Monday, May 2, 2011

Winds of change blowing in Queensland—UPDATED

This press release has appeared on the Vatican website (here translated from the Italian via Google Translate, with refinement by yours truly):

The Holy Father Benedict XVI has relieved from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Toowoomba (Australia) HE Bishop William M. Morris.

In response, Bp. Morris, 67, retired from his episcopate (a bishop doesn't stop being a bishop when he's relieved of his see). [UPDATE: See Dr. Edward Peters' comments on the legal and ecclesiological implications of "privation" versus "removal". The post was written after Bp. Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba was forced out of the diocese of Pointe-Noire (Congo), but it may apply here.]

According to The Australian, "In his letter, Bishop Morris said the Vatican's decision was sparked by complaints to Rome about an Advent letter he wrote in 2006. In that letter, he argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders."

That, however, wasn't the only cause. There were also concerns about general absolution, the material contained in diocesan school sex-education programs, and the diocese's appalling vocations record (virtually zero over the last few years). Nor was the relief precipitate: According to the bishop's own letter, the Vatican had been talking with him over the last five years, and Abp. Charles J. Chaput of Denver led an apostolic visitation to Toowoomba to investigate.

Now the "spirit of Vatican II" crowd in Queensland is in an uproar. Some priests are holding a meeting in St. Patrick's Cathedral, spurring rumors of resignation en masse (I won't hold my breath). And in the comment thread of the story, you'll find amid the expressions of dismay:

  • "The enforced retirement of Bishop Bill is symptomatic of a malaise in the Catholic Church where fear of change leads to the muzzling of much-needed debate and consultation on our future direction."
  • "Why are some so afraid to think outside the square in this Church and read the 'signs of the times'? There is a crisis in this Church and instead of it being properly responded to, it is being left to the fear mongers and those who want control and power."
  • "Why on earth Abp. Chaput of Denver was imported to do the Apostolic Visitation we will probably never know. 'Pontifical Secrecy' will prevail. The Archbishop and his predecessor, Cardinal Stafford, have presided over programs of 'reform' which have systematically demoralised vast numbers of Denver Catholics ["vast" ≈ 127] principally by entrenching and legitimising those of the conservative 'remnant' mentality. … Activity will intensify come Advent when they'll be out looking for instances of priests who fail 'to read black and do red' at Mass" [A shot across the Pacific Ocean at Fr. John Zuhlsdorf?!].
  • "Bishop Bill Morris follows in the dignified, faithful and reforming footsteps of Fr Hans Küng …."
  • And this one from The Australian: "It's telling, that this priest gets the sack and the pederast priests keep their job".

In response:

  1. In a crisis, the much-needed thing is action, not argument. Frankly, we've had so much "consultation" over the last forty years that it's become an end in itself.
  2. "Thinking outside the box" and "reading the signs of the times" are little more than dissident self-congratulation. In fact, the dissidents haven't truly read the "signs of the times" in forty-plus years, and have been thinking squarely inside the box of liberal social theory that whole time.
  3. Talk about "fear-mongering"! Nothing says "fear" like talk of "Vatican secrecy", putting "reform" in scare quotes, and speaking of "vast numbers" of "demoralized" Denver Catholics as if that see were in imminent danger of collapse when it's patently thriving under Abp. Chaput's dynamically orthodox care.
  4. Father Hans Küng is not a reformer; rather, he's an Innovator of the type C. S. Lewis described in The Abolition of Man: "It is the difference between a man who says to us: 'You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?' and a man who says, 'Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.'"
  5. Please name a known and convicted predator priest that hasn't been dismissed or suspended yet! Hell, in the last few years priests have been run out on mere suspicion! Pardon my French, but only an asshole would even bring predator priests into the discussion!

The sheer ridiculousness of this "good Church/bad Church" rhetoric hits its peak in the Brisbane Courier and Mail's hysterical attempt to blame Bp. Morris' ouster on a "gang of right-wing Catholics, dubbed the 'Temple Police'". Writers Kristen Shorten and Brooke Basken only name one person in this organization, Richard Stokes, who writes to Rome and to Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby but who dismisses the "Temple Police" as a "figment of the imagination". And in fact no other names are given, nor is the source of this ludicrous accusation revealed.

