The following is an overview of the history of the dispute between Bishop William Morris and the Roman Dicasteries. It is not exhaustive and the full detail is to be found in the associated documents.


November 1992: Fr William Martin Morris is announced as the new Bishop of Toowoomba. He succeeded Bishop Edward Kelly MSC, DD, who had retired in accord with canon 401 § 1 having completed his 75

year.9 February1993 Bishop Morris presented the Apostolic Letter of Appointment to the clergy of the diocese in a para-liturgy held at the James Byrne Centre, Highfields. All clergy signed a copy of the letter to indicate their acceptance of William Morris as Bishop of Toowoomba.

Bishop Morris was ordained Bishop in St Patrick’s Cathedral: 10 February 1993.
Bishop Morris, immediately, proved to have a very different style of leadership from previous bishops. The Bishop encouraged dialogue and collaboration. Among differences of approach were:


The creation of a Personnel Board to deal with appointments of clergy. This body consulted with the people of the parishes concerned and interviewed applicants before recommending the most suitable person for the position. In the past appointments, except for a few exceptions, were made on seniority of ordination.

 The bishop established a Diocesan Liturgical Commission to facilitate education and formation of priests and people in matters of liturgy.
 A Policy was established for Initiation of Children that returned the sacraments of Confirmation and first Eucharist to their ancient order.
Guidelines for the use of General Absolution within the celebration of Communal Rites of Reconciliation were developed. These celebrations were generally well received and the prayerful participation of the laity was evident to all who presided at them.
 A Diocesan Assembly was called that resulted in the formation of a Diocesan Pastoral Council and the development of a Diocesan Pastoral Plan. There have now been several of these Assemblies, each designed to invigorate the pastoral life of the diocese and review and refine the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
 The Bishop broke with tradition and wore a tie, embroidered with his coat of arms, rather than the Roman Collar. The Bishop offered each priest a black tie with the Diocesan Arms and indicated that the wearing of the tie was to be considered clerical dress, along with the collar and the white shirt with crosses, the choice being left to the individual cleric.The Bishop’s relaxed and open style was welcomed by most of the Diocese. However, there was a small but vocal minority who found fault with nearly every action he took and decision he made.
 When a parish in Toowoomba was given to the junior applicant, and him considered by a small group of clergy to be radical, there were meetings of some clergy to consider action against the bishop.2
Over time there was a growing campaign of letters of complaint from the minority of dissatisfied people. Most of these letters were sent directly to Congregations in Rome. Many of the letters concerned the use of General Absolution as one of the few areas where there might have been divergence between the practice of the diocese and the liturgical regulations.The issue of the use of General Absolution led to a dispute between the Bishop and Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship. Some of this dispute took on a personal aspect.
Despite all attempts to explain how the practice of the diocese fulfilled the requirements of canon and liturgical law and how it was becoming more and more necessary as clergy numbers decreased and that the ordinary means of Reconciliation was still the first rite of Penance, the Congregation insisted that the practice cease. This demand was complied with in a gradual way so as not to distress people.

22 May 1994: Pope John Paul II promulgates the Apostolic Letter O

rdinatio Sacerdotalis concerning the ordination of women and declares the conversation ended. 18 May 1998: Pope John Paul II makes additions to two canons of the Code of Canon Law in a motu proprio: Ad Tuendam Fidem.

The additions to canons 750 & 1371 effectively make it an offence punishable in canon law for any of the faithful to discuss the possibility of the ordination of women. In the normal course of events the punishment would be decided by a Tribunal and depending of the severity of the case could range from a censure to removal from office to excommunication; in the case of a cleric other penalties might include suspension or removal from the clerical state. 2 May 2002: Pope John Paul II promulgates the motu proprio Misericordia Dei concerning the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. The motu proprio essentially limited the use of General Absolution to extreme circumstances, e.g. war and imminent threat of attack.Advent 2006: the Bishop’s pastoral letter made reference to the various discussions going on around the world as a result of the crisis in priestly vocations in the western world. The letter referred to discussions concerning: orders (deacons, priests and bishops) of other faith communities, and the ordination of married men and of women.
In December 2006 the Bishop received a letter, via fax, demanding that he attend a meeting with three Cardinals, Re, Levada, and Arinze, in the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. The letter was dated 21 December 2006. The meeting was to be held in February 2007 and possible dates were given. The Bishop replied by letter, dated 22 December 2006, that he would be willing to meet but stated there were serious pastoral reasons why he could not be absent from the diocese at that time. He indicated that he would be in Rome in May 2007, representing the Australian Bishops at an international Church meeting on professional standards and would be willing to meet the three Cardinals at that time.
In a letter dated 4 January 2007 Cardinal Arinze insisted that the issue was important enough that the Bishop present himself in February as previously demanded.

