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Archive of May 2, 2011

Citing Vatican investigation, Australian bishop announces early retirement

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A controversial Australian bishop said he is retiring early in a deal he negotiated with the Vatican.

In a letter read at all parishes on May 1, Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba said he was being forced out following a Vatican investigation.

The investigation was triggered by complaints about a 2006 pastoral letter that the bishop said was “deliberately misinterpreted.”

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Morris said he might ordain women and permit Protestant clergy to celebrate the Eucharist because the diocese didn’t have enough priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has now decided Toowoomba “would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop,” the bishop said.

Bishop Morris, 67, has been the head of the diocese in southeastern Australia near Brisbane, since 1993. The normal retirement age for bishops is 75.

He said the Pope told him personally that Church law made clear that “the successor of Peter nominates and may remove from office” any bishop he finds unfit for the job.

“This makes my position as Bishop of Toowoomba untenable,” he added.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Vatican.

But the bishop’s spokesman said he expected a formal Vatican announcement could come as early as May 2.
“In effect, it is a removal from office,” Father Peter Dorfield, the diocese’s vicar general, told Australia’s ABC News.

The Vatican is expected to appoint an administrator until a new bishop can be named. 

Critics say the problems in Toowoomba go beyond the bishop’s public disagreement with Church doctrine on the priesthood.

They say Bishop Morris — who prefers a shirt and tie to a priestly collar and bishops’ attire — has done much to undermine Catholic identity and teaching in his 18 years here.

Critics cite a host of abuses — including “communion services” being co-celebrated by lay people and priests and widespread use of “general absolution” rites as an alternative to personal confession.

In his letter, Bishop Morris declined to address criticism. “The substance of these complaints is of no real import,” he said.

He blamed “a small group [that] have found my leadership and the direction of the diocese not to their liking.”

He expressed confidence that he still has “the support of the vast majority of the people and priests of the diocese.”

Bishop Morris did acknowledge that the investigation, known as an “apostolic visitation,” involved three major Vatican congregations — the offices that oversee bishops, doctrine, and worship and the sacraments.

He said he had “never seen” the final report filed by the lead investigator, who he identified as American Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap. of Denver.

He complained that he had been denied “due process” and “any possibility of appropriate defense and advocacy on my behalf.”

Contacted by CNA, Archbishop Chaput declined to comment on the matter.  

He noted that parties involved in any Vatican visitation routinely agree to keep their deliberations private, and all details remain confidential.

Bishop Morris had already leaked word of the Vatican investigation to the media in Feb. 2009. At that time he blamed it on Catholics with “conservative views.” He called them “the temple police.”

In his letter this weekend, Bishop Morris said he told the Vatican he was “prepared to negotiate early retirement.”

He said he refused to resign his post, as “a matter of conscience” and “out of my love for the Church.”

Resigning, he said, would involve admitting that he had done something wrong. And that, he said, “I absolutely refute and reject.”

The Diocese of Toowoomba spans more than 188,000 square miles and has a Catholic population of roughly 66,000 served by 35 parishes.

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Mass of thanksgiving for beatification of Pope Blessed John Paul II

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - “Today we thank the Lord for giving us a shepherd like Pope John Paul II.”

With these words Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone set the tone of the May 2 Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. The Vatican’s secretary of state was the chief celebrant and homilist at the service in St. Peters Square.

“He was a man of faith, a man of God, whose life with God was a continuous prayer, a constant prayer, which embraced with love every single person on the planet, each created in the image and likeness of God, and so worthy of respect.”

The ceremony began with a procession led by a vial of Blessed John Paul’s blood. It was taken from the late pontiff while he was undergoing medical tests shortly before his death in 2005. It is Catholicism’s belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of time that makes such physical artifacts, known as relics, of importance to the Catholic faithful.  

An estimated 60,000 pilgrims gathered for the Mass, 40,000 of them thought to be Polish. They heard their fellow countryman, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow who wanted to pay tribute to the present pontiff.

“We express gratitude to the Holy Father Benedict XVI for the gift of the beatification of his predecessor and for the fact that he keeps alive the memory of John Paul II,” said the Polish cardinal who was private secretary to Blessed John Paul for many years.

Cardinal Dziwisz also recalled that John Paul had “shed his blood for the cause of Christ” in the same square in 1981 when he was the victim of an assassination.

The coffin of the Pope John Paul will now lie in state before the high altar of St. Peter’s basilica until this evening when, in a private ceremony, it will be moved to its new resting place beneath the altar of St Sebastian. It’s located next to Michelangelo’s famous “Pieta” sculpture close to the right-hand-side entrance to the basilica.

It’s estimated that 250,000 people have now filed by the coffin since the May 1 beatification ceremony.

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Controversial Australian bishop sacked by Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI has sacked a controversial Australian bishop who has called for protestant ministers to celebrate Mass as well as the ordination of women.
 
“The Holy Father Benedict XVI has removed from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Toowoomba (Australia) Most Rev. William M. Morris,” the Vatican confirmed in a one line statement May 2. The move brings to an end Bishop Morris’s 18 years in charge of diocese that is situated to the west of Brisbane, Queensland.

