Thursday, 27 October 2011

How can a bishop dismissed for doctrinal and disciplinary problems be 'in good standing'?!

A reader from Toowoomba has alerted me to the latest installment of the sorry saga of Bishop Morris.  And it is not good news.

Almost a week since the Australian Bishops' released a statement from Rome on the issue , the Toowoomba Diocesan website continues to highlight links to Bishop Morris' rant against the Australian Bishops - but amazingly, not the actual statement itself, at least as far as I can see.

And worse, a priest of the diocese has publicly attacked Cardinal Pell in the local media for suggesting that it was inappropriate that Bishop Morris continue to act publicly there, and insists that Bishop Morris has every right to continue to act quasi-officially in the diocese.  Sorry, but that claim is utter rubbish.

Use the new media to help heal not hurt!

But first the misuse of Church property - to attack the Church itself!

Go to the Toowoomba diocesan website and you will find it hosts Bishop Morris' latest diatribe attacking the Pope and the Australian bishops.

You will find attacks on the faithful laity of the diocese exercizing their canonical rights as 'zealots' and 'temple police'. 

You will find Bishop Morris' biography and assorted other material by him, and from those advocating on his behalf.

What you won't find, however, is the latest statement from the Australian bishops on the subject!

Or any corrective catechesis on the issues so much debated in this affair, such as the impossibility of ordaining women of women, the invalidity of protestant orders, or the proper use of General Absolutions.

Now the immediate problem is, perhaps, in large part that Bishop Finnigan, the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, has been in Rome and is still on leave.

Still, some of the more inflammatory material has been on the website for some time now.  And it has been some months, surely enough time to put up something setting out the Church's actual teaching on these subjects (and so many others no doubt misunderstood by many in Toowoomba).  This situation can hardly be helping heal things within the diocese, or in the wider Australian Church.

What you can do

So let me urge my readers to write to the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese, Bishop Brian Finnigan to ask for urgent action to correct this situation.

If you do email or write, please remember to:
  • be respectful and polite;
  • avoid using inflammatory rhetoric; and
  • state clearly what you see as the problem(s), how it makes you feel, and why you think something needs to be done about it.
Not in 'good standing'!

But really taking the cake, in my view, is a letter sent to me by a reader published in the Toowoomba Chronicle today from a Father Peter Schultz of that diocese, attacking Cardinal Pell's reported comments pointing out the obvious fact that it is completely inappropriate for Bishop Morris to be continue speaking publicly and acting quasi-officially in the diocese.

Fr Schultz argues that while the power of governance has been removed from Bishop Morris, as a bishop he still has the functions of sanctifying and governing by virtue of his ordination.  He claims that:

"Only the Pope can remove these functions from Bishop Morris and as of this date this has not been done.  It is therefore entirely appropriate for Bishop Morris to undertake the very tasks for which Cardinal Pell is criticising him."

Quite frankly, balderdash!

Communion with the Church is what it means to be catholic

No bishop claiming to be part of the Church has the right to do or teach whatever they like.

In fact Canon Law clearly states that the Church only 'subsists in' those in communion with the Pope and bishops in communion with him (CL 204).  The Australian bishops' statement clearly states that Bishop Morris breached this communio:

"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."

 A bishop who has been deemed not to be in communion with the Pope cannot under any stretch of the imagination be described as 'in good standing' as I've seen repeatedly claimed in relation to Bishop Morris's status.  In fact on the face of it, he is not fully part of the Church at all.

Secondly, it is worth noting that, contrary to Fr Schultz's assertion, the Pope cannot, technically speaking, 'remove' the functions of teaching, governing and sanctifying.  A priest is a priest forever, and the key reason Popes have long been reluctant to take formal action against bishops is the risk that their continued disobedience will harden into formal schism and cause endless future problems for the Church.

It is possible however for the right to exercize those functions to be curtailed or suspended, either temporarily (eg through voluntary agreement, formal suspension, interdict or excommunication) or permanently (for example by laicization).

We know Bishop Morris has lost the function of governance of the diocese.  We do not know what else Pope Benedict XVI might actually have told bishop Morris in this regard. 

It is worth noting though, that at least in theory (practicalities are another matter), excommunication can happen automatically; it does not require the Pope or anyone else to 'declare' the matter (that's a next step in the process). Rather, certain canonical crimes incur excommunication or suspension 'latae sententiae'.

There are a number of canonical crimes that could also potentially apply 'ferendae sententiae' to Bishop Morris - and from the extract of the letter from the Pope released by Bishop Morris, the formal warnings necessary have already occurred.  But the elephant in the Toowoomba diocese is of course heresy, or persistence in an erroneous opinion despite proper warning - which incurs automatic excommunication.

You are not in good standing if you stand for error!

But rather than argue about canon law technicalities, let's consider what the Pope and the Australian bishops have actually said on the matter.

According to Bishop Morris' latest statement, the Pope stated that:

‘In your Advent Pastoral Letter 2006 – besides containing some very questionable pastoral choices – there are at least two options presented that are incompatible with the Catholic faith:

a) Ordaining women in order to overcome the priest shortage. Yet, the late Pope John Paul II has decided infallibly and irrevocably that the Church has not the right to ordain women to the priesthood:’

b) recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders”. But according to the doctrine of the Catholic faith, ministers from these communities are not validly ordained and therefore do not share in the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and as such their actions are not joined to the ministerial priesthood.’

Similarly, the Bishops noted that the issues at stake concerned not only matters of Church discipline but also of Church doctrine definitively taught, such as on the ministerial priesthood.

There can be no sense in which someone is found by the Pope to be out of line on matters of both doctrine and discipline, and who refuses to accept the judgment of the Pastor of the Uinversal Church should be out teaching and claiming to act officially on behalf of said Church.

What next?

Let us hope that some of his colleagues can talk Bishop Morris down from his current intransigence.  And that Bishop Finnigan can be effective in communicating to the priests and people of Toowoomba just what the situation really is and why.  We should pray for the gift of understanding to be granted for those concerned.

Unfortunately, however, clerical arrogance, narcissism and outright stupidity are all too often the realities of this fallen world.

Fortunately, there are further steps and grounds for action that could be considered if necessary.  Canon 1371, for example, deals those who teach things that fall short of formal heresy, for example, but have been condemned by the Pope, while Canon 1371 deals with inciting hatred or animosity against the Holy See and inciting disobedience.  And there are other steps that could be taken, all the way up to laicization (as has been done recently in the case of a few bishops) if necessary.

So let's also get behind the upcoming Year of Grace, and pray for the grace of healing for those open to it.


Anonymous said...

So the bishops as a collective group reach out to Morris with healing and with love and Morris responds by kicking them in the guts. Fr Schultz is one of Morris's biggest fans and probably the best one to lead the cult of Bishop Morris in to the future. I am sure they will all be very happy together!

A Canberra Observer said...

I wrote to the Toowoomba diocese webmaster to express my concern at the publication of Bp Morris letter.

I have not received any response. Perhaps I do not expect to.

Sad, all very sad.