Catholic Church tried to silence former bishop over scandal

THE Catholic Church has tried to silence a former Bishop about his intimate dealings with Rome in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal at a Toowoomba primary school.

Former Toowoomba Bishop William Morris revealed he was given two years grace by Pope Benedict to deal with the fallout of child sexual abuse at a Toowoomba primary school before he was forced into retirement.

Bishop Morris also revealed for the first time there had been two other "historic" child sexual abuse victims he had dealings with during his time overseeing the Toowoomba Diocese.

He told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday he negotiated his retirement date with Pope Benedict during a discussion in 2009.

However, Bishop Morris said he was told in no uncertain terms that "your retirement will be announced on May, 2, 2011."

"I went into negotiations with Pope Benedict because I had nowhere else to go," he said.

"He is the ultimate law person so I put a proposition to him that I would not be resigning, but I was happy to take early retirement.

"I told him I would be turning 70 in about two and a half years' time and I was happy to retire at 70."

Bishop Morris said he believed he was the best person to deal with the pastoral care of Gerard Vincent Byrnes' 13 victims.

"I understood what was happening to them at the time because I was there," he said.

"I wanted to drive that through to them to make sure that they were okay and so I was looking for that."

Bishop Morris told the commission he asked for a retirement extension to allow him to finish the healings with the final families.

That request was denied and he was told his retirement date was not negotiable.

Barrister Jane Needham, representing the Catholic Church, then claimed the Bishop's evidence to the commission was "fascinating" but questioned why Bishop Morris was divulging aspects of his dealings with Rome which she called "irrelevant."

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness said the line of questioning was extremely relevant given the huge amount of speculation surrounding his "early retirement."

"There has been much speculation as to the circumstances of the bishop's early retirement and much of that speculation has been that it was because of his response to the claims of sexual assault at the school and also the sacking of three men," she said.

Bishop Morris told the commission he continued to work with the families after his retirement despite an interim Bishop being appointed to oversee the Toowoomba Diocese.

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