In a letter dated 17 January 2007 the Bishop repeated his previous position.

In March 2007 the Bishop received notification that an Apostolic Visitor had been appointed by the Congregation for Bishops and would undertake a Visitation in the near future. Archbishop


Charles Chaput, from the Diocese of Denver in the United States, arrived for the Visitation on 23 April 2007. He spent the night with Archbishop Bathersby in Brisbane.

On Tuesday 24 April 2007 the Visitor arrived in Toowoomba, met informally with Bishop Morris, then met with the Council of Priests. He then began a series of meetings with various Diocesan bodies, officials, priests, directors of agencies and people of the Diocese. Prior to his arrival Archbishop Chaput had named various people, clergy, officials and groups, he wished to meet. Others were nominated by the Bishop. There was a cross section of people and clergy of the diocese representing all levels of support and opposition to the Bishop. On Wednesday and Thursday he travelled around the diocese and conducted interviews. The interviews resumed in Toowoomba on Friday and Saturday morning. After a final interview with the Bishop on Saturday midday the Visitor departed and prepared his Report, which was presented to the Congregation for Bishops by early May 2007, prior to the Bishop’s scheduled journey to Rome.

After the Apostolic Visitor left the majority of the clergy and Pastoral Leaders of the Diocese gathered to discuss what had happened. All except three priests signed a letter of support for Bishop Morris and these individual letters along with letters of support from the Pastoral Leaders and the Diocesan Pastoral Council were sent to the Congregation for Bishops.

While Bishop Morris was in Rome in May 2007, no meeting with the Cardinals took place despite the fact that he had previously been summoned to meet with them and that the report of the Apostolic Visitor had been presented to the Cardinals.

The Report of the Apostolic Visitor has never been shown to the Bishop.

In September 2007 an unsigned memorandum, dated 28 June 2007, from the Congregation for Bishops was received by Bishop Morris. It concluded with a request for the Bishop to resign.

On 17 September 2007, the Bishop indicated by letter, that he would reflect on the memorandum and reply after his October 2007 holidays.

3 October 2007: a letter from the Congregation for Bishops stated that the request for the Bishop’s resignation was being made in the name of the Holy Father.

6 November 2007: a letter from the Bishop to Cardinal Re suggested collaboration and dialogue. The Bishop stated he would provide a detailed answer to the memorandum as far as that was possible. The Bishop stated he would be prepared to meet with the Cardinals in January 2008 with Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Episcopal Conference (ACBC) and with Archbishop Bathersby, Metropolitan of the Queensland Province, present with him at the meeting.

In a letter dated 30 November 2007 Cardinal Re set 19 January 2008 for a meeting with the Bishop and Archbishop Wilson. In this letter the Cardinal said he saw no reason for Archbishop Bathersby to accompany the Bishop.

On 27 and 28 December 2007, the Bishop convened a meeting of several canon lawyers and Bishops to advise him on how he could best respond to the memorandum and the Letter requesting his resignation. This Advisory Group consulted international canonists.

