for their statements just the commentary "we know what happened- you don't". Be assured that those who are in the "know" that I will welcome any substantive factual commentary with openness and appreciation. Be aware, however, the rigour of my training will assess dispationally and objectively the credibility of that evidence.

Patrick Nunan | 25 June 2014  

Thanks Fr Frank for an incisive and honest article. It would, indeed, be helpful to the discussion if Skye would provide us with the information she refers to.

Conor Bradley | 25 June 2014  

You express outrage because, among a long list of abuses, a few of which you mention, the Pope has not clearly singled out which one was the reason why Bp Morris could no longer continue as bishop. Simple, Father - it is all of the above!

Peter Kennedy | 25 June 2014  

Fr Brennan is omitting important facts. At the time he was ordained bishop, Bishop Morris took the prescribed oath of fidelity, promising to uphold the teaching of the Church and to obey the pope. Yet he was ordered repeatedly to resign and he refused each time. The pope himself ordered Morris to resign. He refused. So much for his oath of obedience! In a pastoral letter to his diocese he suggested that, to ease the shortage of priests, Anglican, Lutheran, and Uniting Church ministers be employed to say Mass for Catholics - ministers, who for the most part, do not believe in the Mass as defined by the Church and who have no wish to be deemed the equivalents of Catholic priests.

FRANK MOBBS | 25 June 2014  

The priest is alive and well and living down south. He would be very uneasy if I mentioned his name. I have heard another side of the story for many years now and while I appreciate pastoral sensitivity some people can mask a rigidity underneath a pastorally sensitive persona. I wish Bishop Morris well but I do not believe the myths created about him.

Skye | 25 June 2014  

John Frawley rightly points us to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church – Vatican II - 1964) with regard to matters such as this re collegiality, consultation etc. I’m uncomfortable with bishops having more independence unless appropriate synodical processes involving the laity within their dioceses are in place. Otherwise, this will result in fiefdoms with no regard for the expertise, opinions and concerns of the People of God in their care. Lumen Gentium requires the setup of avenues for dialogue and discussion, with laity given a greater voice re Church governance etc., as follows: (The laity) “are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. ..When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. ..A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters. In this way, the whole Church, strengthened by each one of its members, may more effectively fulfil its mission for the life of the world”.

Christopher McElhinney | 25 June 2014  

Thank you, Frank, for speaking for justice on behalf of many of us. Our voices must not be silent.

rita hayes | 25 June 2014  

May I please just say the following? The bride (she=the church) belongs to the bridegroom ( he=Jesus). Thank you.

Damaris | 26 June 2014  

I watched with great concern the attempts to put down a pastor who attempted to operate in this complex Diocese in concert with most of his community.Some of the GAUL released above highlights just how tough it will be for our church to be relevant in a modern society.Unless we are gifted with a hierarchy with feet on the ground like Bill Morris!!

Brian | 26 June 2014  

Good idea, John Dallimore. Bill Morris for cardinal, or maybe even Frank Brennan . . .

Anna Summerfield | 27 June 2014  

Still waiting for Skye to respond beyond not feeling able to divulge name. That is fair enough. Perhaps the priest mentioned could write here? but also Skye, as John Collins mentions, if you want to be taken seriously you need to identify yourself. You could be anyone.

Jennifer Herrick | 27 June 2014  

Great stuff Farther Frank. A fine summary of Bishop Bill and character and his demise by the few who didn't like a bishop wearing a tie and an akubra hat and his success at relating to people on an equal level and being, well, a good bloke. I think some people cling on to the Bishop role as being like Bishop Brennan out of Farther Ted, furious, unapproachable, dogmatic with no seance of being reasonable. Like Farther Ted - its time, like Bill did, to kick "Bishop Brennan up the arse"..

