Australian bishops to issue Toowoomba statement

Archbishop Mark Coleridge CNA US Catholic News 10 19 11 Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra

The bishops of Australia will issue a joint statement on the troubled diocese of Toowoomba, and it may be published as early as this weekend.

“I don’t think anybody has a magic wand that is going to immediately heal the wounds of division,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Canberra said to CNA. At the same time, he said the bishops “are preparing a statement which I think will be an important moment and we will offer to everyone the fruits of our discussions and reflections here.”

Archbishop Coleridge is currently in Rome along with the majority of his fellow Australian bishops for their regular “ad limina” meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, Oct. 10-22.

In May 2011, Pope Benedict dismissed Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba for his long track record of dissent from Catholic teaching and practice. The diocese is currently without a bishop.

Over the past week the Australian bishops have held discussions regarding the situation in Toowoomba with both Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Coleridge said the talks “went very positively” and “surpassed” their expectations.

“Some of the older hands among the bishops said they were the most substantial, serious and candid discussions they can remember in all their years of coming to ad limina visits,” he said.

The subsequent statement, which he hopes can be produced by the end of this week, will now “try to offer the fruits of those discussions” both in words and in “pastoral action” to be implemented upon the bishops’ return to Australia.

He said he did not want give too many details about what the statement will contain but he did confirm that the Vatican discussions focused on “the nature of the communion of the Church, and in particular, the communion that exists between the Pope and a diocesan bishop.”

In recent weeks, several lay Catholics in the Toowoomba have expressed surprise that Bishop Morris still seems to have a high profile in the diocese. His activities have included giving a public lecture, in-service talks to teachers and officiating at parish anniversaries.

“I hope that won’t continue,” said Cardinal George Pell of Sydney to CNA. “And if he is a loyal man of the Church he’ll realize that this is totally inappropriate and that won’t continue. That is my hope.”

As for priests in the Toowoomba diocese who are keen to continue dissenting, Cardinal Pell said he hopes “that Bishop Morris will remind them of their duties to get on with life and serve the people” when their next bishop is appointed. No timescale has been given for that appointment.

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, President of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, said he didn’t want to “comment personally on Bishop Morris in terms of his future,” except to say that “he (Bishop Morris) is still a bishop of the Catholic Church.”

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