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Vatican fires outspoken Australian bishop Morris

Pope Benedict XVI has fired an outspoken Australian bishop who had called on the church to consider ordaining women and married men.

The Vatican said in a statement Monday that the pope had "removed from pastoral care" Bishop William Morris of the Toowoomba diocese, west of Brisbane.

That move was strong by the standards of the Vatican, which usually stops short of saying outright that it has ousted a church leader. More often, the Vatican asks wayward church leaders to resign and then announces the pope has accepted their resignations.

Australian media report that Morris recently published an open letter saying he was being removed for a 2006 message to the faithful in which he argued that a shortage of priests should prompt the church to consider ordaining women and married men.

Benedict, as did his just-beatified predecessor, John Paul II, has staunchly upheld Vatican teaching that only celibate men can be ordained in the Roman Catholic church, although married men in the Latin rite church loyal to the pontiff can become priests. Recent years have also seen the Vatican warmly welcome married Anglican priests who have converted to Roman Catholicism.

Morris said the letter sparked complaints to Rome, which in turn led to a Vatican investigation. According to the daily newspaper The Australian, Morris said he had never written a letter of resignation.

A month ago, the Vatican dismissed a Congolese bishop, Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba, also saying he was "removed from pastoral care." According to African media reports, he was fired for management problems in his diocese.