Make a Difference

Bishops and Betrayal

Bishop William Morris, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba, has taken early retirement. That’s the way he describes it. puts it more bluntly. He was removed.

I have met Bishop Morris. I have vague memories of being present with a group of Anglican clergy at his ordination as a bishop in Toowoomba in 1993 (I was then in the parish of Roma – not the Roma – the cattle town in Western Queensland). He seemed to me to be a kind and decent man.

Bishop Bill Morris certainly did a good job of repairing the damage done by a pedophile teacher at a Catholic school in Toowoomba.

The problem is, Bishop Morris has probably caused more damage to the Church than the pedophile whose actions he denounced.

Anyone with a brain knows that only a tiny proportion of Catholic clergy are pedophiles, that priests commit a disproportionately low number of child sex offences compared with the rest of the male population, and that any kind of sexual abuse is abhorrent to the Church.

But when a Bishop teaches something contrary to the Catholic faith, even in apparently trivial ways, he undermines the credibility of the Church, and the body of Christ is harmed.

In 2006 Bishop Morris wrote a ‘pastoral letter’ to his diocese in which he suggested that the problem of low numbers of priests could be solved if women were ordained.

Some of the laity were alarmed by this and sought clarification. When that clarification was not forthcoming, they brought the letter to the attention of Archbishop Bathersby and eventually, the Pope.

Then Bishop Morris claimed he had been misunderstood. He was only pointing to the ongoing conversation on this matter that was taking place around Australia.

No he wasn’t.

If that had been his intention he could and should and would have said immediately it was brought to his attention that some people thought he was advocating the ordination of women, that this was not the case. He would have apologised for any misunderstanding and reaffirmed the teaching of the Church. But he didn’t.

Bishop Morris says he has been brought down by a few disgruntled conservatives who went behind his back and complained about him because of his ‘progressive’ views.

This is tyranny. Bishop Morris has been vociferous in his complaints against Rome.

He told the ABC that Rome controlled bishops by fear ”and if you ask questions or speak only on subjects that Rome declares closed … you are censored very quickly, told your leadership is defective, and threatened with dismissal”.

Yet he attempts to censor and malign faithful lay people in his diocese who want the truth to be taught.

Every Catholic has a reponsibility to defend the faith. The lay people who asked Bishop Morris to teach the faith were honouring him by believing he was truly a Catholic Bishop. When he did not respond and they went to Rome, they were doing what they should never have needed to do, what his actions had made necessary.

And he blames them, blames Rome.

The best thing he could do now would be to acknowledge that he acted wrongly, that he betrayed the trust placed in him, and apologise.

Instead, he appears to be encouraging protests against his removal.

He really believes that he knows so much about what Jesus would do, would say, that he feels no compunction in ignoring what Jesus actually did, actually said, and what the Church has taught faithfully for 2000 years.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinions. But you cannot be a teacher of the Catholic faith if you don’t believe the Catholic faith.

I am sorry for Bishop Morris. I am sorry for the people has hurt by his lack of integrity. I hope he will come to repentance and undo some of the harm he has done.

I am grateful for the courage of Archbishop Bathersby and Pope Benedict, and for the lay people who spoke out. I hope the Diocese of Toowoomba, which I know and love, will grow through this, and continue to witness to the love of God, and and the unchanging Gospel of hope and life and truth.

But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15


  1. Faz

    “The problem is, Bishop Morris has probably caused more damage to the Church than the pedophile whose actions he denounced.”

    This statement is so extraordinary.

    Would you be prepared to look a victim in the eye say such a gobsmackingly ridiculous thing?

    I note that you don’t quote the offending pastoral letter. Just as well because by any reasonable reading, he WAS NOT promoting dissent.

    These are his exact words:

    ‘We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.’

    There is no need for him to ‘correct misunderstandings’. Those words are clear and unambiguous.

  2. DRPrice

    “‘We remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.’”

    Ok, fair enough. What actions did he take to promote them, and what were the numbers?

    I’d also be interested in the number of permanent deacons he ordained during his tenure, so if you have figures on those, I’d appreciate them.

  3. DRPrice

    Hmmm, Faz–I’d really appreciate a copy of the Advent Pastoral Letter. I found another summary which may indicate you quoted part of the sentence you quoted. Here is what I found:

    “Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of the 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. 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.

    It is excerpted from this:

    If this excerpt from AD2000 is correct, why leave off the introductory clause?

  4. Faz

    A few days ago the letter ‘disappeared’ from the Townsville website now, remarkably, someone has found it again:

    The bit that I quoted, to me, is the bottom line. He is saying that he will remain obedient to the present requirements. He says it in an unambiguous way independent of any ‘reflections’ on other options.

    Still, we don’t actually know if this letter was the core of the problem because the process has been a secret to him and even to the likes of +Battersby and +Wilson.

