Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three: The Story of the Dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris by Pope Benedict XVI

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three: The Story of the Dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris by Pope Benedict XVI

Article excerpt

Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three: The Story of the Dismissal of Bishop Bill Morris by Pope Benedict XVI

Author: William Martin Morris;

Publisher: Hindmarsh: ATF Press, 2014

ISBN: 9781921511417

Paperback, 437 pages, $54.95

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Few events are more likely to make history in the Church than an episcopal dismissal; an occurrence that, while rare, this book demonstrates is not a unique occurrence even here in the faraway antipodes. Bishop William Morris' book is a twenty-nine-chapter account (with twenty-two appendices!) of the events surrounding his dismissal by Pope Benedict XVI and a group of highly placed Cardinals and provides an important witness to the fraught relationship between parts of the Australian episcopate and parts of the Roman curia over recent decades.

While Morris includes a few autobiographical details, the vast bulk of this book deals with events which transpired from the late 1990s through to early 2014 and will be of interest to historians and contemporary observers for the light it sheds on the relationship between Australia and Rome in the wake of the much-debated 1998 Statement of Conclusions, a document outlining the allegedly parlous state of the Catholic Church in Australia which upon its release caused a minor furor over claims its conclusions were based on a minority opinion and not reflective of the Australian reality. The great strength of this book is its extensive documentation, including Morris' correspondence with Rome and pastoral documents, which allows the reader to assess many of the claims made within the body of the text.

By now the rough outline of events leading to Morris' downfall is well-known and in purely factual terms can be summarized thus: Morris fell afoul of a minority of his parishioners and various Roman dicasteries due to his alleged lax attitude toward individual confession and overutilization of the Third Rite of Reconciliation and, more seriously, his perceived "advocacy" for women's ordination and the recognition of Protestant orders in a 2006 Advent pastoral letter. He was ostensibly sanctioned on the grounds that all public discussion of women's ordination had been closed following Pope John Paul Il's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) and the view in Rome that raising this matter showed poor pastoral sense. In the eyes of Rome this pastoral letter, coupled with other aspects of his episcopal ministry (not all of which are made clear and some clearly based on errors of fact), warranted his removal from his role as bishop. What remains hotly disputed, as the mixed-reception of Morris' book among reviewers indicates, is whether Morris was culpable for the second accusation leveled at him, and more importantly in the eyes of Morris and his supporters whether he was denied natural justice in the proceedings against him. Only history, and fuller access to documentation, will satisfactorily answer these questions, nevertheless Morris' account offers a valuable primary source for understanding the recent history of the Church in Australia.

The preexisting cleavages with the Australia Church which crystallized in the wake of the 1998 Statement of Conclusions--in particular through an emboldened attitude amongst disaffected conservatives and a series of arguably conservative appointments to key positions within the Church--and the marked contrasts in pastoral style, ecclesiology, and attitudes toward Vatican II which divide many Australia Catholics form the immediate context of the events which led-up to Morris' effective dismissal as Bishop of Toowoomba in 2011. In essence this book is a narrative about conflict between two styles of Church leadership and pastoral ministry.

Following a brief autobiographical introduction, Morris launches into substantive matters outlining his pastoral vision and the events of the 1998 Synod of Oceania which led to the penning of the Statement of Conclusions. …

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