The first hint that Bishop Morris was on his way out came yesterday in an open letter to parishes in his diocese.
 
“It has been determined by Pope Benedict that the diocese would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop” he said, adding that the Holy Father had told him personally that Church law made it clear that “the successor of Peter nominates and may remove from office” any bishop he finds unfit for the job. “This makes my position as Bishop of Toowoomba untenable,” he concluded.
 
“In effect, it is a removal from office,” Father Peter Dorfield, the diocese’s vicar general, told Australia’s ABC News.

Bishop Morris’s dismissal follows comments he made in a 2006 pastoral letter.  In it he called for the ordination of women, married men and suggested that protestant ministers could offer Mass to compensate for the dearth of priests in his diocese. This in turn led the Vatican to order an investigation.

Critics of the bishop, though, say the problems in Toowoomba go beyond the bishop’s public disagreement with Catholic doctrine on the priesthood.

They claim Bishop Morris - who prefers a shirt and tie to a priestly collar and bishops’ attire - has done much to undermine Catholic identity and teachings during his term of office.
 
Such criticisms include “communion services” being co-celebrated by lay people and priests and the widespread use of communal “general absolution” rites as an alternative to personal confession.
 
Contacted by CNA, Archbishop Chaput declined to comment on the matter.  He noted that parties involved in any Vatican visitation routinely agree to keep their deliberations private, and all details remain confidential.

The Diocese of Toowoomba spans more than 188,000 square miles and has a Catholic population of roughly 66,000 served by 35 parishes.
 
Bishop Brian Finnegan of Brisbane has now been appointed an administrator until a new bishop can be found.
 
Bishop Morris, 67, will now officially retire. The normal retirement age for a bishop is 75. 

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Polish president thanks Pope for JPII beatification

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA) - Poland's president had a chance to thank Pope Benedict XVI personally for beatifying his Polish-born predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.

Pope Benedict received Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski in an audience on Monday morning, as celebrations surrounding the May 1 beatification drew to a close. The president conveyed the Polish people's gratitude to the Pope, for the decision to bestow the Church's high honor upon a national hero.

The Pope and president discussed the historic impact of Bl. John Paul II's life in the history of both Poland and the world at large. The first Polish Pope, whose words and actions helped to end Communist rule in his own country, also visited more countries than any other Pope in history.

Both men agreed that the newly-beatified Pope's life marked a turning point in history, as he sought to offer the Christian message of redemption to a troubled and increasingly interconnected world.

President Komorowski assured Pope Benedict that Bl. John Paul II's teachings, particularly regarding human dignity and the sanctity of life, would remain important to the nation.

Poland re-criminalized abortion under most circumstances in 1993. In recent years, the country has grappled with the question of whether its moderately strict abortion laws should become more or less restrictive, or remain as they are.

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Retired Australian bishop admits past inappropriate behavior

Sydney, Australia, May 2, 2011 (CNA) - A prominent Australian bishop who resigned two years ago issued an apology citing past hurtful and inappropriate behavior as reasons for stepping down from his post. 

“Since resigning as bishop...in 2009 and living in retirement now, I have had the time to reflect back on my life,” said Bishop Christopher Toohey, who previously led the diocese of Wilcannia Forbes in New South Wales.

“My behavior within the context of my relationships with some young adults in my pastoral care during the early years of my ministry was not consistent with that required of a good person,” he added.

Australia's ABC news reported Father Brian Lucas – spokesman for the Australian bishops' conference – saying he believes the statement to be the result of negotiations with an unnamed woman and that there are no criminal matters involved. The public apology is also consistent with a mediated agreement reached through the Church's 'Towards Healing' process.

Bishop Toohey, 59, was ordained in 1982 and served as leader of his diocese in the the Australian outback from 2001 to 2009. He was known by many as the “eco-bishop” for his environmental work and for founding Earthcare Australia.

The bishop said on April 28 that in light of his reflections, he will not be returning to active ministry in the Church.

“I sincerely regret the hurt I have caused to these people and their families,” he said.

Bishop Toohey's statement comes as another prominent Catholic bishop in the country announced he is retiring early in a deal he negotiated with the Vatican.

In a letter read at all parishes on May 1, Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba said he was being forced out following a Vatican investigation. The investigation was triggered by complaints about a 2006 pastoral letter that the bishop said was “deliberately misinterpreted.”

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Morris said he might ordain women and permit protestant clergy to celebrate the Eucharist because the diocese didn’t have enough priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has now decided Toowoomba “would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop,” the bishop said.

Bishop Morris, 67, has been the head of the diocese in southeastern Australia near Brisbane, since 1993. The normal retirement age for bishops is 75.

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Vatican says Bin Laden ‘gravely responsible,’ hopes for peace

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican says it does not rejoice in the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event is an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace,” spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, S.J. said on May 2.