Although we've seen quite a few bishops retired over the last few years due to their mishandling of various molestation scandals ― some for having molested young boys themselves ― this is the second bishop relieved of his see this year over what some have characterized as "ideological differences". (The other was Bp. John M. Malone of Newcastle-Maitland, also in Australia.)

Perhaps, as Fr. Z implies, this is simply pour l'encourager les autres. As the old office joke goes, perhaps the firings will continue until morale improves.

But the fact remains that, because of priests like the suspended Fr. Peter Kennedy and bishops like +Morris, the state of the Church in Australia is parlous. Kate at Australia Incognita tells us that quite a few will reach retirement age this year (ten in the next two years). Pope Benedict is giving Cdl. Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the  Congregation for Bishops, a very big broom with which to sweep out the antipodean episcopate.

Oh, they're not afraid of change, my friends. That's precisely what's coming. It's just not the change the dissidents wanted.

Update: Same Day
This piece in the Irish Times, focusing on negative reactions to John Paul II's beatification, steps a little bit off-message by directly referring to "dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng"; normally the MSM and the liberals avoid the d-word as people used to avoid the f-bomb. But it illustrates exactly what I mean about dissidents not having had an original thought since 1968.

Erratum: May 4, 2011
When this post was originally published, I quipped that "CathNews is Australia's National Catholic Fishwrap". Kate at Australia Incognita commented: "I've seen a few overseas bloggers refer to Cath News as the equivalent of the US National [sic] Fishwrap.  Unfortunately though, Cath News is a little different — it actually operates under aegis of the Australian Bishops' Conference, believe it or not.  Yep, a lot of spring cleaning still to do ...."

Oy. That makes it a house organ. I truly feel her pain.

Update: May 5, 2011
The National Catholic Fishwrap published an editorial on Bp. Morris' resignation yesterday — well, "editorial" is far too kind to describe it. Rather, it's a vicious, nasty flinging of accusations along the lines of "well, apparently it's very hard to get rid of bishops who do nothing about (wait for it ...) sexual abuse, but really very easy to get rid of bishops who publicly raise questions about women priests and optional celibacy!"

Once again holding to their usual standard of integrity, the Fishwrap ignores the number of episcopal beheadings over the last few years brought on by various sexual scandals, refers to Cdl. Bernard Law's oh-so-important position (archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major) as a "Roman holiday" (really?), and sneers about Cdl. Justin Rigali's "life befitting a prince in splendorous surroundings, even as his flouting of church procedures (and perhaps civil law) resulted in nearly 30 diocesan priests facing administrative suspension and heat from local prosecutors" (that's another discussion entirely).

Like CathNews, the Fishwrap blames the whole brouhaha on the 2006 pastoral letter +Morris wrote. Of Abp. Chaput's apostolic visitation, they compare it to "sending the fox to investigate the hens"; they also blindly repeat the urban legend of the "Temple Police" (you have to read Matt Archbold's skewering of this one, especially with the combox references to Monty Python skits about the Spanish Inquisition and the Church Police). 

Above all, they ignore — just as Bp. Morris himself did — the fact that he had been talking with various officials in the Vatican, including the Pope himself, about what was going on in his diocese and with his ministry for the last five years, preferring to sweep it all into the dark, mysterious and sinister confines of Abp. Chaput's "secret report" (ooh! that malignant Vatican secrecy!).

Let's face it, there's a lot more going on here than one pastoral letter bringing up among other things the question of women's ordination — which, despite the Fishwrap's claim, is not an "open question" and hasn't been an "open question" since Bl. John Paul II wrote Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994. Apparently, Bp. Morris' heterodoxy and disobediance has been going on for some time; as one senior priest of the Brisbane archdiocese put it, +Morris had brought about his own demise because "you can't keep telling Rome to get stuffed".

And we know now that the more closely a parish and a diocese conform to orthodox Catholic teachings, the more vocations it produces. What does that say then about a diocese that has produced virtually no new priests or religious in the last few years?

Ironically, as Fr. Zuhlsdorf has humorously pointed out, this dissident temper tantrum falls in the middle of the Fishwrap's webathon. Unfortunately, it looks like they may meet their goal.