The sacking of William Morris as bishop of the Australian diocese of Toowoomba raises more than a few theological questions about the relationship between bishops and the Bishop of Rome. Many Catholics believe, and so apparently does Benedict XVI, that the Bishop of Rome is free, by the will of Christ, not only to appoint all bishops in the Roman Catholic church, but to dismiss them as well. This is an incorrect assumption, and the firing of Bishop Morris provides us with a teachable moment in ecclesiology.
From the very beginning of church history, bishops were elected by the laity and clergy of the various local churches, or dioceses. And this included the Bishop of Rome, known more popularly as the pope.
One of the most important bishop-saints of the third century, Cyprian of Carthage in North Africa, offered explicit testimony about the election of bishops in the early church.
"It comes from divine authority," Cyprian wrote, "that a bishop be chosen in the presence of the people before the eyes of all and that he be approved worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony."
Indeed, when Cornelius was elected pope in 251, Cyprian described the process in a letter to a contemporary: "Cornelius was made bishop by the judgment of God and His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the vote of the people who were then present, by the assembly of venerable bishops and good men."
COMMENT: So there you have it. Of the three main denominations of the Christian Church, Roman Catholicism, Byzantium Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, the most orthodox, when it comes to the election of bishops, is Anglicanism and the province within the Anglican communion that has got it the most correct is the USA. This fact emphasises just how devious and perverted the accusations of revisionism and apostasy, levelled at the US Church by its jealous detractors, actually are, especially as they come mostly from bishops who have assumed dictatorial powers for themselves and who have been elected in processes that reflect those practiced by the secular powers of the cultures they minister within.
I have known for a long time that the election of bishops as described in Richard McBrien's article were the norm in the ancient Celtic Church, the African churches, the Middle Eastern, Indian, Oriental churches and in the Celtic influenced, Milanese Church. But I had not realised that it was the practice of the Roman controlled churches before they sold themselves out to the Roman Empire. The fact that it was the primitive, pure model of episcopal election makes it a very valid model to apply to all our churches today. If the reception of the people had been the defining factor in English episcopal appointments at the time that Jeffrey John was unceremoniously black balled by the Archbishop of Canterbury the result may have been very different. It is possible that the lay people and clergy of the Oxford Diocese at the time would have rejected Jeffrey as well. But, polls of "ordinary" people in England give the impression that most people who are not involved in the power politics of institutions such as the Church of England don't give a toss about the sexuality of other people and would have accepted Jeffrey as their bishop on the basis that he is obviously a "decent sort of chap."
So, let's throw down the gauntlet in front of these "oh so clever" theologians who quote tradition to justify their persecution of gay people within the Church. If they are so keen on the ancient practices of the faith then why do they ignore them and quote revisionist, world reflecting practices adopted late into the Christian era by powerful quasi-princes wishing to keep the laity and clergy of the Church under their control. Not only are these fabricated tradition quoting bishops and archbishops deceiving the members of the Church, it appears that they have all been invalidly consecrated. Perhaps they should invite Bishop Gene and Bishop Mary over from the States to lay hands on them in order to give their assumed orders Apostolic validity.
By the way, I love the way St. Cyprian emphasises the distinction between venerable (worthy of reverence because of their position) bishops and good men. Same as it ever was obviously.