Fr. Lombardi’s comments follow the announcement earlier today that the Al-Qaeda leader had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. President Barack Obama informed the media that Bin Laden had died in a “firefight” at a compound in an urban area outside the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. A U.S. official quoted by the Associated Press said Bin Laden's body has now been buried at sea.

Bin Laden was wanted in connection with a number of terrorist atrocities including the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001. Those attacks alone killed over 3,000 people. Fr. Lombardi reflected upon the crimes Bin Laden stood accused of.

“Osama bin Laden – as we all know – was gravely responsible for promoting division and hatred between peoples, causing the end of countless innocent lives, and of exploiting religions to this end.”

Not surprisingly, Bin Laden was a critic of the Catholic Church for many years. His most recent outburst came in 2008 when he accused Pope Benedict XVI of being part of a “new crusade” against Islam. 

His comments followed continued international protest by Muslims against a 2005 cartoon depiction of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.  In a recorded internet message, Bin Laden said: “Your publications of these drawings – part of a new crusade in which the Pope of the Vatican has a significant role – is a confirmation from you that the war continues.”

At the time, Fr. Lombardi denied the suggestion that the Church was involved in any “crusade.” He also stated that the Vatican also condemned the publication of the Danish cartoons.

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Pakistan Christians fear violent backlash in wake of Osama bin Laden's death

Lahore, Pakistan, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians in Pakistan are bracing for possible attacks after U.S. forces killed long sought-after terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in one of the country's northern cities.

“The situation is tense,” said Paul Bhatti, Pakistan's religious minorities adviser. “There are, in fact, strong reactions of unreasonable fear against Christian minorities. The government is paying close attention to preventive measures.”

Vatican-based Fides news reported that schools and Christian institutions in the country have been closed – and local churches guarded with high security measures – after a U.S. special forces military operation raided the summer residence of Osama bin Laden on May 1 in the city of Abbottabad, killing the  Al Qaeda leader and several others.

Bin Laden is credited for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 that left nearly 3,000 Americans dead.

Pakistan authorities have provided security measures in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Multan and several others cities out of concern for possible violence against Christians by Taliban groups.

Fr. Mario Rodrigues, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan, said government officials “have put us on alert, calling for the closure of our institutions and placing more police personnel in front of churches.”

“Christians in Pakistan are innocent victims, even in this situation: any excuse is good to threaten or to attack,” he told Fides on May 2.

Fr. Rodrigues suggested the possibility that “in the coming months the persecution against Christians could decrease and the Taliban ideological struggle weaken.”

“We observe, however,” he warned, “that intolerance and radical Islamic groups are flourishing in the country, and other extremist leaders could establish themselves and continue terrorist actions.”

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said on May 2 that Bin Laden was guilty of “grave acts” during his life and that he manipulated the religion of Islam to “spread division and hate among the peoples.”

“A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man's death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person's responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace.”

Archbishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad echoed the Vatican's remarks, saying that in “the soul of a Christian there is never joy for the death of a man, even if he is an enemy.”

“On the occasion of the death of Bin Laden I would like to remind the supreme commandment of the Christian message: love your enemies.”

He underscored the Pakistan bishops' “absolute respect for Islam and all Muslims of Pakistan,” whom “we believe it is possible to share dialogue and collaboration to build a peaceful nation.”

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan also noted “the closeness of the Church towards the Muslims, with whom we shared yesterday a celebration in honor of Blessed interfaith John Paul II.”

“Today it is important for us to point out his shining example of openness to others, dialogue with Islam, recognized and appreciated by Pakistani Muslims to stop any fundamentalist drift and any attempt to incite hatred among religious communities.”

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Vatican gathering of bloggers hailed as a success

Vatican City, May 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The first ever Vatican sponsored gathering of Catholic bloggers is being hailed as a success by participants.

The conference was hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture. It drew a large amount of interest with over 750 bloggers  applying to attend and over 9 million Google hits on the subject over the past five weeks alone. Logistics determined that only 150 could take part, so organizers held a drawing, deciding who could attend.

At the end of the event, organizer Richard Rouse seemed delighted.

“It went really well. I’m really glad we had this meeting. It was completely uncontrolled and uncontrollable so I’m glad that it’s taken place. I thought the best thing was the meeting face to face of different bloggers. That was great.”

Most bloggers in attendance seemed to feel that the Vatican was genuine when it said it didn’t want to control the Catholic blogosphere. There was also a general welcome for the Vatican’s own attempts to overhaul its online presence. Reservations still remained, however, about the local level.

“At the Vatican level I’ve been assured that they’re there’s no interest in regulating bloggers - and I believe them. These people don’t lie,” says Rome-based Canadian blogger Hilary White of the “Orwell’s Picnic” site.

“What I think is that they (the Vatican) are trying to do today is to send out a message to the national bishops conferences to say ‘let them go, bloggers are here to stay and that they’re going to keep saying things that people don’t want them to say and they’re going to keep looking under rocks that nobody wants them to look under'.”

As the meeting broke up, there was enthusiastic talk of another similar gathering or even more localized versions of the get-together.

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