Thursday, 2 February 2012

Toowoomba again: who is Fr Ian Waters?

The Toowoomba story has finally made it back into the Fairfax media today, in a story by religion writer Barney Zwartz.  It is mostly the same old awful stuff, and it contains a few absolute clangers. 

The Pope rules, ok!

Let's skip to the big one:

"...found that Pope Benedict breached canon law and exceeded his authority in removing Bishop Morris without finding him guilty of apostasy, heresy or schism and without following the judicial procedures canon law requires."

First, it is impossible for the Pope to exceed his authority in a case like this since he has full legislative, executive and judicial authority within the Church (CIC 330-333).  There is no appeal from his judgments, and he is not bound by canon law! 

But secondly, even if he was so bound, there are no specific provisions relating to the dismissal of a bishop for him to breach. 

It is up to the Pope to judge whether the process used within the relevant Vatican agencies is appropriate or not, not for some civil lawyer to judge.  There is no required 'judicial procedure'. That would be because the Office of bishop is not a job, but an appointment as successor to the Apostles. And of course the apostles were a mixed bag too, remembering one in particular who sought to destroy the Church.

Thirdly, there is absolutely nothing that specifies that someone has to be guilty of schism, heresy or apostasy before they can be removed from Office in the Church!  Ineffective ministry is a perfectly good reason for removal.

Indeed, absolutely orthodox priests can be removed from office for all sorts of curious reasons as the case of Fr Speekman of Sale diocese ultimately attests.

So who is Fr Waters?
The opinions of a civil lawyer can readily be dismissed, but what about the opinion of canon lawyer Fr Ian Waters?  And just why was it that the Toowoomba dissenters fastened on him in the first place?
Well it turns out that the selection is not in the least bit random. 
Fr Waters is actually the author of a 2008 article in the Australasian Catholic Record on General Absolution.  And guess what, his article defends a broad use of it in rural Australian dioceses, contrary to the intent of the Statement of Conclusions for Australia and numerous other instructions!
Coincidence? I think not!
Fr Water's article is full of typical liberal fluff at odds with the tradition of the Church.
It argues that auricular confession was not given to us by Christ. 
That 'individual and private' celebration of the sacraments (as in private confession) is counter to the spirit of Vatican II. 
He quotes with approval a statement by Father Gerald Gleeson, of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, rejecting the orthodox concept of mortal sin:

"Many have observed that a theology focussed on individual actions according to which, for example, one’s laziness in missing Mass on a single Sunday could lead to eternal damnation, is simply too horrible to be believed. Most older Catholics today don’t believe the teaching about mortal sin they received as children, and rightly so. The tragedy is that neither they, nor younger Catholics, have been
introduced to a more mature, and theologically more adequate, understanding of sin and sinfulness."

The article is careful to mention the canonical restrictions placed on the use of General Absolution.  But he concludes by stressing the power of the diocesan bishop to decide on the circumstances in which General Absolution can be used, Rome notwithstanding.  And by suggesting some arguably quite inappropriate uses of it.

Yep, not only is he a Morris supporter, he would appear to have positively encouraged the good bishop by providing a pseudo-academic rationale for disregarding the repeated instructions from Rome on the extremely narrow circumstances in which General Absolution is to be used. 

Doesn't sound exactly an "Independent" expert to me...

And the truly terrifying thing is that he is, presumably, teaching the next generation of priests this kind of thing, and making decisions on behalf of the Melbourne Archdiocese based on this erroneous theology. 


SonofTrypho said...

But Kate, did you ever seriously suspect for a moment that he wouldn't have had a dog in this fight?

p.s. minor typo in the para starting "Fr Waters is actually..." :)

Kate said...

Thanks for alerting me to the typo.

Call me naive but I just assumed he was a typical liberal, rather than one with a vested interest in defending a personal academic position that has clearly been stomped on by the Vatican through this case!

Ambrose said...


You are like the Sherlock Holmes of the Catholic Church. With you on their tail, they can run, but they can't hide. I say the Pope and Australia Incognita rule!

