The Tragedy of The Diocese Of The Murray.
You have never cared about me. Nobody likes me. But I am still your bishop, so do what I say. Or give me $1 million and I will leave.
That was the message from Bishop Ross Davies to members of the Anglican Diocese of The Murray at their annual meeting (synod) a week ago.
The Anglican Diocese of The Murray is a small (by Australian standards) diocese in South Australia.
I have known Ross Davies for nearly thirty years. He is an intelligent man, and a capable speaker and administrator.
He was consecrated bishop in March 2002.
At that time I was Rector of Naracoorte and Rural Dean of the South East. I was on the Bishop Election Committee. So was Bishop Ross, who was then Vicar-General of the diocese.
It was not appropriate for him to remain on the committee after his name was put forward. But he did remain, and did not excuse himself when his nomination was being discussed.
Nonetheless, he was elected, and I was happy with the result.
I preached at the Bishop’s consecration at St Peter’s cathedral. Shortly after, I was asked to be the first Dean of The Murray. I declined, believing I was still called to serve in Naracoorte. A year later I was asked again and accepted.
The bishop and I are both conservative anglo-catholics. We were of similar mind in terms of the central issues of the faith, and the role of the Diocese of The Murray in the life of the Anglican Church of Australia, and the wider Anglican Communion.
These, and our long standing friendship, were strong reasons for me to want him to succeed.
Problems began very quickly after the consecration. The Bishop had difficulty keeping his temper, and those who disagreed with him were treated like enemies. Both clergy and lay people reported feeling hurt and confused by his behaviour towards them.
Over a period of time I raised some of these concerns with him, only to be sworn at myself, and told that I had been ‘opposing him at every turn.’
I still supported the Bishop, though often with considerable embarrassment and internal conflict, in relation to some of his public actions, such as participation in the consecration of bishops for the Traditional Anglican Communion, and at his treatment of people who did not instantly agree with him, or were slow to do as he wished.
Eventually ill-feeling in the diocese rose to such a point that I wrote to the Archbishop of Adelaide and to the Primate, listing some of the major issues, and asking them to speak to Bishop Ross.
This did not happen.
As time went on the situation became completely unworkable, with the Bishop increasingly expressing resentment against the people he was called to serve, experienced clergy leaving or being sacked, and lay people refusing to come to church if the Bishop was present.
Claims that allegations of a pattern of predatory sexual abuse of women by the then Vicar-General had been ignored, or worse, deliberately covered up, were the last straw for many faithful worshippers.
The Bishop has been largely absent from the diocese for the last eighteen months.
A number of parishes have made it clear he is no longer welcome. It has been reported that the Diocesan Council has passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership. But Bishop Davies has refused to leave until he is given a payout of close to $1 million.
The Archbishop of Adelaide has complied with a request from the diocesan council of the Diocese of The Murray to open an independent investigation into Bishop Davies’ behaviour. The investigator may then recommend that a tribunal be set up which would have the power to dismiss Bishop Davies.
Bishop Davies disputes the Archbishop’s right to set up such an investigation, and the authority of any tribunal established as a result.
The categories of behaviour which a tribunal can investigate are very limited. They do not include simply being unable or unwilling to do the job of Bishop.
However, Bishop Davies is an employee of the diocese. If he is not able or willing to do the job he was appointed to do, and all attempts at negotiation have failed, the diocese is within its rights to dismiss him.
This has been suggested before, and the response has been that this would be a harsh and unforgiving thing to do. It would not.
There is much to be forgiven. And much has been forgiven. But the question is the suitability of Ross Davies to be Bishop.
It is not unforgiving to recognise that someone is not suited to the position to which he has been appointed. The last five years have been miserable for Bishop Davies and his family as well as for the diocese. The longer this crisis continues, the more harm will be done.
It is time to call an end.