BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has praised former Toowoomba Bishop Bill Morris for his decisive actions against child sexual abuse in one of the diocese’s schools.
However, Archbishop Coleridge made clear Bishop Morris’ removal from office in 2011 by Pope Benedict “had absolutely nothing to do with the bishop’s exemplary actions once he was informed of the abuse that had happened at (the) school”.
“The sad story of his removal from office reached back years before the sexual abuse crisis broke in Toowoomba,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“It’s also worth remembering that Pope Benedict was the pope who, like Bishop Morris, acted decisively against sexual abuse.
“If anything, what Bishop Morris did in response to the abuse would have given Pope Benedict pause as he came to make his difficult decision with regard to Bishop Morris.”
Archbishop Coleridge’s comments came as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concluded its hearing in Brisbane in relation to the abuse of 13 young girls at a Toowoomba Catholic primary school in 2007-08.
Bishop Morris was the final witness, giving evidence about his time in the diocese and the way in which the reporting of the abuse had been handled.
He gave evidence there had been a number of significant systemic failings which led to the failure to properly deal with the abuse following the initial report.
These ranged across the failure to report the abuse to police, re-engaging the abuser as a casual teacher after he had left the school, and the school’s child protection kit being out of date at the time.
Bishop Morris said the abuse of the young girls had been the catalyst to major changes within Toowoomba’s Catholic Education Office that have led to significant improvements in the diocesan sexual abuse policies and procedures.
Teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes was convicted and jailed on 44 child sexual abuse charges, including rape.
Bishop Morris, then in charge of Toowoomba diocese, sacked the school’s principal Terence Michael Hayes and two Catholic Education Office student protection officers Christopher Fry and Ian Hunter in December, 2008, in the fallout from the scandal.