The situation in the Toowoomba Diocese has been in the press again of late following the release of civil and canonical opinions. I suggest that anyone reflecting and commenting on this issue would do well to re-read the Statement that our Bishops in Australia released on 21 October 2011 following their Ad limina visit to Rome. I put the text here …
STATEMENT FROM THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS 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.
I think the message is clear from the Bishops that the Holy Father acted entirely within his powers, since “[b]y virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely” (canon 331, Code of Canon Law). There is no process in the Code for the removal of a bishop, and so it’s fairly hard to assert that the Pope “broke” canon law in this regard. The norms for the removal or transfer of pastors (i.e. Parish Priests) found in canons 1740-1752 do not apply to bishops.
At any rate, what’s most important now – as the Bishops have stated – is to heal any wounds of division and to strengthen the bonds of charity in the Church in Australia. Let us keep in our prayers the selection of a new bishop for Toowoomba Diocese.
Prayers from the Roman Missal “For the Election of a Pope or a Bishop”:
[h/t to Psallite Sapienter]
O God, eternal shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care, grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care. Through…
May your abundant kindness favour us, O Lord, that [, through the sacred offerings we reverently bring to you,*] we may come to rejoice that a pastor pleasing to your majesty presides over your holy Church. Through Christ our Lord.
[As we have been renewed,*] O Lord, [with the supreme Sacrament of salvation, the Body and Blood of your Only Begotten Son,*] may the wondrous grace of your majesty gladden us with the gift of a shepherd who will instruct your people by his virtues and imbue the minds of the faithful with the truth of the Gospel. Through Christ our Lord.
* Omit these phrases if these prayers are not used at Mass.