A letter was sent to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura asking about the right to defence in this instance. (The Apostolic Signatura is the highest court in the Church and the last court of appeal, similar to the High Court of Australia.)
 A letter was sent to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, asking for a definition of what constituted “grave cause” in canon 401 § 2. (This Pontifical Council provides definitive interpretation and definition of legal terminology in all Church law.)
 A copy of correspondence sent to each of the Church Officials and bodies above was also provided to the other Church Officials and bodies.On 10 April 2008 the Apostolic Signatura replied saying it was not in their competence as no legal proceedings had taken place.
In early September 2008, the new Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, informed the Bishop that Cardinal Re was still waiting for the Bishop’s reply. The Bishop informed the Nuncio that he had already replied to Cardinal Re on 14 March 2008 when correspondence has been sent to several Roman bodies and Officials and that the Apostolic Signatura had already replied.
On 13 September 2008 the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts replied saying the interpretation of “grave cause” in canon 401 § 2 was up to the Congregation for Bishops to discern.

In a letter dated 23 October 2008, Cardinal Re demanded the resignation of the Bishop by the end of November 2008 so that an announcement could be made in early January 2009. The letter stated that if the resignation was not forthcoming the Bishop would be removed.

On 19 December 2008 the Bishop sent a letter to Cardinal Re, stating that in conscience he could not resign, and outlining his reasons for this position.

On 24 December 2008 the Bishop wrote directly to Pope Benedict XVI.

In a letter dated 31 January 2009 the Pope wrote to the Bishop inviting him to arrange an audience through the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop James M Harvey.

Archbishop Harvey wrote to the Bishop on 10 March 2009 informing him that he and Archbishop Wilson would be received by the Pope on 4 June 2009.

The Bishop met with the Pope on 4 June 2009 with Archbishop Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, also in attendance. It was obvious that the Pope had been thoroughly briefed as he reiterated the demands of the three Cardinals and indicated that the Bishop’s talents lay elsewhere than as the Bishop of a diocese. The Pope urged Archbishop Wilson to work with Bishop Morris to find him a suitable national position in the Australian Church. The Bishop left the meeting saying to Archbishop Wilson that he had no intention of resigning as Bishop of Toowoomba.

On 9 July 2009 Bishop Morris received a letter from Cardinal Re requiring him to submit his resignation as he had promised the Pope he would do at their June meeting. The Bishop maintained he had not made such a promise.

On 12 November 2009 Bishop Morris wrote to the Pope clarifying his position that in conscience he could not resign from office.

On 22 December 2009 Pope Benedict replied to Bishop Morris requesting that Bishop Morris resign from office and reminding him that there is no appeal from papal decisions. The Pope repeated the serious concerns he had with Bishop Morris’s position on the ordination of women and recognition of the orders of Anglicans and other Churches.

On 25 January 2010 the Bishop gathered the Consultors with Brian Sparksman and Peter Schultz to update them as to the current situation. The Bishop read the Pope’s December letter. The Bishop also informed those present that Archbishop Wilson was currently in Rome and that he had taken with him a proposal that the Bishop would retire when he reached the age of seventy (in October 2013). If this offer was not acceptable, the Bishop was prepared to retire at an earlier date (in mid 2011) depending on the progress of a recent sexual abuse case in the diocese. [In a later letter to the Holy Father (8 December 2010), Bishop Morris would request more time in office, beyond mid 2011, to attend to the ongoing matters involved in responding to the families and children in the sexual abuse case]

On 6 February 2010, Cardinal Re wrote to the Bishop, informing him that the Pope had decided to accept the Bishop’s “proposal”, as presented by Archbishop Wilson, to remain in office until mid 2011 (May 2011) but made no reference to the Bishop’s condition of satisfactorily finalising the current sexual abuse case. While the Bishop’s offer was to “retire”, the letter used the term “resign”.

On 21 July 2010 the Bishop wrote to the Apostolic Nuncio expressing his desire to remain in office beyond May 2011 due to the ongoing pastoral response necessary in the sexual abuse case.


November 2010: at the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) the Apostolic Nuncio informed the Bishop his request was declined.

8 December 2010: the Bishop wrote to the Holy Father informing him of the reasons why he wanted to remain in office beyond May 2011; primarily to deal with the pastoral ramifications of the sexual abuse case involving a former teacher at a parochial school.