Dom Nunan | 27 June 2014  

Father Frank - God bless you and thank you for such a well reasoned and compassionate reflection on the harshness visited on so kindly and inspiring a Priest and Bishop who dedicated his entire adult life with loving generosity to preaching the Good News, to witnessing to the Faith and to serving the People of God in a vast, beautiful and challenging part of the Great South Land. Those of us who are not especially absorbed by the passionate intensity of the ever vigilant guardians of either clerical or for that matter secular orthodoxy simply pray that our Parish Communities will soon again be filled to overflowing by those longing for the love and reconciliation which Bishop Morris still so wonderful lives and so courageously preached as well as by those searching for the message and meaning of Jesus in their journey of life which he made so accessible by his prayerfulness, his words and his deeds.

Richard O'Brien | 28 June 2014  

Ordination of women? Married priests? Which one first? Basil Hume said the ordination of women because the Church cannot afford the upkeep for all of those priest's families. To which one could reply, the Anglican Church appears to have coped.

CLOSE READING | 28 June 2014  

In my humble opinion, the greatest sin of the church in the last 'lot of decades' has been what I call the sin of respectability. I look forward to the day it gives up respectability for integrity. Bill shows us integrity. Thanks for that Bill

Peter Martin | 02 July 2014  

The video of my talk launching Bishop Bill Morris's book in Adelaide a few days later than the Sydney launch is now available at http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=160983

Frank Brennan SJ | 02 September 2014  

“Surely it must be even more divisive if those who reserve to themselves (sacramental) power to determine that they alone can determine who has access to that power and legislate that the matter is not open for discussion." Hmmm, I am thinking the legal and medical profession as much as the Church when I read lines like this. Having only met His Lordship Bishop Morris a few times, and coming to this forum by way of his intro to fellow Lord Bishop Robinson's book about the 2014/15 synods, the only advice I can give is that one doesn't have to sacrifice the faithful and meaningful celebration of the Roman Rite to be pastorally relevant.

James Knight | 07 July 2015  

Thank you Fr. Brennan for your insight, and thank you to all contributors, both gratefully pro and staunchly con. How else can we arrive somewhere close to the truth? I speak as a former Toowoomba-ite, a faithful Catholic who was greatly enriched by being part of Ecumenical Pastoral Care in Toowoomba and deeply conscious of the role Bishop Bill played in its inception and maintenance. The orthodox Catholicism of my childhood often subjugates the spirituality I found and that was fostered in that incredible ministry. For some time now I have also been distracted by an unjust process, strange so-called ‘transparency’ and lack of ‘procedural fairness’ emanating from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Whilst this organisation was commissioned by the Governor General, is funded by the Australian Government and should be at the service of the Australian people, I suspect that it also is a hierarchical organisation which is actually answerable to no one. It also is doing some very good work that we would all believe needs to be done, but its structure does not allow for justice for the wrongly accused and it also shows no desire to look at its modus operandi. Good on you Bishop Bill – and I enjoyed your book.

Maris Valentine | 08 November 2015  

I hope Fr Brennan was not serious when he said 'whether the Prime Minister......is Malcolm Turnbull,Bill Shorten or another matters not. In the context of the Republic question, maybe not, but I regard it as a careless statement. I would like to say also that I was amazed when Pope Francis took that name, and not Ignatius.

Peter Phelan | 19 January 2016  

This was so inspiring! In history this humble bishop will take his place&alike wise at the final "banquet" ! Well done Father Frank. I loved the church Pope Francis aspires to . I really needed to know that.

Patricia Foley | 10 September 2016  

Thank you so much for your speech. I loved the book tho' it hurt to read it! It taught me that in any group or institution evil can prevail if no - one speaks up. The Australian Bishops group did not support him as they should have! It's been a lesson to me in a group I belong to where I least expected injustice. God bless you and Bishop Morris.

Patrice Buetefuer | 21 October 2016  

Thank you for a brilliant speech on the plight of Bishop Bill Morris. I knew Bill Morris in his days as Parish Priest in Surfers Paradise diocese. What a remarkable man Bishop Morris is. He was loved and respected by so many, it seems incomprehensible what has happened to him as Bishop of Toowoomba. Bless him - for all that he is and for all that he has done for so many over an incredible life ilved in the name of GOD. A true Bishop for the people of God a great loss to so many.

Eve Thomas | 26 July 2017  

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