    Everything we say about this issue is speculation because the process is anything but transparent. +Morris is tried, convincted and sentenced without a process where he can face those who accuse him and defend himself.

    The irony at this time where people all over the Middle-East and Northern Africa are dying for freer, more open, more representative societies, is that the church itself has more in common with rulers in these countries than the aspirations of so many of its citizens.

  5. Tony B

    Number of vocations in Bishop Morris’ time = virtually zero. Think about why.

    There is no reason why Bishop Morris should need to ‘defend himself.’ At any time he could have clarified his statement, affirmed the teaching of the Church, and gotten on with his job.

  6. Faz

    @ Tony B

    Again, as sure as you might be about why this has happend, you speculate. A system of justice surely must be transparent? Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

    If the church wants to be moral beacon in the world on issues such as religious freedom and justice, it surely has to practice what it preaches?

  7. Faz

    [Technical glitch, sorry if this is a repeat]

    @ Tony B

    Again, as sure as you might be about why this has happend, you speculate. A system of justice surely must be transparent? Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

    If the church wants to be moral beacon in the world on issues such as religious freedom and justice, it surely has to practice what it preaches?

  8. Ben

    Some of these bishops sound like they were in the wrong church. The Catholic Church was Catholic before they joined and still is Catholic. Perhaps they changed.

    They should have joined the dying Uniting Church where clergy are more than happy to throw Christianity under the bus, for a Fairfax headline. They just seem like classic pretend victims.

    Incidentally, I believe that child abuse is destructive and should be met with harsh penalties inside and outside the church. But when liberals use child abuse issues to achieve unrelated agendas, they’re using hurt children as a tool for their personal gain.

    Of course, this only serves to create less resources and time for genuine victims.

  9. Tony B

    The lack of vocations is not speculation but fact.
    Vocations gorw when bishops and clergy are faithful, when the faith is clearly taught, and when there is a sense of mission.
    In Bishop Morris’ time, when has there been clear teaching about the nature and purpose of the priesthood? When have there been vocational prgrammes?
    In how many parishes is the rosary regularly said? In how many parishes is there regular exposition/adoration? Where is devotion to our lady encouraged?
    Instead of real teaching we have been treated over many years to 5 minute homilies of bland opinions on whatever was in the Courier Mail that week.
    It is not good enough.
    As for justice, justice is doing what is right. Bishop Morris lack of leadership has not been justice for the people of Toowoomba. He, on the other hand, was treated perfectly justly, in spite of his loud complaints and insults at the hierarchy and anyone who disagrees with him.
    As I said before, he could at any time have clarified that he fully affirmed the Catholic faith and got on with his job. It was his choice not to do so.

  10. Faz

    Again, TonyB, the basis of your argument is that +Morris’ demise was strongly related to his ‘performance’ re vocations. Two points: You don’t know that to be the case and, secondly, you don’t provide any comparable statistics to back up what you insist is a fact.

    In terms of justice, the very fact that we can only speculate about what the process was and what the accusations were is proof-positive that the process is inadequate.

    Is this a model of justice you wish the church to encourage other governments and organisations to persue? If so then, yes, you’d be perfectly consistent, but the church (in other contexts) champions religious freedom and rigorous, open and transparent justice for citizens.

    Somehow the church thinks that the ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach is not going to be noticed. It is being noticed.

  11. DRPrice

    Thank you for the find–it looks like AD2000 had a bum copy.

    But I don’t see how the bishop can be construed as an unambiguous defender of orthodox approaches. On the one hand, he’s indicating that a good part of the solution lies in what he knows to be outside of current Catholic teaching. True enough, he gets out the obligatory “we remain committed,” but the context is such that the level of commitment is open to serious question.

    If nothing else, it suggests to the laity that the real work of promoting vocations should be through reflecting on ordaining women, married men and putting the kibosh on Leo XIII’s bull. It does not really lie within the resources of the Catholic people of Toowoomba.

  12. Faz

    It seems to me that, while ignoring the fundamental point about the judicial process, even your (speculative) assertion is somewhat watered down. The offending pastoral letter contains a clear and unequivical ‘bottom line’ of obedience, so your assertion comes down to vague notions of ‘level of commitment’ and what you think the words ‘suggest’.

    Remember, this is a bishop. He is a long standing leader of the church in Australia. He has been effectively sacked and his reputation has been tarnished. Now, this would be OK if he, and the rest of us, could look the process and be satisfied that justice has been done. I’d suggest even the most strident critics of +Morris couldn’t do that.

    If, on the other hand, you think he’s been treated fairly, I’d suggest that you could only do that if you think a closed judicial process is OK. If that’s your view, keep it in mind the next time another closed judicial process — such as those in repressive governments — condemns a citizen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 Qohel