• by: Just Church
  • recipient: Catholics objecting to the Pope's removal of Bishop Morris from Toowoomba




William Morris was ordained Bishop of Toowoomba on 10th February 1993. For 18 years he led his diocese well, in the spirit of Vatican II.

But a very small, vocal minority disliked many of his decisions and actions. They wrote to Vatican Congregations, focussing particularly on the use of General Absolution, which was needed in that large diocese with so few clergy.

In Advent 2006, Bishop Morris' Pastoral Letter, discussing the dire shortage of priests for the 35 parishes in the 487,456 sq km diocese, cautiously referred to discussions around the world of the possibility of ordaining married men, ordaining women and about the validity of Holy Orders in other Christian traditions.

Cardinal Arinze had disputed with Bishop Morris about using General Absolution. Shortly after the 2006 Pastoral Letter, Cardinals Re, Levada and Arinze demanded that he meet them in Rome in February 2007. Bishop Morris suggested May for the meeting because for pastoral reasons he could not leave the diocese earlier.

In April 2007 Archbishop Charles Chaput was sent as Apostolic Visitor to inspect and report on the diocese. Bishop Morris was never shown this report, but it was delivered to the Vatican. Every priest in the diocese (except three) and all Pastoral Leaders sent their support for the Bishop to the Congregation of Bishops.

When Bishop Morris came to Rome in May 2007, the three Cardinals did not meet with him. In September 2007 he received an unsigned memorandum from the Congregation of Bishops, dated 28 June 2007, demanding that he resign.

Bishop Morris had further correspondence and meetings with Cardinals. They demanded that he resign but he refused. On 23 October 2008, Cardinal Re demanded his resignation, or else he would be removed. Bishop William explained that he could not in conscience resign, and asked to meet the Pope, which he did on June 4 2009, supported as at other times by the presence of Archbishop Wilson, President of the Australian Episcopal Conference. Pope Benedict repeated the demands of the three cardinals and suggested that bishop Morris seek some national position in the Australian church.

In July 2009 Cardinal Re demanded that Bishop Morris submit his resignation as he had promised the Pope he would do, although Bishop Morris had made no such promise. On December 22 2009 the Pope requested his resignation, expressing his concern about Bishop Morris' position on the ordination of women and on recognising the ordination of Anglicans and others. He stated that there is no appeal from papal decisions.

The bishop followed with an offer to retire early (he is 67) in May 2011, emphasizing that he needed time to settle properly an unfinished case about sexual abuse. He was told that the Pope accepted this offer. On 21 February 2011 an Apostolic Administrator - Auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnegan, Victorian born but serving in Brisbane - was appointed to replace him. Bishop Morris announced his early retirement on 2 May 2011. The Australian Bishops have not resisted any of the above process, but accepted it without complaint.


Dear Pope Benedict

We, the undersigned, are greatly saddened at the forced retirement of Bishop William Morris whom you removed from office (Letter of 22/12/2009). The issues in the long dialogue with Cardinals Arinze, Re and Levada leading to Bishop Morris' removal were:

# the Third Rite of Reconciliation in that large, far-flung country diocese of Australia

# his suggesting in one Pastoral Letter (2006) that the ordination of married men, of women and the validity of orders in other Christian denominations might at least be discussed (although he took no action on this).

In the enormous Toowoomba diocese, he was deeply committed to providing the sacraments to his people. We are concerned, therefore, that you appear to be giving these issues priority over people's access to the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Eucharist.

We are also deeply concerned that the Roman Curia over which you preside has deprived Bishop Morris of due process, procedural fairness and natural justice:

# he has not seen Bishop Chaput's report about the diocese nor has he had an opportunity to present his case before any independent tribunal.

# you have not listened to the sensus fidelium, the majority in the diocese and beyond, who value his leadership. You have given attention only to the few who have consistently opposed him. Are you truly serving the people of Toowoomba?

We are Catholics who love and share in the Eucharist where Jesus draws us together into one. (John 12:32, 17:21) But unity is not uniformity. In solidarity with countless others in Toowoomba and beyond, we lament that by dismissing Bishop Morris you have divided the church and discouraged those who, guided by the Spirit, ask sincere questions about the Church's future.

In faith, hope and love we pray for you, our Pope and we continue to work for a more just church, respectfully urging you to consider the harm your decisions have caused.

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