2012-05-26 Fr Frank Brennan - from Keynote Address, Sandhurst Catholic Education Conference (Eureka Street)
More info re case of Bishop Bill Morris
We need to reform our church structures to be more aligned with contemporary notions of justice and due process. While preparing this address, I came across a blog reporting on the dismissal this week of Bishop Francesco Micciché from Sicily who is said to have misappropriated diocesan funds. He claims not to have had access to the report of the Vatican visitation which inquired into his financial transactions. The blog reported that another bishop had been 'toowoombed'. In the case Bishop Morris from Toowoomba, we know there was absolutely no suggestion of financial or other impropriety. A year ago, the Australian bishops told us: 'We appreciate that Bishop Morris' human qualities were never in question; nor is there any doubt about the contribution he has made to the life of the Church in Toowoomba and beyond. The Pope's decision was not a denial of the personal and pastoral gifts that Bishop Morris has brought to the episcopal ministry. ... We are hopeful that Bishop Morris will continue to serve the Church in other ways in the years ahead.'
When Bishop Morris went to Rome to meet in person with the Cardinal Leaders of the three relevant Congregations (Cardinals Re, Arinze and Levada), with Archbishop Philip Wilson present in support on 19 January 2008, Cardinal Re wrote:
Bishop Morris is a person of integrity in morals, a man of good will and other gifts. He can continue to do much good, but the right role for him is not that of Diocesan Bishop of Toowoomba.
He should be given another assignment, with special duties. With this in mind, the Holy Father asks the Metropolitan Archbishop of Brisbane and the President of the ACBC to help find the most appropriate responsibility in which Bishop Morris can continue to effectively serve the Church elsewhere in Australia, while obviously being assured of financial security for a suitable living.
Now that a new Archbishop has been appointed in Brisbane and a new bishop appointed in Toowoomba, let's hope that Bishop Morris might be given an appropriate episcopal task to which to dedicate his splendid pastoral gifts.
The process for dealing with Bishop Morris has been a disgrace. The people of Toowoomba still don't know why he was sacked, and we are all still waiting for a public credible explanation of the reasons for his dismissal. Are we really to believe that it was for having the temerity to point out that people overseas are talking about women's ordination? Fr Jack Mahoney SJ, a former principal of Heythrop College and author of the highly acclaimed The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Theology, has just published a new book Christianity in Evolution in which he says things like: 'Dispensing with the idea that Christian priesthood involves ordaining a man to act 'in the person of Christ' by offering his atoning sacrifice to God removes whatever ground there was for restricting ordination to the priesthood to men and for excluding women.' One of the most respected pastoral theologians in the English Church is Professor Nicholas Lash from Cambridge. He writes in a recent issue of The Tablet: 'When, for example, Pope John Paul II announced that the Church had no authority to ordain women to the presbyterate, and that the matter was not to be further discussed, two questions immediately came to mind: first, how does he know? (that is to say: what were the warrants, historical and doctrinal, for his assertion?); secondly, what theological note should be attached to his assertion? In view of the fact that, so far as I know, the question has never, in the Church's history, come up for serious and close consideration, that note cannot be very high up the scale. From which it follows that his further instruction that we must not discuss it lacks good grounds.' All Bishop Morris said in his pastoral letter of 2006 was that people overseas were talking about this sort of thing. They were, they are, and they will be. So why the need to sack not the theological agitators but the occasional pastoral bishop who merely points out that these things are being discussed? These issues are being discussed by people who love the Church and care passionately for its future.
You will recall that the Vatican appointed the American Archbishop Charles Chaput to conduct the formal visitation of the Toowoomba Diocese. Bishop Morris remains adamant that Chaput never shared with him the proposed contents of his report. Archbishop Chaput is adamant that he did. Five months after Chaput submitted his report, Morris was presented with an unsigned list of grievances from the Vatican. Seeking a way forward in charity and in truth, on 4 April 2012, I told ABC Radio National:
So from here in order to clear the air one thing that would be possible is Archbishop Chaput could provide Bishop Morris with the detail of what he says he discussed with Bishop Morris in Toowoomba and specifically, he would be able to provide a list of the matters of concern and we would be able to see whether they tallied with the matters that were then listed in the unsigned, anonymous document of September of 2007.
The specific list of allegations included amongst other things a demonstrably false statement namely that no priests had been ordained in the last eight years. Well four had been ordained. It also contained the false statement that deacons were being used to replace priests. There were no deacons in the diocese. Now there is no way that Chaput could have provided that information so after the Vatican had Chaput's report they were still proceeding with a list of allegations against Morris which were inaccurate and therefore could not have been drawn from Chaput's report.
Bishop Morris did write at considerable length to Archbishop Chaput, and in a highly respectful and fraternal tone. On 16 April 2012, Archbishop Chaput responded. To be fair to Chaput, I will quote his breath taking response in full:
Bishop Morris, your imagination is in 'over-drive'. I did share everything with you. I did not keep any notes after sending the report to Rome. How would I — or anyone — ever respond to your questions from memory? You are involved in an exercise of self-justification that is obscuring the truth and good reason. I will pray for you.
This is what still passes for due process and pastoral care in the Roman Church. As Christ's faithful we have to insist on something better. And with greater transparency, we will get something better. Of course, we must continue to show due deference and respect to our bishops, our shepherds, but when they abuse even their own like this, we should ask for better, in Christ's name.
As Catholics, we accept that the Pope ultimately has full authority to appoint, transfer or dismiss bishops. Therefore any person recommending an appointment, transfer or dismissal to the Pope is obliged to act in a manner such that the ultimate action of the Pope could not be or be seen to be capricious, arbitrary, or prejudiced. Any person recommending a dismissal must accord due process and natural justice; otherwise their denial of same will infect the Pope's action. Why could Archbishop Chaput not simply have reviewed his report, repeating to Morris the key points, especially given that he claims to have already shared everything? Why would he not do what he could to refresh Bishop Morris's memory, bringing satisfaction to all those concerned that Morris has been denied natural justice?
Pope Benedict commenced his encyclical Caritas in Veritate with the words:
Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.
Charity in truth should also be the principal driving force behind all dealings with each other within our Church. If only we were more committed to charity and truth, we the members of Christ's faithful would be able to be more trusting of Vatican moves in relation to Bishop Morris, in relation to the women religious in the USA, in relation to the Girl Scouts in the USA, and in relation to theological training in the Church in Ireland. If only we were more committed to charity and truth, we would have been so much better in confronting the horror of child sexual abuse within our Church. Fr Kevin Dillon from Geelong recently asked, 'If Christ was lying in this Church bleeding, would we say, 'Can we afford to heal him?' Well, Christ is in this church, bleeding. Not from wounds inflicted from Roman soldiers but from wounds inflicted from within. Victims first; true justice; genuine compassion.'