Monday, May 9, 2011

Recent Commentary on the Firing of Australian Bishop Morris: Support of His Priests, Smear Campaign by Chaput's Catholic News Agency

At America magazine's "In All Things" blog today, Fr. James Martin posts a response to Morris's firing by Australian Jesuit Frank Brennan, a well-known advocate for justice for his nation's aboriginal people.  And here's the section of Brennan's reflection that stands out for me: 

After Chaput’s visit, all but three priests of the diocese wrote to Rome in support of Morris’s pastoral leadership.  So too did all the Pastoral Leaders and all members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. 

Pope Benedict chose to move against Bishop Morris despite the pleas of the large majority of priests serving under Morris's pastoral leadership, and despite every member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council in this diocese.  As with the liturgical "reforms" now being imposed by Rome on the entire church, what Benedict is choosing to do in the case of this Australian bishop flatly ignores the wishes of the majority of priests, pastoral ministers, and lay leaders of the diocese in question.

Benedict's style of pastoral leadership is not merely authoritarian: it also deliberately chooses to send signals to the people of God that the views and desires of the people of God simply count for nothing, when the pope chooses to rule.  This is naked authoritarianism that has destructive effects on local churches, because it imposes the will of the center on local churches that are much better equipped to discern the pastoral needs of their local area, and to discern who is or is not a good pastoral leader for their local community.

This style of leadership is akin to the disastrous parenting style of parents whose only claim to have authority over their children is the bald assertion of parental authority.  It is devoid of recourse to reason, pastoral sensitivity, dialogue: it is all about maintaining the power of the person on top without any regard for the person receiving peremptory orders from the top.

And, unfortunately, due to the lacuna in good catechesis in the John Paul II generation, about which I blogged several days ago, younger Catholics catechized in the era of John Paul II have such deficient knowledge of the history of the church that they are unaware of how significantly this top-down, authoritarian style that rides roughshod over the rights of bishops and their prerogatives as pastors of local churches departs from longstanding Catholic tradition.

As Brennan also points out, Morris was deposed by Benedict on the basis of a secret report compiled by American archbishop Charles J. Chaput, which Morris has never seen, and whose contents have never been shared with Morris.  And that being the case, I'm very interested to read the following headline about the Morris case in the national Catholic newspaper based in Chaput's Denver diocese, Catholic News Agency: "As Controversy Continues, 'Grave Reasons' Seen in Deposing Australian Bishop."

But here's the thing: no one knows those "grave reasons" except Chaput and the Pope, ostensibly.  And so one wonders how Fr. Jesus Miñanbres Fernandez, the canonist of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross whom CNA is citing for this phrase "grave reasons," knows why Bishop Morris was sacked.  Read the article itself, and the only "grave reason" it offers for Benedict's action vs. Bishop Morris is that 2006 pastoral letter to his diocese in which Bishop Morris stated that, given the vocations crisis and how it is affecting his diocese, surely open discussion of women's ordination might be considered.

The CNA report seeks to insinuate that Morris is not being forthcoming about that pastoral letter and has suppressed information about it.  And yet the text of that letter has been widely discussed in the Catholic media (e.g., here, with a link to the original document),  and there is no doubt at all about what Bishop Morris said or didn't say in this mild document calling for dialogue about an issue considered worth discussing by many Catholics around the world.

In my view, since CNA is more or less Chaput's own newspaper, his own official voice (and that's why I often call CNA "the Chaput News Agency" when I link to its articles), it's more than a little sleazy for Chaput's paper to publish an article about Bishop Morris with a misleading--and downright dirty--headline insinuating that there are "grave reasons" for this bishop's firing, when the bishop in question hasn't even been told why he was fired.  Or what Chaput reported to the head honcho in Rome as he chopped off a brother bishop's head.

Chaput should have more integrity than to publish a headline like this.  It is slimy behavior on his part to do so.

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