Australia’s bishops say they back Pope Benedict’s decision to remove renegade Bishop William Morris from his post in Toowoomba, in the Brisbane region of the country.
“It was judged that there were problems of doctrine and discipline, and we regret that these could not be resolved. We are hopeful that Bishop Morris will continue to serve the Church in other ways in the years ahead,” the bishops said in a letter to the interim administrator appointed by the Pope in Toowoomba.
The Vatican removed Bishop Morris, 67, on May 2, following several years of negotiations aimed at getting him to correct his abuses of Church doctrine and liturgy.
The letter on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference was signed by conference president Archbishop Philip Wilson and was sent to the apostolic administrator, Bishop Brian Finnigan. Archbishop Wilson was a present during Bishop Morris’ meeting with the Pope at the Vatican on June 2009.
The bishops expressed their support for Bishop Finnigan in what they described as his “challenging task.”
“We are confident that you will help to bring peace and unity to the diocese,” they added.
The bishops encouraged the priests of Toowoomba to “reassure their people and to strengthen them in faith.”
The letter comes after a recent meeting of the bishops in which they discussed the ouster and heard testimony from some 40 religious leaders in Toowoomba. “We sought to understand the events and agree on the best way to respond,” the bishops explained.
The bishops expressed their “sadness at the retirement of Bishop Bill Morris.”
They described it as “a decision came at the end of a complex process which began thirteen years ago and which ended in deadlock.”
Referring to the Pope’s responsibility as the successor of the apostle St. Peter, the bishops added: “It was then that the Holy Father found it necessary to exercise his Petrine care for the whole Church.”
The bishops reaffirmed their commitment to the “unique role of the Pope as head of the College of Bishops.”
“It is his task to guard and promote the communion of the Church and the integrity of the Church’s faith. We reaffirm our faith in this mission which the successor of Peter has received from Christ himself, and we gratefully acknowledge Pope Benedict’s faithfulness to the Petrine ministry, even when it involves very difficult decisions. We commit ourselves anew to teaching faithfully what Christ taught as the Church has handed it down,” the bishops stated.
The bishops also said they look forward toward their regularly scheduled “ad limina” visit to Rome later this year. “We will have the opportunity to share with the Holy Father and members of the Roman Curia the fruits of our discussion and to share our questions and concerns with an eye to the future.”
“The Pope’s decision was not a denial of the personal and pastoral gifts that Bishop Morris has brought to the episcopal ministry. Rather, it was judged that there were problems of doctrine and discipline, and we regret that these could not be resolved. We are hopeful that Bishop Morris will continue to serve the Church in other ways in the years ahead,” the letter concluded.