In a letter written on 21 February 2011 (with a typographical error in the dating: it was dated 2010), Archbishop Lazzarotto requested Bishop Morris to tender his resignation which would be effective immediately. The Apostolic Nuncio informed the Bishop that the fact of his resignation would be announced on Monday 2 May 2011. In this same letter, Archbishop Lazzarotto informed the Bishop that an Apostolic Administrator would be announced the same day. The Appointment of an Apostolic Administrator removes from the College of Consultors their responsibility to elect a Diocesan Administrator in the event of a vacant See.

On Friday 11 March 2011 the Bishop called the College of Consultors together with Brian Sparksman and Peter Schultz to inform them of these developments.

The Bishop wrote to the Apostolic Nuncio on 15 March 2011 indicating that in conscience he could not resign but that he had accepted that his early retirement would be announced on 2 May 2011.

On 14 April the Bishop met for the last time with the Consultors, Brian Sparksman and Peter Schultz, to tell them of his intention to send a letter to the Priests and Pastoral Leaders and a Pastoral Letter to the people of the Diocese. All supported the Bishop in this decision. This would mean that the diocese would first hear the news from the Bishop and not from the media.

On Wednesday 27 April 2011, the Bishop sent a letter to all Priests and Pastoral Leaders informing them that he would be accepting early retirement on Monday 2 May. The Bishop included a Pastoral Letter to the people of the Diocese to be read at all Masses on the weekend of 30 April and 1 May 2011.

On Friday 29 April 2011, a Reflection Document on the Bishop’s early retirement, including this Summary History of Events, was sent by the Consultors to all Priests, Pastoral Leaders, Diocesan Pastoral Council members, Diocesan Pastoral Administration Committee members, Diocesan Finance Board members, Directors of Diocesan Agencies, and Heads of Churches (Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting) in the Toowoomba region.

Summary History prepared by Peter Schultz and Peter Dorfield: 29 April 2011.




Thursday 05 May 2011  


An Apostolic Administrator has been appointed by Rome to govern the diocese until a new Bishop is appointed. The normal responsibility, in such circumstances, of the College of Consultors to elect a Diocesan Administrator in this interim period, has been set aside by Rome. At one level diocesan and parish life will seem to continue as normal but all of us have been profoundly affected by what has happened.
To help with a better understanding of the unfolding of events in recent years, a Summary History of the relations between Bishop Morris and the Congregations in Rome has been prepared and is included with this letter. We ask you to treat this information with respect and care. It is offered as a resource to help Priests, Pastoral Leaders and those in positions of leadership to explain to local communities what has happened and to protect against uninformed allegations and statements that may appear in the media or may be urged by others.

This letter with the attached Summary History has been sent to the following people:

a) Priests and Pastoral Leaders residing in the Diocese, including the retired Priests;

(Priest Directors are asked to make appropriate arrangements for informing the additional parish communities under their care. Priests involved in Special Ministries or Chaplaincies and those associated with Diocesan Agencies are asked to appropriately brief their related community or Agency.)

b) Members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council;
c) Members of the Diocesan Pastoral Administration Committee;

d) Members of the Diocesan Finance Board;

e) Directors of Diocesan Agencies and Ministries; and

f) Heads of Churches (Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church) in the Toowoomba region.

We conclude by acknowledging that Bishop Morris has dealt with these difficult matters with integrity, truthfulness and grace. All legitimate avenues of response and appeal within the Church have been explored. As his final Letter to the Diocese explains, Bishop Morris, while remaining faithful to his own conscience and convictions, has accepted this decision of Pope Benedict. We consider that over several years, not just recently, Bishop Morris has not been treated fairly nor respectfully by Roman authorities.

It is our hope that an appropriate way will be found to express appreciation to Bishop Morris for his many years of committed service to our diocesan community and to the wider community. It is our hope that we will hold him in mind and prayer as a valued and ongoing member of our diocesan community and that we will welcome him back into our midst whether for a casual and friendly visit or as part of important occasions that may arise in the life of our diocese in the future.

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Fathers John Quinlan, Michael McClure, Jeff Scully, Brian Noonan, Ray Crowley
& Peter Dorfield.  



, beginning at 11.00am. This is not a public meeting. Only those invited by letter are welcome to attend. At this meeting, those present will be briefed on the events and process that have led to Bishop Morris’s removal and his negotiated early retirement so that they will be better informed and be better equipped to speak to their Parish and Agency communities.  

