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Vigil Planned to Support Australian Bishop Fired by Vatican

An undated photo obtained on May 2, 2011 shows William Morris (foreground), who has been the Catholic Bishop of the vast Queensland diocese of Toowoomba since 1993.

Supporters of an outspoken Australian bishop dismissed by Pope Benedict for his views on the ordination of women and married men are to stage a vigil to protest against his treatment. A Vatican statement Monday said that Bishop William Morris had been "removed from pastoral care".

The dispute between William Morris and the Vatican began five years ago when the outspoken clergyman argued that the Catholic Church might consider ordaining married men and women because of a shortage of priests.

His stance was considered by the church’s hierarchy to be rebellious and after an investigation the Vatican has removed him as bishop of the Queensland diocese of Toowoomba, 130 kilometers west of the state capital, Brisbane.

Following the Bishop’s dismissal, he accused the Vatican of "authoritarianism." He insists that he was not advocating the ordination of women but was simply highlighting a growing international debate on the matter.

Former Catholic priest Peter Kennedy was forced to quit the church in Brisbane because of the same issue two years ago.

He says the Vatican wields absolute power over its Bishops.

"It was John Paul II who said the actual ordination of women could never be discussed even," said Kennedy. "The absolute authority of the Vatican which is held over bishops and you've got to remember that bishops, when they become bishops, they promise obedience of mind and will to the Holy Father."

Supporters of Bishop Morris scheduled a candlelit vigil Tuesday to show their disappointment with the Vatican's decision to dismiss him. Parishioners will then march through the streets of Toowoomba to the city’s cathedral, where Bishop Morris has served for 18 years.

The Catholic Church in Australia is administered by the Vatican in Rome. Australia is a majority Christian country. It is estimated there are more than 5 million Australian Catholics - about a quarter of the population.