The dismissed Bishop William Morris effectively promoted heresy and had to choose between following his way or the way of the Catholic Church, an editorial in the Perth archdiocesan newspaper said.
The Vatican’s removal of the Bishop of Toowoomba involves “fundamental” questions about the nature of the Church and Church authority, the Archdiocese of Perth’s official newspaper The Record said in a May 18 editorial titled “a Bishop that had to go.”
“One mentality is informed by two millennia of constant belief and practice, often heroically witnessed to by martyrdom, the other by the mass media and the fashionable theories that abound in our culture,” the paper said. “On the side of the essential unity of Church belief and teaching from Christ up until the present is Pope Benedict; on the side of changing Church teaching and practice to suit some values of majority opinion, sadly, was Bishop Morris.”
On May 2 the Vatican confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI removed the bishop from the pastoral care of his diocese. Australia’s bishops backed the decision, citing “problems of doctrine and discipline.”
Bishop Morris drew attention for his actions contrary to Church teaching and practice. He had called for Protestant ministers to celebrate Mass and for the ordination of women. Lay Catholics co-celebrated Communion services with priests and the bishop’s diocese also had widespread use of “general absolution” rites as an alternative to personal confession.
“The problem for Bishop Morris, in the end, was that given the two positions he had to make a choice - his way or the Catholic Church way. The problem for the Church was how to handle a Bishop well down the road in effectively promoting what might now reasonably be called heresy in his diocese,” The Record said.
Critical to the disagreement was whether one understood the Church as continuous or discontinuous with the Church before the Second Vatican Council, the editorial continued.
The first outlook sees Church history as “an organic and constantly developing unity,” accepting that some doctrines cannot change. These unchangeable things are like constellations by which the ordinary Catholic can safely navigate.
The second outlook regards much of the pre-Vatican II Church as “somehow deficient.” It seeks to obscure, change or reverse Church teaching, including dogmatic definitions.
“It usually seeks to do so in accord with moral relativism and the values predominantly to be found in popular culture,” The Record said.
Bishop Morris was treated with “the utmost delicacy, discretion and respect” and given over 10 years to resolve issues about his governance of the diocese.
“At the end of the day, however, the issue under debate was the simple fact that in the Catholic Church every Bishop, a successor to the apostles, is obliged by sacred oath to teach what the Catholic Church teaches – period,” said the newspaper.
The Record noted that ordinary Catholics face an “unprecedented onslaught against their faith.” They do not need “bishops who will obscure the way” and are “sadly, better off without them.”
Bishop Brian Finnigan, an auxiliary bishop of Brisbane, has been appointed interim apostolic administrator of Toowoomba until a replacement is appointed.