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.