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Cairns Bishop James Foley to retire after 27 years of faith leadership

Stepping down: Cairns Bishop James Foley has written to Rome offering his resignation for health reasons.

CAIRNS Bishop James Foley is to step down due to ailing health after 27 years, and is expected to cease duties early next year.

“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s (disease) earlier this year … and I submitted my resignation,” 71-year-old Bishop Foley told The Catholic Leader.

One of Australia’s longest-serving current bishops, Bishop Foley has written a letter to Cairns Catholics explaining his decision to resign due to the neurodegenerative condition, as well as “a number of other medical conditions”. 

“I contacted the nuncio in Canberra and wrote to Rome offering my resignation as Bishop of Cairns, a responsibility I have filled since August 1992,” Bishop Foley wrote. 

He also explained the consultative process of selecting a new bishop, with a final choice made by the Pope. 

“It can be a rather long, drawn-out process,” he wrote. “So during this time we need to pray for our diocese.”

Bishop Foley was farewelled by colleagues as he attended the recent plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Melbourne.

At that meeting, new appointments were announced to fill conference positions held by Bishop Foley. 

Rockhampton Bishop Michael McCarthy was appointed to the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education; Sandhurst Bishop Shane Mackinlay was appointed to the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry; and Monsignor Carl Reid, of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, was appointed to the Bishops Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement.

Brisbane-born James Foley has had a wide and varied career as a priest and displayed a range of interests. He was ordained Bishop of Cairns on August 21, 1992 at St Monica’s Cathedral, Cairns.

He has been a member of various international and national bodies including the International Catechetical Commission, Rome; International Committee for English in the Liturgy; and The Company, Senate and Queensland Chapter of Australian Catholic Universities.

In 2004, Bishop Foley was one of five Catholic bishops of Queensland to sign a pastoral letter “Let the Many Coastlands Be Glad”, emphasising the shared ecological responsibility for the Great Barrier Reef and the need for action to ensure its survival. 

They identified global warming, sediment run-off from land, sewerage outflow, deteriorating water quality, and over-fishing as key issues. 

An interest in the history of the Cairns diocese and the life of the people in remote areas came together in the trips Bishop Foley has made to far-flung parts of Cairns diocese – travelling where priests once rode their horses between settlements and cattle stations.

As a younger priest, Bishop Foley was sent by the Queensland bishops to Louvain University in Belgium in 1976.  

For the next five and half years he studied, receiving his Licentiate and Doctorate in Philosophy.  

While at Louvain he also worked as chaplain on United States and British bases in West Germany, working with soldiers and families, and spent some months at the cathedral parish of St John New Brunswick, Canada.

Returning home in 1982, he began teaching philosophy at Banyo Seminary.  

He also lectured part-time in philosophy at the Brisbane College of Theology, the Australian Catholic University and University of Queensland.  

He was spiritual director to students from 1985-92. During this period he was also supply priest for Beaudesert parish. 

In Cairns, Bishop Foley has served longer than all previous bishops, except for Augustinian Father John Heavey, who was bishop from 1914 to 1948.

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