Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Australian Bishop Deposed for . . . No, Not That: He Wanted Dialogue about Women's Ordination

Bishop William M. Morris

A day to catch up on some of the significant blogs I try to follow, and then often fail to follow as faithfully as I should, when the news of the day catches my eye and saps my reading time:

There's an important story developing on the Catholic front in Australia, and Colleen Kochivar-Baker has been following it with outstanding commentary at her Enlightened Catholicism blog the past several days (here and here).  The story: immediately following the beatification of John Paul II, Pope Benedict removed from his position Australian bishop William M. Morris of Toowoomba. 

Morris's offense?  He wrote a pastoral letter five years ago stating that, as the number of priests diminishes radically in areas like the Australian outback, he'd be open to discussions about ordaining women.  Since the Catholic church faces a crisis as fewer and fewer ("celibate," male) clerical candidates come down the road, while there's a large pool of women and married men who indicate that the Spirit is calling them to priestly ministry.  For a church whose life of worship revolves around eucharistic celebration, in which the priest plays an integral role, the choice of Rome to limit ordination to celibate males has serious effects on the real lives of real parish communities around the globe, as the priestly ranks are depleted.

It seems callous, in other words, to many lay Catholics for the leaders of their church to deny them the Eucharist on which they are told their salvation depends, in order to keep the all-male, "celibate" clerical system alive.  It seems as if the whole church and its future is being sacrificed to a kind of idol that has everything to do with issues of control at the center and little or nothing to do with the gospels, in the view of many Catholics dealing with the concrete effects of the priest shortage in many parishes around the world.

As Colleen notes, though there's increasingly open discussion of this crisis in the Australian Catholic church, there's also a fierce watchdog group intent on punishing any bishop or priest who dares to speak openly about issues like women's ordination in the face of the crisis.  This group is actively promoted by the powerful (and, for many of us, odious) Cardinal Pell (on this character, see here and here).  

And America's own éminence grise Archbishop Chaput of Denver plays a role in the current Australian story, since he was, believe it or not, sent from far-away Denver to be the inquisitor visitator who compiled the report that got his fellow bishop Morris's head chopped off.  As anyone following Chaput and his activities knows well, he doesn't hesitate to involve himself in the affairs of dioceses distant from his own--and he has Roman backing as he engages in his meddling with the affairs of other dioceses. 

When Bishop William Lori decided to engage in some old-time diversionary gay-baiting in his Bridgeport, Connecticut, diocese in 2009, to divert attention from ongoing battles about his refusal to disclose information re: abuse cases in his diocesan files, there was Chaput, from half a continent away, in the thick of that battle, egging on the gay-baiting.  And when the Vatican needed an inside player to whitewash investigate the Legionaries of Christ after it became impossible for church officials to ignore the stink that Legionary founder Fr. Marcial Maciel had become, whom did church officials appoint to go around the world gathering information for that project except Chaput?

And so this is a story that has many ramifications, and which positively cries out for novelistic treatment, since it's replete with vivid characters, good guys and bad guys, villains and heroes.  And it's happening right now, in our own church, seemingly as a direct consequence of the vindication of the church of the mean machine as John Paul II is beatified, JPII who, in the opinion of many of us who were called to deeper, more vibrant faith by the reforms of Vatican II, set this mean machine with its machiavellian players into motion in our church.

Here's how Colleen frames her valuable comment on the story of Bishop Morris:  

I find it most fascinating that on the weekend dedicated to JPII, we find counter thrusts coming from people who are victims of JPII's two bigger failures.  His enabling of pedophiles, and his personal opinion about women in the priesthood which he attempted to dress up as God's will.  It just boggles my mind that in the the past month we have had one priest laicised and one bishop forced to resign over the idea of womens' ordination, while one self confessed Archbishop pedophile gets remedial treatment--treatment which not so coincidentally included his mandated removal from the jurisdiction in which he might face criminal prosecution--and one career Cardinal diplomat makes an ass of himself over the clerical pedophile JPII fawned over.  If I was keeping score it would be pedophiles 2, women's ordination -2.  But then, this is the Vatican that does classify women's ordination as a higher crime against the Church than clerical pedophilia in that one is a heresy and one is just a moral issue.

I urge readers to link to Colleen's two postings on the Australian story and to read more about it there.  Her commentary is valuable.  And to continue (and conclude with) the theme of this story as a novel in the making: I wonder, if the novel does get written, who'll be the Richelieu and who the Isaac Jogues in this story and the story of John Paul and Benedict's restorationist church in general?  

Or, perhaps more to the point, who'll be the Grand Inquisitor intent on crucifying Jesus all over again, if Jesus dares to show his hide in the church he founded?  And where will Jesus be in this story?

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