It seems that Australia is the ground zero right now for discussions about ecclesiology, that is, the make up of the Church, who the Church is, how the Church is governed, what the Church believes.
The removal of the Bishop of Toowoomba from governance of the diocese, because – it appears – of doctrinal heterodoxy inter alia, has become a point of battle between different sides which, roughly speaking, we can identity as those who are faithful to the Church’s teachings about matters such as the ordination of women, the meaning of Holy Orders, abortion, homosexual marriage, various disciplinary matters such as whether priests can marry, and those who are not committed to the Church’s teachings and who want them abandoned or changed.
Today in the The Australian, which as been a source for the tumult in Toowoomba and which, I am told, is perhaps one of the more Catholic friendly news sources down under, there is a story which I bring to your attention with my usual emphases and comments:
Catholics get tough on doctrinal dissent
From: The Australian
May 07, 2011 12:00AM
LAST Monday the front page of The Australian featured a large photograph of an angry bishop. Some commentators in the blogosphere saw it as yet another media beat-up designed to depict the Catholic Church in an unflattering light. [Because some people think that the role of bishop is always... always... to be "nice"?]
To my mind, it demonstrated a grasp of the battle lines in the culture wars that has eluded the rest of Australia’s broadsheets.
The bishop in question was the outgoing Bishop of Toowoomba, William Morris. He is one of three men who have been relieved of their dioceses by the Vatican in the past few months.
The others were the bishops of Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville and Orvieto-Todi in Italy. But while they were removed for financial mismanagement in one case and misbehaviour in the other, Morris’s ouster was on doctrinal grounds. [At least. We don't know everything about the five year process. But we know that the Cong. for Divine Worship was involved as well. That suggests that there were important liturgical deviations which were not being addressed. But, in the final analysis, liturgy is doctrine.]
Bishops are in some respects akin to sovereigns in their dioceses and, while it has the authority to remove them, the Holy See is usually very slow to do so, preferring discreet solutions such as early retirement.
The three forced departures in seven months have no precedent in recent years and suggest an increasing preparedness to intervene on the part of the Pope and his new prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet. The previous prefect, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, was an uber-liberal. [How refreshing to see this.]
The Catholic archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, who will be retiring in 11 weeks, professed himself at a loss to understand the decision. He told the ABC: ” I just wish it hadn’t happened and I don’t know why it happened and I would very much like to know.” [If I am not mistaken, Brisbane is where there were problems at one parish at least for years. The priest(s) there were using an invalid form of Baptism. The Bishop had to get involved and there was a nasty squabble. But Archbp. Bathersby doesn't understand?]
Perhaps I can enlighten him.
Morris issued an Advent pastoral letter in 2006 that canvassed various options to make up for the lack of priestly vocations in his diocese.
Some were uncontroversial. Others, including the ordination of married or single women and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church clergy, were heretical. [Thank you. Yes. They were heresy.]
He has since then maintained what he likes to call a dialogue on these non-options.
As anyone with the rudiments of a theological education would know, the Catholic Church resolved the question of women priests in 1994, with the Pope ruling that it had no power to ordain women in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. [The writer knows his stuff. This is the right way to put it. It is not that the Church won't ordain women because of some policy. The Church cannot ordain women because, want to or not, she just can't.] The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 1995 described that decision as unchangeably settled and “to be held definitively as belonging to the deposit of faith”.
On the issue of recognising the orders of Protestant clergy, Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void” back in 1896 in Apostolicae Curae. That decision was reaffirmed by the CDF in 1998 as an infallible pronouncement to which Catholics must give “firm and definitive assent”. The Lutherans in Australia and the Uniting Church don’t have bishops or anything remotely like ordination in the Apostolic Succession, so recognising their orders is, theologically speaking, inconceivable.
As a bishop, Morris was obliged to teach what the church teaches, rather than using his position to sow error and confusion among his flock. His removal must have come as an almighty shock to him and his brother bishops in Queensland because they’ve been getting away with flouting some of Rome’s rulings with impunity since the 1970s.
Given that Morris has had five years of what he again likes to call dialogue with no less than three Vatican congregations and the Pope, with plenty of opportunities to change his tune, why has he persisted in error when he was so clearly in the wrong? There are several schools of thought.
 The first argues the bishop just isn’t very bright.
Its spokesman, Frank Brennan SJ, says: “Bill Morris never pretended to be an academic theologian. He was and is a sensible, considerate, pastoral priest and bishop of a country diocese.” [Could this be the classic liberal dichotomy. Pastoral v. intellectual? That is nearly always trotted out when someone who isn't very bright is being defended for his liberal values: "He's pastoral, not intellectual." On the other hand, when they run down conservatives, conservatives can simultaneously be intellectual but really stupid, too thick to understand what liberals understand. And - remember - in the liturgical translation debates, which side is always saying that the new translation is going to be toooo haaaard? But I digress.]