Priests and Pastoral Leaders are encouraged to provide appropriate and accurate explanations to their home parish communities and to consider inviting people to an information meeting in their region, if thought helpful.

Directors of Diocesan Agencies are asked to brief their staff on these developments.

Professional care and support will be arranged with appropriate counsellors for priests and people who may be deeply troubled by these developments and may be deeply grieving Bishop Morris’s removal


the outcome was already decided. Bishop Morris returned from Rome to Toowoomba on 10 June. He met with the Consultors, the Chancellor and the Associate Judicial Vicar on Friday morning 12 June 2009, briefing them on the audience and discussing appropriate responses for both himself and the diocese. 4  

On 04 July 2009, Bishop Morris received a letter from Cardinal Re, asking him to honour the “promise to resign” made to the Pope in their June 2009 meeting. No such promise had been given by Bishop Morris. This was confirmed by Archbishop Wilson who was also present at the meeting. This matter was dealt with in more detail when Bishop Morris wrote to Pope Benedict in November 2009 explaining that resignation was not possible for him on deeply held grounds of conscience.

Pope Benedict replied on 22 December 2009. In summary he requested Bishop Morris’s resignation from office and an openness to be of service to the Church in Australia in another area of responsibility. He reminded Bishop Morris that there is no process of appeal in papal decisions regarding bishops whom the Pope nominates and may remove from office.

During 2010, correspondence continued between Bishop Morris and the Congregation for Bishops (Cardinal Re), the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra (Archbishop Lazzarotto) and Pope Benedict.

On 21 February 2011 the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra, Archbishop Lazzarotto, wrote to Bishop Morris informing him that a public announcement would be made on Monday 02 May 2011 of his “resignation as Bishop of Toowoomba” and of the appointment of an Apostolic Administrator to attend to governance of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

You may be wondering why so little of this information has been shared with priests, Pastoral Leaders and the wider diocese prior to this. The primary reason has been the constraint of confidentiality required by the Congregations and requested by Bishop Morris as he chose to deal directly with the Congregations himself. The only exceptions to this practice have been the ongoing work of the special Advisory Group and several briefings of his diocesan advisory group, the College of Consultors (08 February and 18 December 2008; 27 January, 21 May and 12 June 2009; 25 January 2010; 11 March and 14 April 2011).

The February 2008 briefing of the College of Consultors took place after Bishop Morris had returned from the meeting with the Congregations in Rome in January 2008. At that time he asked the Consultors to treat the briefing as confidential which they have done out of respect for his request. On 18 December 2008, Bishop Morris called the Consultors together for another special meeting. He briefed the Consultors on the developments that had taken place during the year concluding with the October 2008 letter from Cardinal Re, requiring resignation under threat of removal. The Consultors again respected Bishop Morris’s request for confidentiality.

On 27 January 2009, the Consultors met by Teleconference. Bishop Morris provided an update

on developments in the light of recent discussion in Rome between Archbishop Philip Wilson and Pope Benedict and the possibility of a personal meeting with the Pope later in the year.

On 21 May 2009, Bishop Morris convened a meeting of the Consultors to brief them on the exchange of correspondence between himself and Pope Benedict, with the date for an Audience in Rome being arranged for Thursday 4 June 2009. Once again, Bishop Morris requested confidentiality. On 12 June 2009, as noted earlier, Bishop Morris convened a meeting of the College of Consultors, the Chancellor and the Associate Judicial Vicar after his return from Rome.

On 25 January 2010, Bishop Morris again briefed the Consultors on the resignation-demand letter from Cardinal Re of July 2009, his own detailed response to Pope Benedict in November and the reply from Pope Benedict in December 2009.

On Friday 11 March 2010, Bishop Morris called the Consultors together to remind them of Pope Benedict’s letter and to inform them of the contents of the letter from the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra, Archbishop Lazzarotto, stating that his removal through “resignation” from the office of Bishop of Toowoomba would be made public on Monday 02 May 2011. The final meeting with the Consultors took place Thursday 14 April 2011. 5

Though not all Consultors were comfortable with maintaining confidentiality, given its unwelcome effect of keeping people in the diocese unaware of what was happening to their Bishop and to them, Bishop Morris’s request has been respected.

