Christians, especially those in Australia, are mourning the death of Bishop Michael Putney, who was particularly committed to ecumenical dialogue.
Bishop Putney was Bishop of Townsville, in the state of Queensland, from 2001 until his March 28 death. He had been living with stomach cancer for 18 months.
“Bishop Michael had received many prayers during the past 15 months and believed that he had received a miracle which allowed him to continue his work last year and achieve many things that he had been working on,” said Fr. Michael Lowcock, vicar general of the Townsville diocese, stated March 28.
“Last week Bishop Michael in a statement to the Priests of the Diocese he said that his life was very much one day at a time, and as always, he left each day in God’s hands. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bishop Michael’s family at this time.”
Bishop Putney was admitted to hospital March 21, where he remained until his death, at age 67. According to Australia’s ABC “he continued to work until he went into hospital.”
Tributes and condolences have flooded the Facebook page of the Diocese of Townsville.
The bishop had been co-chair of the International Methodist-Roman Catholic Dialogue, a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and chairman of the National Council of Churches.
The pontifical council said he had been an “inspiring and dedicated member … for many years and has worked untiringly for the cause of Christian Unity at many levels. We have been blessed to have his wise counsel and constant encouragement in fulfilling the ecumenical commitment entrusted to our Church.”
“Bishop Michael brought to bear his theological expertise, his sensitivity and his great human warmth” to discussions with Methodists, the council said. “The friendships formed in that dialogue were deep and the messages from around the world demonstrate the great affection in which Bishop Michael was held by our ecumenical partners.”
David Chapman, the Methodist co-chair of the dialogue, said Bishop Putney was “not only a much-loved co-chair of the dialogue but also a father in God to all of us serving on the commission.”
Australia’s National Council of Churches posted on Facebook that the late bishop was “an ecumenical giant who contributed so much to his own church, the Australian churches and the wider ecumenical family.”
“He inspired us to imagine what a healthy reconciled Church could be. May he rest in God's peace.”
Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne said March 31 that Bishop Putney had been “a great and priestly shepherd, a gifted theologian and ecumenist, and a significant contributor to the work of the Australian bishops.”
The Townville diocese’s chancellor, Len Horner, recounted to ABC both the late bishop’s leadership and his friendship.
“I have many great memories of an evening at a restaurant chewing the fat, reminiscing and doing that sort of thing,” Horner told ABC’s Blythe Moore.
"I can remember one night watching the (rugby league) football with him over at his house when we were having some fish and chips … and the (North Queensland) Cowboys were going down badly. He was so cranky at the referees he wouldn't watch anymore, he went outside and washed up!”
Bishop Putney was a native of Queensland, having been born in Gladstone in 1946. He attended Pius XII Seminary in Banyo, and was ordained a priest of the Brisbane archdiocese in 1969.
He was consecrated as auxiliary bishop of Brisbane in 1995, and he served there until his transfer to Townsville. He is survived by his predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Raymond Benjamin of Townsville.
On March 31, Fr. Lowcock was chosen as administrator of the Townsville diocese whilst it is vacant. The diocese covers nearly 168,000 square miles, and serves an estimated 75,600 Catholics.
A vigil service for Bishop Putney will be held April 6 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and his funeral Mass will be said the following morning at Ryan Catholic College in Kirwan.