Australian bishops’ statement in Rome
Our letter to Bishop Brian Finnigan in May said that, during the Ad Limina visit in October, we would have discussions concerning the events which led to the departure of Bishop William Morris from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Toowoomba. That has been done.
We had individual meetings with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Subsequently we had a joint meeting with Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal Levada. As well, we ourselves met several times.
We were very appreciative of the time given to us by the Cardinals and the personal and pastoral concern which they expressed. Our discussions with them were substantial, serious and candid.
These meetings have 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. What the Holy See did was fraternal and pastoral rather than juridical in character. Although efforts continued over many years, 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.
We express our acceptance of the Holy Father’s exercise of his Petrine ministry, and we reaffirm our communion with and under Peter. We return to Australia determined to do whatever we can 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.