Australian bishops have formally backed the decision to sack former leader of the Toowoomba diocese, Bishop William Morris.
Australian bishops have formally backed the decision to sack former leader of the Toowoomba diocese, Bishop William Morris. Kevin Farmer

Bishops back Morris sacking

IN the aftermath of the removal from office of Bishop William Morris, Australia's Catholic bishops have pledged their loyalty to the pope.

The Australian bishops wound up an "ad limina" visit with Pope Benedict XVI and leading Vatican officials at the weekend and issued a statement about the Vatican's response to the dissenting bishop of the Diocese of Toowoomba.

"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," the statement read.

Because Bishop Morris was "unable to agree to what this communion requires," the bishops said, Pope Benedict XVI "acted as the Successor of Peter, who has the task of deciding what constitutes unity and communion in the Church."

The Catholic News Agency reported that the Australian bishops said their recent meetings with Vatican officials had given them a more adequate understanding of the actions taken to try and resolve "the difficulties with Bishop Morris".

These difficulties concerned "not only matters of Church discipline but also of Church doctrine definitively taught, such as on the ministerial priesthood."

In a 2006 pastoral letter, Bishop Morris proposed considering the ordination of women and married men. He also proposed allowing Anglicans, Lutherans and other religions to preside at Mass.

Over the next five years, he declined Vatican requests for immediate discussions and then repeatedly refused to resign even when personally asked to do so by Pope Benedict.

In May, Pope Benedict dismissed Bishop Morris because of what was viewed by Rome as his long track-record of dissent from Catholic teaching and practice.

The Australian bishops concluded their letter by expressing their acceptance of "the Holy Father's exercise of his Petrine ministry" and reaffirmed their "communion with and under Peter".

The bishops would return to Australia "to heal any wounds of division, to extend our fraternal care to Bishop Morris, and to strengthen the bonds of charity in the Church in Australia."

Until a new bishop is appointed, Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane Brian Finnigan will act as Bishop to the Toowoomba Diocese.

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