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Bishop Bill Wright dies, aged 69

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The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has been rocked by the death of Bishop William (Bill) Wright.

The much-loved figure passed away in Maitland Hospital on Saturday 13 November, having succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 69. 

Bishop Bill announced his ill health and confirmed he had submitted his resignation to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in September this year.

However, the speed of his death was unexpected. 

The Most Rev William Joseph Wright BTh, BA(Hons), DD Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, was born in Washington DC, in the USA, before his family returned to Australia when he was young. 

He was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Pymble and by the Jesuits at St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, with two years at Wimbledon College, another Jesuit school, when his family was posted to London, England. 

He entered the priesthood at St Columba’s College, Springwood (1971-73), and St Patrick’s College, Manly (1974-77).

Bishop Bill was ordained to the diaconate in October 1976 and to the priesthood on 20 August 1977 at St Mary’s Cathedral.

After ordination, he gained a BA(Hons), largely in History, at Sydney University.

He has served the parishes of Stanmore, Mount Druitt, Fairfield, Enmore, Dulwich Hill, Bonnyrigg, Moree, Sutherland and Liverpool. 

In addition, Bishop Bill was Vice-Rector of St Patrick’s College, Manly (1985-1991) and Assistant Secretary to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, in Canberra, in 1995.

He was ordained eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle by the former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, on 15 June 2011 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.

Since his ordination as Bishop, he served as the Co-Chair of the National Committee for Professional Standards.

He was a member of the Truth Justice and Healing Council throughout its existence (2013-18). 

He has been a member of the Bishops Commission for Church Ministry and the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Relations and was a member of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation Laity and Ministry and the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service. 

He was also chair of the Bishops Commission for Professional Standards and Safeguarding.

“Bishop Bill was a warm, considered and deeply faithful man, he was always dedicated to the people of the Diocese,” said Reverend Andrew Doohan, Vicar General of the Diocese.

“I know he served as an inspiration, not only for many of our clergy but also those in the places he served.

“Bishop Bill was an active and respected member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. 

“He made major contributions to the Church and the wider communities in which he ministered.

“Leading the Diocese during a period when it faced the terrible truths of historic child sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese and the failures of some of its past leaders to protect children from abuse, Bishop Bill was recognised as an important figure in supporting survivors and introducing reforms to help the Catholic Church respond to the issue of child sexual abuse.

“He recognised the pain of the victims and their families, he acknowledged this and made an abiding commitment to promote the safety, welfare and wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults.

“Bishop Bill’s work to support survivors is part of his legacy.”

The Diocese offers its prayers and sympathies to Bishop Bill’s family. 

Details of his funeral have not yet been finalised.

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