Seriously though, a great piece you wrote here and thanks for enlightening us on who Fr Waters is and why Morris must have needed him over the years. Who even knew that Morris & Waters must have been familiar with each other over the years and obviously formed some sort of partnership.

Looks like in this case you just needed to follow the dissenting bishop who led to the retired "legal brothel advisor judge" who led to the dissenting canon lawyer.

All in all, fascinating reading!

Anonymous said...

. . . a vested interest in defending a personal academic position that has clearly been stomped on by the Vatican through this case!

Ironically, it hasn't been as clearly stomped on as it might be, because there has been no public statement of the reasons for Morris's removal. Which, of course, is the point Waters is making.

I think the point here is that the "sign value" of Morris's removal is diminished by the obscurity of the process and the reasons behind it. This allows everybody with a horse in the race to claim that he was removed for whatever reason they would like to think he was removed for, and then draw possibly entirely fallacious conclusions based on that claim.

As a method of securing unity and fidelity in the diocese, it's a non-starter. Which, frankly, was entirely foreseeable.


Kate said...

Friends, I let a comment through which I should not have and this seems to have prompted others to go further down a track I do not wamt to see here.

My apologies for being too fast on the approve button!

Please, stick to the substance of what people say, don't go to their appearance or other irrelevant speculation about their background.

Contextual background about what people have previously said, who they are associated with and actual known (as opposed to speculations thereon) background etc is fine. Ad hominems are not.

Please, let's keep it civil!

Antonia Romanesca said...

“The fact that Our Lord recognised that there were and would be, people and places that would not welcome Truth and reject the Truth - and so his disciples should leave those towns, shake their dust from their sandals and move on elsewhere, is Divine guidance enough, that some places are just beyond help: Divine or human.”
Yes, most excellently put, Bullster.

Antonia Romanesca said...

“Toowoomba wouldn't be the first diocese (but would be the first in a very long time) to be suppressed.”
Thanks, Bullster. Can you outline broadly, what in your understanding would happen, should the diocese of Toowoomba be suppressed by the Papacy? A diocese has been suppressed before in Australia, or are you speaking internationally?

Antonia Romanesca said...

[topic: diocese of Toowoomba Qld, by Papal Bull] ~~~“.....if orthodox and wanting to implement orthodox reform, [that bishop of Toowoomba] would fail trying - as the whole presbyterate, most of the laity and Church agencies, [especially education], would obstruct and frustrate his every move, decision, appointment.”
Yes, Papal Bullster,we noticed that the two diocesan priests who desisted from signing an original letter of protest to the Papacy, have now jumped into Dissenting line in Toowoomba. You allude to the Catholic Education Office in Toowoomba. We recall reading back in 1990, the assertion that ‘the Australian Catholic bishops had well and truly lost control of the Catholic Education Offices right across Australia’. This was seen by more orthodox pundits at the time, as not boding well for the future, vis-a-vis episcopal control of Australian dioceses over the next 20 or 30 years. It was also said to have created ‘a very big rod for the back of future Australian nuncios’, who could find they had to cope with an Aussie Church which had [in its essentials] thrown off Vatican control. We have lived to witness this in Toowoomba at least, perhaps?
With every single diocesan Toowoomban priest having joined Toowoomban Dissent: that reminds one of the catastrophe the now Cardinal Pell faced, with the Victorian seminary in Melbourne in the late 90s. As we recall, the entire seminary staff had revolted on him [despite the fact that he had placed an excellent spiritual director there] and refused to follow his lawful instructions, eg. for the seminarians to attend Holy Mass daily. His response was to fire all the staff and move the seminary from Clayton [10 miles out of the city], right into the city [now in Drummond St. Carlton, not far from Melb university]. We noticed recently in a Dublin speech, that His Em. Pell has no regrets today, about having had to take that seemingly rather drastic step.
Your tone is somewhat fatalistic Bullster, ie that the whole Toowoomban presbyterate [ie. every priest to the last man], would give that unfortunate future bishop ‘Hell on earth’, so that he would be impotent in his own diocese, politically and spiritually. Might not it be possible for the Australian Church leaders to reorganize its priestly soldiers in Toowoomba, so that they would not have this difficulty you describe, viz by taking some of the miscreants out of the diocese and placing truly Catholic priests into Toowoomba [those who shan’t revolt]? Keep in mind, the Papacy had dire problems in the States but after a ten year programme of management [aided by many recent retirements], those difficulties seem to have been truly conquered. ++Chaput shall be Cardinal in Philly Pennsylvania, for eg.