Now that Bishop Morris’s formal removal through “negotiated early retirement” has taken place, as priests of the diocese (with some of us continuing as Consultors), we are anxious that Priests, Pastoral Leaders, Diocesan Agency Directors, lay people in leadership and people of the diocese be adequately and appropriately informed on how this has come about.

During the week ending Friday 29 April, all Priests and Pastoral Leaders received a letter from Bishop Morris explaining his situation. This letter included a separate Letter to the People of the Diocese which Bishop Morris asked be read at all Masses on the weekend of Saturday 30 April and Sunday 01 May 2011.

Resident Priests, Pastoral Leaders and Priest Directors are asked to continue the process of explanation in ways appropriate to the local parish community.

To help with this responsibility, Priests and Pastoral Leaders, Directors of Diocesan Agencies, members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Administration Committee and the Diocesan Finance Board, are invited to a meeting to be held in Toowoomba in the Conference Room at St Pat’s Cathedral on


St Patrick’s Cathedral

123 Neil Street

Toowoomba QLD 4350

Friday 29 April 2011

It is with considerable sadness that we provide this Reflection. By now you will have heard that Bishop Morris has “negotiated an early retirement” from the office of Bishop of Toowoomba. During this past week Bishop Morris wrote to all Priests and Pastoral Leaders informing them of his early retirement from office. That personal letter included a Pastoral Letter to the Diocese that Bishop Morris asked to be read to the people at all Masses on the weekend of Saturday 30 April / Sunday 01 May.

As you now know, this Pastoral Letter both expresses thanks for the past eighteen years of ministry in our midst and explains his current untenable position as Bishop of the Diocese. The Pastoral Letter makes it clear that he has not resigned. He has negotiated an early retirement from office, effective 02 May 2011.

This “negotiated early retirement” from office is not as simple as it seems. Bishop Morris has in effect been removed from office. He has not resigned from office. For the past five years he has been in robust dialogue with Rome over a range of pastoral and doctrinal issues. Since September 2007, Bishop Morris has been under pressure to submit his resignation.

Prior to any of these formal matters, Bishop Morris had always intended to retire from office by offering his resignation when he had reached 70 years of age (on 08 October 2013).

In January 2010, while under considerable pressure to resign, Bishop Morris indicated to Rome his prior willingness to retire at 70 years of age. If this was not acceptable, he further indicated an openness to retire in eighteen months time (mid 2011) depending on the finalisation of a sexual abuse case with which he was currently dealing.

In July 2010, Bishop Morris wrote to the Congregation for Bishops through the Apostolic Nuncio in Canberra requesting more time beyond May 2011 to finalise these cases and to pastorally care for the victims and their families. Archbishop Phillip Wilson, the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, supported this request. In November 2010 he was notified that his request for an extension in time had been denied. In December 2010 Bishop Morris wrote directly to Pope Benedict with the same request. In a letter from the Apostolic Nuncio (21 February 2011), Bishop Morris was informed that his request was turned down and that his “resignation” would be announced on 02 May 2011.

Our concern in this document is not only about the timing of the removal of Bishop Morris through early retirement. We are even more concerned about the treatment he has received from Roman authorities over several years and in particular during the past five years.

Pope Benedict, through the Congregation for Bishops, has insisted that he leave office in early May 2011. This has now been publicly announced. Bishop Morris has accepted this decision.

Bishop Morris has been removed on the grounds of “flawed” and “defective” pastoral leadership through his years as a Bishop, and more recently, on doctrinal grounds. The Congregation for Bishops, responding to complaints from within the diocese, had been aggressively questioning Bishop Morris for some time over a number of pastoral and liturgical matters. The Congregation, under the hand of Cardinal Re, then wrote to Bishop Morris on 23 October 2008 presenting two alternatives: resign from office or be removed. 2

A little over a year later, in a letter from Pope Benedict (22 December 2009), the grounds had been reduced to two doctrinal matters. Bishop Morris was considered to be seriously questioning settled Church teaching through views expressed in his Advent Letter of 2006 on the ordination of women and the recognition of Anglican (and other Church) Orders. These two matters, while significant, have not been prominent in eighteen years of creative and effective pastoral leadership and ministry in our diocese.

