Despite the efforts of the small protesting remnant who believe they alone are God's chosen ones, and despite the Australian Cardinal's continuing criticism of the man in Ireland recently, the wider faithful, of the Diocese of Toowoomba in Western Queensland, supported by priests and bishops from further afield, travelled from afar to vote with their feet last Sunday to exhibit their support for their greatly loved pastor and colleague, Bishop William Morris. Dr Michael Furtado was there to witness the event and provided us with this report.
A Te Deum for William Morris
by Michael Furtado
From the farthest reaches of the Diocese they came: from Cunnamulla and from Quilpie, as also from Mitchell and Dirranbandi, 'til Toowoomba's St Patrick's Cathedral filled to overflow and the marquee erected in the Cathedral Close could hold no more.
While with much evidence of the lame and the blind, the meek and the lowly, those gathered together showed no sign of hauteur, nor of unseemly wealth and overpowering status. Toowoomba is a place of open-necked shirts and jeans, and of slacks and windcheaters, rather than of suits and hats. As befits a Diocese on which the Australian bush has placed its particular open-hearted, democratic and ecumenical mark and character, many who approached the Eucharistic table did so as non-Catholics with arms crossed.
The sun shone warmly for the first time after what has been a bleak winter, preceded by a flood. The only jarring note was a straggle of nay-sayers with leaflets decrying the alleged misdemeanours of William Morris. After a spate of television programs illustrating the predatory realities of life in the wild, the more troubling ramification of this was the realisation that Bill Morris had been pulled down by fellow Christians.
Accompanied by his brother priests and three bishops, William Morris entered the Cathedral, in which he had been episcopally ordained eighteen years earlier, to a standing ovation. Again and again and throughout the service the Cathedral resounded to spontaneous applause and several sotto-voced murmurs of encouragement, though the proceedings were prayerful and celebratory, and despite the sadness of the occasion.
Brian Heenan, Bishop of Rockhampton, drew eloquently for his homily from the readings of the day. From Jeremiah and Paul to the Romans, these could not have been more apposite for the occasion and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The soprano cantor prayed the psalm 'My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God' with such mellifluousness, entreaty and reverence that she could not have drawn a more spontaneously generous responsorial acclamation from the congregation.
At no stage was the occasion used to sympathise with Bishop Morris, nor, for the record, was there a trace of vituperation or vindictiveness in it. Pope Benedict was duly prayed for, and the Archbishop-elect of Philadelphia, who played so unenviable a part in bringing down the Bishop, did not warrant so much as a mention.
The queue for Communion took half an hour to nourish, providing crystalline witness against the accusation that Bill Morris had done little to feed his flock. The Bishop himself wore with gratitude and pride a stunning stole illustrating the Dreamtime serpent, presented to him that very morning by the Jarowair and Kamilaroi peoples of Southern and South Eastern Queensland.
This was no occasion for braggadocio, brouhaha and bellringing. Indeed, the understorey of the Cathedral belfry had been sensibly converted into a loo years earlier, reflecting the mission of a Diocese with a far greater commitment to common sense, dignity and justice than fortress Catholicism and triumphalism.
In the end it was appropriate that this should be no farewell. The prevailing resolve is that Bishop Bill will continue to serve out his priestly vocation in this the diocese of his adoption. Amen to that!
Michael Furtado (submitted to Catholica on 29Aug2011)
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