Antonia Romanesca said...

Papal Bull: “He would have to be willing to fight - but the Vatican/Nuncio wants peace at any cost. Toowoomba will not get a younger version of Pell or Elliott (which it needs) but a bland "moderate." Someone like Bishop Les Tomlinson - but probably not from that far south”.

You don’t suppose you are being excessively gloomy, do you Papal Bullster? The Nuncio appears to be standing his ground against the Dissident Toowoombans quite well at the moment, surely – though he must be grateful for the Vatican support he has behind him. One has to wonder if Cardinal Pell and the Nuncio are running rather short of orthodox bishops, who might be placed in the Vale of Toowoomba? Yet might not that problem be solved, by the elevation of ‘suitable younger candidates of proven outstanding ability’, as Australia recently saw with Wagga diocese PP Michael Kennedy to Armadale recently?

“Peace at any cost”? The world saw what happened when British PM Neville Chamberlain continued to appease the Nazis: they marched cheerfully south into the Sudetenland and then grabbed Poland. We would have thought that ‘peace at any cost’ in Australia, would cost our Nuncio and indeed the Papacy, very dearly. One gets the impression they are cognisant of that, which is why they are firmly holding the line at the moment, as in: ‘let the dissenters have a little of what they want, so they feel they are nicely achieving - but over the long term, phssssst, kaput….’ I hope you are not experiencing low morale, in the face of The Battle for Toowoomba, Bullster!

Felix said...

I question Kate's comment that "it is impossible for the Pope to exceed his authority in a case like this since he has full legislative, executive and judicial authority within the Church".

The Pope should comply with a Churhc law while it's in force (if it's expressed to apply to him). If he thinks the law is not appropropriate, the proper course is for him to change the law (which of course he can).

Let me add that I agree with Kate's other comments. If anything, the Vatican seems to have delayed unduely in acting to resolve the difficulties in Toowoomba.

Kate said...

And on comments, pls try one and then wait for a response! I've let several in a row through this time, but...

Father K said...

The prefect of the Congregation of Bishops recently stated that he was surprised at the number of priests who are asked to be bishops actually turn the offer down.

benjamin said...


The comment above "we noticed that the two diocesan priests who desisted from signing an original letter of protest to the Papacy, have now jumped into Dissenting line in Toowoomba" is just not correct. There are more than two priests of the diocese who are definitely not in the dissenting group, and those two specific priests who did not sign that letter of protest are still being the faithful catholic priests they should be.


Norah said...

We recall reading back in 1990, the assertion that ‘the Australian Catholic bishops had well and truly lost control of the Catholic Education Offices right across Australia.

I discovered this when I completed a catechetics course in Melbourne a few years ago. A course in what was essentially New Age contemplation for the parish didn't dispell this impression.

Kate said...

Felix - My comment was that the Pope has this broad power, reflected in the Code, not that he has or should use it in normal circumstances. He himself seems to prefer to use the analogy of the 'gardener' guarding the tradition by pulling out the weeds (see his intro to Alcuin Reid's book on the liturgy) rather than the absolute monarch. And its true that is power is not absolute when it comes to doctrine and liturgy for example. Nonetheless, when it comes to the government of the Church the system provides for a greater degree of flexibility for action on the part of the pope than in most modern secular states operating under the separation of powers principle.

Fr K - Yes I too was fascinated by that. I guess in some cases it may reflect things in the closet that could potentially embarrass the church down the road so sensible, or some degree of genuine self-awareness about capacities. But where its just running away from a difficult task....where is the trust in grace and willingness to serve and do God's will?

