Australia's Bishops reaffirm their unity with Benedict XVI

Australia's Bishops reaffirm their unity with Benedict XVI

Michael Gilchrist

Following the months of agitation after Pope Benedict retired Toowoomba's former Bishop William Morris last May, Australia's Bishops expressed united support for the Pope's action via a joint statement on 22 October 2011.

The Bishops had held discussions regarding the situation in Toowoomba and the removal of Bishop Morris 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 told an interviewer that 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."

Timely statement

The Bishops' statement was timely, as despite his retirement Bishop Morris has continued to maintain an active and divisive profile in the Toowoomba Diocese including a public lecture and inservice talks to teachers as well as officiating at parish anniversaries.

Cardinal George Pell commented prior to the release of the Bishops' statement, "If [Bishop Morris] is a loyal man of the Church he'll realise that this is totally inappropriate and that won't continue. That is my hope."

As for priests in the Toowoomba Diocese who have continued their dissent against the Pope's action, Cardinal Pell said he hoped "Bishop Morris will remind them of their duties to get on with life and serve the people" when their next bishop is appointed.

Various individuals inside and outside Toowoomba had organised petitions of opposition to the Pope's action calling on the Australian Bishops to put pressure on the Vatican during their ad limina. The end result was a total rejection of these demands.

In their statement, the bishops said their meetings with Cardinals Ouellet and Levada had "given us a more adequate understanding of what was done by the Holy See in an attempt to resolve the difficulties with Bishop Morris, which concerned not only matters of Church discipline but also of Church doctrine definitively taught, such as on the ministerial priesthood."

The Bishops explained that "what the Holy See did was fraternal and pastoral rather than juridical in character" with efforts to resolve the matter continuing "over many years", but "a critical point came when Bishop Morris failed to clarify his position to the satisfaction of the Holy See and then found himself unable to resign as Bishop of the Diocese when the Holy Father made the request.

"What was at stake was the Church's unity in faith and the ecclesial communion between the Pope and the other Bishops in the College of Bishops. Eventually Bishop Morris was unable to agree to what this communion requires and at that point the Pope acted as the Successor of Peter, who has the task of deciding what constitutes unity and communion in the Church."

The Bishops concluded: "We express our acceptance of the Holy Father's exercise of his Petrine ministry, and we reaffirm our communion with and under Peter."

However, Bishop Morris issued an angry rebuttal on 24 October: "The statement of the Australian Catholic Bishops contains inaccuracies and errors of fact evidenced by the documentation relating to the issues concerning myself and a number of Vatican Dicasteries.

"The Statement made by the Australian Bishops invites me to tell my story which I will publish in the foreseeable future."

Earlier, during his address to the Australian Bishops on 20 October, Pope Benedict referred to the canonisation of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop in 2010 pointing to her example as "an inspiration for today's Catholics as they confront the new evangelisation and serious challenges to the spread of the Gospel in society as a whole."

He added: "All the members of the Church need to be formed in their faith, from a sound catechesis for children, and religious education imparted in your Catholic schools, to much-needed catechetical programs for adults. Clergy and religious must also be assisted and encouraged by an ongoing formation of their own, with a deepened spiritual life in the rapidly secularising world around them."

Regarding liturgy, Benedict continued: "As Bishops, you are conscious of your special duty to care for the celebration of the liturgy. The new translation of the Roman Missal, which is the fruit of a remarkable co-operation of the Holy See, the Bishops and experts from all over the world, is intended to enrich and deepen the sacrifice of praise offered to God by his people.

"Help your clergy to welcome and to appreciate what has been achieved, so that they in turn may assist the faithful as everyone adjusts to the new translation. As we know, the sacred liturgy and its forms are written deeply in the heart of every Catholic. Make every effort to help catechists and musicians in their respective preparations to render the celebration of the Roman Rite in your Dioceses a moment of greater grace and beauty, worthy of the Lord and spiritually enriching for everyone."

New evangelisation

Cardinal Pell told EWTN News: "We are hoping to do more by way of the new evangelisation, taking out the message of Jesus Christ to the wider public rather than just concentrating on our own."

During 2012, the Archdiocese of Sydney will run a television campaign based upon the American "Catholics Come Home" initiative (see page 5), with a particular focus on promoting catechesis in Catholic schools and reaching non-Catholics.

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