The second, aired on high-profile sites such as Rorate Caeli and Father John Zuhlsdorf’s blog and local sites such as Vexilla Regis, is that Morris may have had health problems. The third view, which most agree is at least a significant element, is stubbornness. Morris is one of those liberal-authoritarians who like to assert that within their own jurisdiction they are as powerful as the Pope. [Does he? I was unaware.]
The (ultra-liberal) National Council of Priests encouraged this delusion with a press release last week. “We are concerned about an element within the Church whose restorationist ideology [NB: your enemy always holds to an "ideology".] wants to repress freedom of expression within the Roman Catholic Church [Does error have rights?] and who deny the legitimate magisterial authority of the local bishop within the Church.” [Pitting the teaching office of a bishop in a local Church against that the Magisterium of the Church.]
However, the fact of the matter is that individual bishops have no authority to make independent decisions about questions of doctrine, but rather a collegial role with the other bishops under the leadership of the Pope.
And, again despite the NCP press release, the Pope is not merely the first among equals. According to Canon 331, “by virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power, which he is always able to exercise freely”.
Morris’s removal sends a clear message to bishops, in Australia and around the world. The Holy See’s patience is not, as it long seemed, limitless.
As with the Orvieto-Todi case, the fact that this intervention happened in a first-world country suggests [NOTA BENE] delinquents in the European and American hierarchies can take a lot less for granted than before. As well, requests from the Vatican for bishops’ resignations are more likely to succeed during the rest of Pope Benedict’s reign because he has just demonstrated that he’s prepared to use his powers.
Morris has become a cause celebre in the US thanks to an editorial in The National Catholic Recorder. [Ooops. It's really the National Catholic Distorter.... no... errrr... ummm...what is it again?] More of the same can be expected from The Tablet, the English Catholic journal and other liberal websites. No doubt some members of the Swiss and Dutch bishops’ conferences will be once again canvassing the option of schism, de facto or actual.
[QUAERITUR:] What are the likely repercussions for the Australian Catholic Church?
Morris’s departure will further fortify the position of Cardinal George Pell and the more traditionally minded bishops.
The more realistic, liberal bishops are going to have to kiss goodbye to any lingering fantasies they clung to in the 90s of ordaining nuns, or at least keep them to themselves. [There's the rub. You know the old phrase - sorry, but I have to be an intellectual for a mo ("mo", was the pastoral touch): Si tacuisses, philosophus manisisses... If you had kept your mouth shut, you would have remained a philsopher. That is, stay quiet and people will think you are smarter than you really are. However, in this case and with a slightly different twist, keep your mouth shut about certain things and you just might keep your job.]
As well, the next two years will see an unusually high number of empty sees, as a cohort reaches the age of 75 and retirement. [What I have icily called "the biological solution".]
Three of them are north of the Tweed and it looks increasingly likely that the Vatican will be choosing outsiders rather than locals to fill the vacancies. Mark Coleridge, now Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, will probably be translated to Brisbane.
For years I have defend Pope John Paul II against the accusations of some of the more traditional mindset who thought he was too soft, that he should have wielded the scythe more liberally, so to speak. Why on earth did he appoint so many liberal bishops? Tolerate their antics?
If ad extra the late Pope’s greatest accomplishments concerned his geopolitical effectiveness, ad intra I think he hauled the Church back from the brink of real schism. He slowly shifted the episcopate back from its mostly liberal make up to a mostly conservative. I am not suggesting that he personally chose the all the bishops for 27 years, but he surely described the broader vision. Had he simply said only bishops who were traditional everywhere, I think there would have been a split in the Church, even a formal split. He adopted a strategy to shift the balance over time. Now it is possible for a Pope more easily to deal with bishops who are heterodox.
Another part of this puzzle involves what I suspect was a long-term strategic decision for the Church in the West: rebuild identity from the grassroots. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that at some point in the pontificate of John Paul II, and Card. Ratzinger would have been involved, it was decided to focus on working on the episcopate in the central, midwestern part of the United States and to decrease the number of men chosen who had been at the North American College in Rome. They started going outside the box with the hope that a solid base in the core of the nation where traditional values were still comprehended, a seedbed for a new type of bishop could be fostered. Once the numbers shifted enough, and under the effects of the “biological solution”, it would be possible to start a rebuilding in the English speaking Church.
When you think in terms of generations and not just years, you develop long-term strategies.
Perhaps it is now time for Australia? It doesn’t seem to be England’s turn yet. But when more the Anglophone Church shifts, the changes will start there as well, though that will be a much harder battle.
Some years ago, I heard the shift in liturgical sensibilities described in terms of weather patterns, climate change.
There are daily changes. You know the phrase: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes. There are seasonal changes: summer isn’t winter. But there are long-term climate changes which are discerned over long arcs of time. This analogy can be used to understand how change takes place in the Church.
That’s one way of seeing what is going on. There are other valid ways as well.
I remind you of our ongoing WDTPRS protest against the National Catholic Fishwrap. They are raising money. Protest their manifest and contumacious support of heresy by donating to WDTPRS. I describe it here. All readers of this blog could pitch in $5 and then pray for the conversion of the staff of the NCR or, alternatively, for the failure of their paper and site.