Pope Benedict XVI was personally alerted to a shocking sex abuse case at a local Toowoomba school but dismissed pleas by local Bishop Bill Morris to stay on and deal with it.
Bishop Morris was controversially sacked by the Pope in May 2011, prompting international news.
The revelation that the Pope was informed of the case is among many penned by Morris in his book Benedict, Me and the Cardinals Three, which will be released this weekend.
Private correspondence between Bishop Morris and the Vatican show a stunning ignorance of the fallout from clerical sex abuse in Australia, as well as the birth of “Temple police’’ - local extreme right Australian parishioners who are taking notes in churches and complaining directly to the Vatican.
“There was no depth of understanding of the devastating effects that clerical sexual abuse was having on the lives of families and communities throughout Australia,’’ the Bishop writes.
He says he tried to “explain how abuse damages the psyche of a community, having a debilitating effect on some individuals to the degree that they mistrust the church and its ministers’’ but senior Vatican chiefs “would have nothing of this’’.
“They had no idea how it would be almost impossible for a person who had been sexually abused in the confessional or any other place to go back into a room, no matter how large, to have a one-to-one confession again,’’ he said.
The response, from one senior Cardinal, was that “all priests are not like that’’ and victims “should get on with their lives’’. They wanted Bishop Morris to desist from any public absolutions.
He says he wrote to Pope Benedict asking for an extension to deal with mediation stemming from a terrible sex abuse case at one of the local schools.
“I added that it was important for the Church to care for the victims, to take the necessary steps to help them and to make sure they were looked after appropriately,’’ he writes. But the Pope denied his request.
Bishop Morris writes that the Vatican refused to divulge specific complaints or instances, nor a secret report done on the Bishop by American Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was sent to Toowoomba to investigate his leadership. Pope Benedict told him that natural justice did not apply either, under Canon law.
His dismissal, as Bishop of Toowoomba - a diocese which runs to 487,000 sq km - prompted hundreds of people to attend protest vigils.
But his book shows how a small group of anonymous local complainers also pushed for his removal, sending letters and photographs directly to the Vatican in order to oust the popular local leader.
The complainants, who also operate in other parishes across Australian, would move from parish to parish, from school to school, with note-pad in hand, the Bishop writes.
“If some people were not happy with the way things were done, whether they were appropriate or inappropriate, they would complain directly to Rome without the courtesy of any reference to the priest, the school, the liturgy office or to myself as bishop,’’ he said.
A copy of Lepanto, a small conservative fundamentalist bulletin published by Lepanto League Australia Incorporated, sat on a Cardinal’s desk in Rome during one meeting.
Despite not knowing the names of accusers, Bishop Morris was told the Vatican had photographs of him dressed in bright colours, with his face painted, as part of a Catholic youth celebration, had allowed people to call him by his Christian name, and that he sometimes wore a tie.
He also had showed “insufficient energy and involvement in the diocese on pro-life issues’’.
Bishop Morris was ordered to resign in a 15-minute conversation with Pope Benedict XVI, who parroted a list of long concerns also raised by senior Holy See Cardinals.
This list focused on Morris’ decision to raise issues like married clergy, women priests and the possibility of recognising Protestant orders in a 2006 Advent Pastoral Letter addressing the declining number of priests in big parishes.
Bishop Morris, who was diagnosed with melanoma during his lengthy fight with the Vatican, eventually negotiated with Pope Benedict to take early retirement in May 2011.