Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you will have heard, last Friday night Western Australian time, Pope Francis accepted my resignation as Bishop of Bunbury, which was submitted nearly ten months ago. As parishioners 76 years old or older will appreciate, I have neither the health nor the energy to continue to be responsible for a Diocese that is more than half the size of Victoria. I am unable to fulfil responsibly the responsibilities of Bishop of the Diocese until a successor is appointed. I am no longer able to serve the Diocese as it needs to be served.
After 22 years of service to the people and priests of the Diocese in a difficult period of its history, I am mentally and physically exhausted. Until last Friday evening, I was the longest serving and so senior Diocesan Bishop in Australia.
An Apostolic Administrator
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has been appointed as Apostolic Administrator of the Bunbury Diocese by Pope Francis until my successor is appointed. This will take some time.
It means that the Archbishop will be responsible for maintaining the Diocese until a new Bishop is appointed. However, he cannot undertake any new initiatives.
The appointment of an Administrator is not unusual where a Diocesan Bishop cannot responsibly continue in his role until his successor is appointed.
Available to assist the Apostolic Administrator
While I will no longer bear any responsibility for the Diocese, I have indicated to Archbishop Costelloe that I will be available to undertake limited pastoral tasks if he would find this helpful for the fulfilment of his new responsibilities. Given his extensive responsibilities in other roles, he will not be able to fulfil all the pastoral activities expected of the Bishop of a Diocese.
I am most grateful to the Archbishop for helping our Diocese in this way. It reflects great personal generosity. I hope that all our priests and people will welcome the Archbishop in the spirit in which he is willing to help.
The joy of the Diocese
When I was informed that Pope St John Paul II had appointed me to be the Bishop of Bunbury, it was a shock and a bolt out of the blue. However, I was soon inspired by the priests and people of the Diocese. I was deeply grateful too for the welcome and support that I received. I was inspired too by the pastoral professionalism of staff in the Diocesan office, and their humility.
Ministries included care for the sick and the elderly; youth and those seeking greater depth of faith; those in prison and seafarers; those addicted to drugs and mothers in crisis because of pregnancy. There was the outstanding support for those less well off by branches of the St Vincent de Paul Society across southern Western Australian parishes, and the various initiatives of the Catholic Women’s League, including simple but most important ones such as providing handmade bags in which women leaving prison could pack their belongings. These are some examples of what struck me when I arrived – there were many others.
I was inspired by the priests, especially those ministering in more distant and isolated parishes, and also grateful for their welcome. I was struck by my first experience of permanent deacons, especially their spirit of humility and service. Then there were Deacon’s wives who became involved often in their work and who supported their husbands and even many others.
I was struck too by the wonderful dedication of those who led and served in our Catholic schools, especially the small and less resourced ones. So often too they suffer as scape goats for family and parish inadequacies regarding the sharing of the faith. There was too the dedication of those in St John of God Hospital and Ocean Star which cared for the aged.
The last twenty years saw the ministry of the Bishop expand considerably. The main new area of pastoral ministry was responding to the survivors of sexual abuse, mainly by two priests who are long dead. Every survivor is a person and no two stories are the same. Many nights I lost sleep because of the horrors of what I heard and many days I could not return to work after a mediation. I have never failed to be struck by the courage and inner strength of survivors met.
A huge challenge has been the diminution of diocesan resources due to compensation payments to survivors. This has meant that pastoral activities could not be sustained. Sadly, this has affected the Diocese’s capacity to help so many today who are suffering homelessness and other difficulties in the current times. These too are victims of criminal priests who abused others.
As one of the lesser resourced dioceses in the country, the financial stresses as a result of diminishing the resources we did have, have been traumatic at times. There were other challenges also, such as the global financial crisis and the drop in interest rates. We were fortunate that our cathedral precinct was destroyed by a natural disaster as, had we not qualified for Commonwealth and State natural disaster relief, we could not have rebuilt the precinct.
The acceptance of my resignation as Bishop is not a time for farewells. I remain a priest in the Diocese as Emeritus Bishop and will continue to assist our new Bishop with tasks when he is appointed, as he wishes. I will assist too Archbishop Costelloe, as I have said, in tasks with which he may need help.
After 22 years as a part of the Diocese, my love for priests and people remains.
In conclusion, let us pray now in our Masses that the Holy Spirit will guide Pope Francis and those responsible for assisting him, in the discernment of whom the Lord is calling to become our new Bishop to minister in our Diocese in the years ahead.
2nd July 2023