Retired Australian bishop admits past inappropriate behavior

A prominent Australian bishop who resigned two years ago issued an apology citing past hurtful and inappropriate behavior as reasons for stepping down from his post. 

“Since resigning as 2009 and living in retirement now, I have had the time to reflect back on my life,” said Bishop Christopher Toohey, who previously led the diocese of Wilcannia Forbes in New South Wales.

“My behavior within the context of my relationships with some young adults in my pastoral care during the early years of my ministry was not consistent with that required of a good person,” he added.

Australia's ABC news reported Father Brian Lucas – spokesman for the Australian bishops' conference – saying he believes the statement to be the result of negotiations with an unnamed woman and that there are no criminal matters involved. The public apology is also consistent with a mediated agreement reached through the Church's 'Towards Healing' process.

Bishop Toohey, 59, was ordained in 1982 and served as leader of his diocese in the the Australian outback from 2001 to 2009. He was known by many as the “eco-bishop” for his environmental work and for founding Earthcare Australia.

The bishop said on April 28 that in light of his reflections, he will not be returning to active ministry in the Church.

“I sincerely regret the hurt I have caused to these people and their families,” he said.

Bishop Toohey's statement comes as another prominent Catholic bishop in the country announced he is retiring early in a deal he negotiated with the Vatican.

In a letter read at all parishes on May 1, Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba said he was being forced out following a Vatican investigation. The investigation was triggered by complaints about a 2006 pastoral letter that the bishop said was “deliberately misinterpreted.”

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Morris said he might ordain women and permit protestant clergy to celebrate the Eucharist because the diocese didn’t have enough priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has now decided Toowoomba “would be better served by the leadership of a new bishop,” the bishop said.

Bishop Morris, 67, has been the head of the diocese in southeastern Australia near Brisbane, since 1993. The normal retirement age for bishops is 75.

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