In May last year, the Bishop of Toowoomba, Bill Morris, was involuntarily removed from his office by Pope Benedict XVI on the grounds of "defective pastoral leadership". The dismissal is now the subject of legal review; QC’s opinion and a canon lawyer’s analysis were released last week. But the process that led to the bishop’s sacking began more than seven years ago, writes Father Michael Kelly in The Tablet.
Bishop Morris is from Brisbane but by temperament and style he is very much a "bush priest". The climate of the Australian outback makes few concessions and if you survive, it breeds wiry and resilient types. Affectionately regarded for his pastoral style, he is a man of the people who had a successful racehorse, Bishop Bill, named after him.
Perhaps the racing connection nurtured the attitude he has needed since 2004 – ever alert to surprises and upsets, and trained to live with disappointments. Bishop Morris’ first upset occurred when he arrived at the Vatican in late 2004 for what he later described as an ambush.
He was invited by Cardinal Francis Arinze, then the Prefect of the Congregation for Worship and Sacraments, to discuss the continuing use in his diocese of the Third Rite of Reconciliation, which offers participants general absolution but whose use had become limited following John Paul II’s 2002 apostolic letter, Misericordia Dei.
Bishop Morris was surprised when he arrived alone for the meeting to find the cardinal flanked by an archbishop and two monsignors, apparently canon lawyers. He felt ambushed because the "discussion" was based on claims, which he had not seen, from unnamed accusers about his pastoral practices and permission for the Third Rite to be held under certain conditions in his diocese.
The Diocese of Toowoomba is vast; priests are few and ageing; there are 66,000 Catholics; 36 parishes are served by 28 active priests. In the circumstances, pastoral visitation and celebration of the sacraments are rare in many places. The bishop explained that in these conditions, some flexibility was needed if the sacraments were to be available.
The cardinal and his companions said the practice was forbidden and should end. Bishop Morris complied and from that date Third Rite celebrations ceased in Toowoomba. But apparently Rome was not satisfied.
FULL STORY Rites and wrongs (The Tablet)