Constant promotion of prayer, liturgy and faith education; vigorous encouragement of lay people to take a constructive part in the pastoral leadership of local communities always in partnership with their priests; willing involvement with other Churches in ecumenical initiatives; dedicated engagement in the wider community on matters of justice; regular promotion of the sacrament of Reconciliation with Individual Reconciliation as the ordinary form of the Sacrament and with the limited and now discontinued use of General Absolution in response to pastoral need; energetic visiting of every parish, school, diocesan agency and faith community in our widespread diocese; development of an extensive network of personal relationships built on respect and a great sense of warmth in humanity; these are the distinguishing marks of the committed and prayerful leadership that Bishop Morris has exercised in our midst.

In the disputed Advent Letter of 2006, Bishop Morris set out to affirm and encourage lay people in their commitment to sharing the responsibilities of pastoral leadership within both the Church and the wider community. In reflecting on the imminent shortage of ordained priests, he referred to discussions already taking place in the wider community (local, national and international) around the ordination of women and the recognition of Orders in neighbouring mainline Churches. This simple acknowledgment of discussion of these matters was taken as actively promoting theological positions at variance with the settled teaching of the Church.

Given his removal, we now choose to brief you on developments that have been unfolding between Bishop Morris and the Rome based Congregations for Bishops, for Doctrine of the Faith, and for Sacraments and Worship, over several years.

For a number of years Bishop Morris had been in regular and difficult discussions with the Congregation for Sacraments and Worship (Cardinal Arinze) over our pastoral use of General Absolution in the Communal Rite of Reconciliation. His position on this sacramental matter was seen as defiant and ongoing opposition to the position of the Congregation.

Bishop Morris’s initiatives in ecumenical matters along with reflections on Orders had been questioned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Cardinal Levada). He was considered to be promoting a “permissive” stance by inviting thoughtful reflection and ecumenical dialogue on the sacrament of Orders.

His determination to encourage greater lay participation and responsibility in the daily life of the local Church, especially in areas of pastoral leadership, had been construed by the Congregation for Bishops (Cardinal Re) as denigrating ministerial priesthood and lessening the need to promote vocations to the priesthood.

In these matters it is alleged, without any testing of evidence by canonical or Church trial, that Bishop Morris had breached the communion between the universal Church and the particular Church (our diocese). He was considered to be deliberately acting against the teaching of the official Church or at best, to be lacking in judgment and perspective in allowing others to take unwarranted liberties in pastoral and liturgical practice.

Furthermore, he was considered to be challenging if not opposing settled teaching of the Magisterium on matters associated with the ordination of women and the recognition of Anglican (and other Church) Orders. These matters were exclusively cited in Pope Benedict’s letter to Bishop Morris (22 December 2009). 3

From the outset of his appointment, a small group of disaffected people, priests and lay, have steadily and regularly complained to Roman authorities about their dissatisfaction with the leadership of Bishop Morris. Members of this group over the years have benefitted from the pastoral generosity of the Bishop while still actively contributing to his removal through constant complaint. The Apostolic Visitation by Archbishop Chaput in April 2007 was their ultimate achievement.

In April 2007, Archbishop Chaput from Denver USA, was sent to the diocese by the Congregation for Bishops on an Apostolic Visitation. A copy of his Official Report has never been given to Bishop Morris nor were the contents of the Report ever discussed with him. However, the October 2008 letter from Cardinal Re, noted earlier, explicitly cited the Report and its assessment that the general theological climate of the diocese, priests and people, was considered to be in theological and disciplinary decline. It is also worth noting that Bishop Morris was later informed that he would receive a copy of the Report but only after he had submitted his resignation.

It is a matter of considerable interest that immediately after the Apostolic Visitation, letters of support for the pastoral leadership of Bishop Morris were signed by the greater majority of the Priests (three chose not to sign), all Pastoral Leaders and all members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. These letters, with an accompanying covering letter, were sent to Cardinal Re through the Apostolic Delegate in Canberra. These letters have never been acknowledged by the Congregation in Rome.

