THE unexpected resignation of Toowoomba Bishop William Morris has sent shock waves through the Catholic community, with supporters shocked and saddened by the news.
Bishop Morris announced his early retirement at the weekend, following a five-year investigation into a letter he wrote calling for the consideration of married men and women being ordained.
It is believed the letter caused a small group to forward complaints to the Vatican and the resignation is the culmination of an investigation which has been running ever since.
Many people have expressed their intention to stand by the ousted Bishop following his decision to retire, and a debate over the role of married men and women priests has been reignited.
Toowoomba’s Sister Eileen March said Bishop Morris’ comments in the letter had been misinterpreted.
“Bishop Morris has never advocated the issue of married men and women priests – he had just said they were options that had to be discussed,” she said.
Sister Eileen said the issues of married men and women priests were ongoing ones and in her opinion were unlikely to change.
“The official position of the church is it’s not possible. The Bishop (Morris) had actually said these are options that were not available to us,” Sister Eileen said.
“There will always be a group that is ultra-left and another that is ultra-right and it’s very hard to reconcile the two.
“He has been a very personable man and has had such a good rapport with people, although one group clearly hasn’t found him to their liking.”
Sister Eileen said the announcement of Bishop Morris’ retirement had been met with shock by local parishioners, with one individual commenting they had never met such a kind-hearted man.
Warwick man and Catholic parishioner Michael Ryan said the forced retirement felt like there had been a “huge injustice” and the Catholic Church had lost a great, humble man.
Mr Ryan said he had the chance to get to know Bishop Morris personally and he would be sadly missed within the Catholic community.
“He is very approachable, welcoming and encompassing – all the things you would wish for in a Christian person,” Mr Ryan said.
Despite the minority who disagreed with Bishop Morris’ views, Mr Ryan said the bishop had a strong support base and declared that if there were an election tomorrow, “he would win by a landslide”.
Mr Ryan said he was fearful of the “heavy handedness” of the Vatican and was shocked that a minority could precipitate the retirement of a great Bishop.
“I knew he was in a bit of trouble but I didn’t think it was this serious,” he said.
“If the Catholic Church gets rid of a good man like Bishop Morris, I don’t think there is much hope for the church.”
Mr Ryan said he had noticed the congregation at St Mary’s Church each Sunday was aging and said the church may need to consider other ways to reignite interest among younger community members.
He said the option for male priests to marry would entice more men into the priesthood and would at this stage be more readily accepted than women priests.
“Things like that would make the church more relevant and people would see it as more flexible and open-minded,” he said.
Despite his sadness at Bishop Morris’ retirement, Mr Ryan is hopeful there may be some positive aspects to come out of it.
“People might say this isn’t right and we don’t have to go along with this,” he said.
A candlelight vigil has been organised by parishioners and will held in Toowoomba tonight, departing from the Bishop’s House in Lindsay St.
The invitation to attend has been extended to all faiths throughout Toowoomba and the Darling Downs to join in a show of solidarity for the ousted Bishop.
Those wishing to attend are asked to bring their own candle.
The vigil will start with prayer and reflection at 5.30pm before the silent procession moves west along Margaret St to Neil St and south to St Patrick’s Cathedral.