CM - Showing your true colours? As your comment appeared to be personal advice to me I haven't made it public. When you email me offline with a real name I'll maybe take your concerns seriously. Meanwhile I'll continue to assume you are simply visiting this blog to act as an agent provocateur.

And here is a clue for the commenters who have written to me of late offering me 'advice' on how to run my blog: while I'm open to suggestions and comments from those who are genuinely committed to the agenda for change I'm promoting, I don't like being patronised and I won't be intimidated out of pursuing certain it the Irish in me.

Antonia Romanesca said...

Felix: I question Kate's comment that "it is impossible for the Pope to exceed his authority in a case like this- since he has full legislative, executive and judicial authority within the Church". ~~~ Yet from conversations I have had with my bishop, Kate would have to be dead right. Of course if we believe the Zwartz ‘commentary’, which the poor old Age Melb. has been driven to publish, in order to fill up a few columns of newsprint, then Ms Edwards is indeed wrong.
~~~ It does seem to us incredibly naïve, {on the part of Toowoomban Dissent & National Associates}, to believe that if the Holy Father and his close associates in the Roman Curia are browbeaten, bullied and slugged with adequate petition names, they shall back down and reinstate the unfortunate Bishop Morris. Similarly, the notion that the Papacy shall allow Toowoomban clergy and ‘Dio laity leaders’ to choose the next Bishop of Toowoomba [as “an experimental Papal initiative, which shall start in Toowoomba (cos its such a Vital Valley of the Maverick and the Gingerman) and then, (puff puff), spread right through the Latin Rite Church”], seems deeply Down the Bottom of the Garden with the Lively Leprechauns.

“The Pope should comply with a Church law while it's in force”. ~~~ We cannot see that the Pope has “to conform with an existing Church law”, in regard to this case. Certainly there is a retired Qld Catholic judge [meaning he is over 75] and also an alleged priestly bud of + Morris,’ chuntering on about the Holy Father having no legal power to do this and that – but who is really convinced by this? Our impression, is that most of Australia’s intelligentsia see the case as purely a ‘political and journalistic beat up, inside a pineapple skin’, with the ‘commentary’ in the Age Melb being conducted by a chap with a sadly and consistently inadequate knowledge of the orthodox Christian faith known as “Roman Catholicism.”

“If anything, the Vatican seems to have delayed unduly, in acting to resolve the difficulties in Toowoomba”. ~~~Yes, it certainly seems it took a long while to blow, while the Curia maintained the patience of all the Saints – apparently for 13 solid years. On the other hand, such a long development of dio dissent, means the EXTENT of Dissenting contagion of the laity and clergy in that diocese, is now perfectly laid out on the table for the Roman authorities to view - and in exquisite detail, sad to say! The Church in Australia is witnessing that, right now.

Kate said...

Fr Sharp's blog (secular priest in the sidebar) puts it I think, rather better than me, drawing on the ACBC statement:

"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."

He also provides a timely reminder that we should be praying for healing for this diocese...

Felix said...

Taking account of canon 331and - more importantly - Vat I's definition of the Papal powers, I accept that the Pope is not constrained by the Code of Canon Law.

I guess I was reacting from my common law background. As Kate indicated, this is not that applicable to the Church or to contintental systems.

But I'd still advocate that, prudentially, the Holy Father should observe the due process or change the applicable law if it is defective.

Kate said...

Mr Zwartz has advised me that Papal Bull's claims about him are in fact completely untrue:

he "is married, to an author who would be very surprised to learn she is a Uniting Church minister since she is not ordained and neither of us are Uniting Church members. We have been married 30 years. Elderly would be in the eye of the beholder – my mother does not consider me such, but my children probably do....I am a Christian, with a theology degree from the Australian College of Theology."

He adds:

"I do not consider myself anti-Catholic, since by and large I consider the church a very considerable force for good."

I have accordingly deleted the original comment.

Please, do not post claims unless you are sure of your facts.

And my apologies to Mr Zwartz for letting this one through.