After the Apostolic Visitation in 2007, an Advisory Group was set up, at Bishop Morris’s request, comprising canon lawyers (Australian and international), bishops including Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide (President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference), and local priests Fathers Brian Sparksman (Diocesan Chancellor and Canon Lawyer), Peter Schultz (Associate Vicar Judicial and Canon Lawyer) and Peter Dorfield (Vicar General). This Advisory Group met, at Bishop Morris’s request, on a number of occasions to advise him on replying to the correspondence now coming from the Congregations in Rome.

In mid January 2008, Bishop Morris went to Rome to meet in person with the Cardinal Leaders of the three Congregations (Cardinals Re, Arinze and Levada), with Archbishop Philip Wilson present in support. This meeting took place on 19 January 2008.

During the past three years, matters have deteriorated further between Bishop Morris and the Congregations in Rome. In late October 2008 Bishop Morris received the letter from Cardinal Re which, while assuring him that his personal integrity, moral character and virtue were not in question, insisted that he resign (under the provisions of Canon 401.2) or face formal removal.

On 19 December 2008, Bishop Morris wrote to Cardinal Re (Congregation for Bishops) stating that, after prayerful reflection and after carefully considering the trusted, expert and discreet advice from the Advisory Group and the College of Consultors, that he could not resign as requested.

On 24 December 2008, Bishop Morris wrote directly to Pope Benedict XVI.

On 31 January 2009, the Pope replied, inviting Bishop Morris to an Audience after Easter 2009, with a suitable date to be arranged through the Prefect of the Pontifical Household. Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Episcopal Conference, was invited by the Pope to accompany Bishop Morris to the Audience. The date for the Audience was subsequently set for Thursday 4 June 2009, during the time that Bishop Morris and Archbishop Wilson were to be in Rome for an international Conference.

Bishop Morris, with Archbishop Wilson, met with Pope Benedict (and advisors) on Thursday morning, 04 June. The audience was relatively brief. In Bishop Morris’s view


In mid-January 2008, the Bishop travelled to Rome. On 19 January 2008, the Bishop met with Cardinals Re, Levada and Arinze in Rome at the Vatican. Archbishop Wilson was with him. The Bishop had previously suggested he bring a canonical advisor with him to the meeting as well but was discouraged from doing so by Cardinal Arinze. The Bishop also asked to speak with the Holy Father but was told this would only be permitted after he had resigned. His resignation was still being demanded by the Cardinals.

In a letter dated 24 January 2008 the Bishop informed Cardinal Re that he felt unable to resign.

On 8 February 2008 the Diocesan College of Consultors was convened and briefed by the Bishop on the details of all that had happened since the Apostolic Visitation in April 2007 and in particular on the January 2008 meeting with the Cardinals in Rome. Only those priests of the diocese in the Advisory Group had previously been aware of the Bishop’s meeting in January 2008 with the three Cardinals.

Cardinal Re replied to the Bishop by letter dated 13 February 2008 and again called on the Bishop to resign.

On 21 February 2008, the Advisory Group was again convened by Bishop Morris. A formal and more developed “Statement of Position” was prepared in response to the issues raised in the unsigned memorandum of September 2007. These issues had again been emphasised in the January 2008 meeting in Rome with the three Cardinals. Once again they requested Bishop Morris to resign.

On 14 March 2008: The “Statement of Position” was sent by Bishop Morris to Cardinals Re (Congregation for Bishops), Levada (Congregation for the Faith) and Arinze (Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship).

One Response

  1. Andrew Harper

    This is a very sad situation but reading the documents it appears that Rome tried in many ways to resolve the dispute and the bishop appears to have been unable to cooperate. Given that this process took four years and that there appear to have been difficulties before then – I do not think that Rome can be criticised in this case, indeed they appear to have been very patient. I think also that it is important to consider the role of the bishop as a bridge builder, in this regard he has failed because clearly there was much conflict in his diocese even among the clergy.

Scroll Up