.- Itâs been nearly a month since Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba in Australia was dismissed from office by Pope Benedict XVI. Now the countryâs most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, has given his first in-depth interview on the controversial sacking to CNA.
âWell, it was a tragedy. It should never have come to this,â Cardinal Pell told CNA while on a visit to Rome.
âRome was very patient. You could say the dialogue had continued on for 13 years and unfortunately Bishop Morris felt unable to give satisfactory clarifications.â
Bishop Morrisâs dismissal followed comments he made in a 2006 pastoral letter. In it he called for the ordination of women and married men, and suggested that protestant ministers could offer Mass to compensate for the lack of priests in his diocese. This in turn led the Vatican to order an investigation.
âCatholics stand with the Pope as the successor of Peter and his role is to strengthen his brothers and to defend the apostolic tradition, and itâs now Catholic teaching that women cannot be ordained priests. Thatâs not an optional belief; itâs now part of the Catholic package,â said Cardinal Pell.
Critics of the bishop whoâve spoken in recent weeks to CNA suggest that the problems in Toowoomba went far beyond the bishopâs public disagreement with Catholic doctrine on the priesthood.
Theyâve claimed Bishop Morris - who preferred a shirt and tie to a priestly collar and bishopsâ attire - did much to undermine Catholic identity and teachings during his 18 years in office.
Cardinal Pell was both balanced and charitable in his assessment of Bishop Morrisâs legacy.
âHeâs a very good man. He had a lot of pastoral strengths. Heâs got a lot of good points. Heâs done of lot of good work. Heâs got quite a strong following in the diocese.â
âBut the diocese was divided quite badly and the bishop hasnât demonstrated that heâs a team player. I mean even at the end he didnât wait for the official Vatican announcement.â
âHe sent around messages to every parish, to all his priests, the Australian bishops before the official announcement and since then heâs made a number of public announcements which havenât been helpful.â
As for critics of the Popeâs decision to sack Bishop Morris?
âThereâs been a predictable chorus from a minority but such is life.â
The job of rebuilding things in Toowoomba now falls to Bishop Brian Finnegan of Brisbane who has now been appointed apostolic administrator until a new bishop can be found. Cardinal Pell said itâs time âto look to the future.â
âYou know, life moves on, but also I think it will be a useful clarification for people that Catholic doctrine is there to be followed and bishops take promises to defend the integrity of Catholic teaching.â
Cardinal Pell believes that itâs this orthodox approach that is reaping apostolic benefits in many parts of Australia including Sydney. He points to an increased number of priestly and religious vocations, vibrant university chaplaincies and the legacy of World Youth Day in 2008.
âYoung people donât see the Catholic Church as being inevitably in decline at least in most parts of Australia.â
âWeâre doing what Christ wants, and I think that if you do that youâve always got to be optimisticâ
âThereâs life and energy and promise.â