I have a number of friends who are members of The Voice of the Laity, an organisation of lay people in the Anglican Diocese of The Murray.
Their website was recently hijacked. They have started a new website at murraydiocese.org
The contents are an older copy of the original website, so some updating needs to be done, but it is still interesting reading.
The situation in relation to the leadership of the Bishop of The Murray is complicated by two factors – one legal and one political.
The legal complication is that each diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia is a separate incorporated body.
The Primate or Archbishop can ask for an enquiry or tribunal into a diocesan bishop’s behaviour, but the bishop concerned is under no legal obligation to co-operate with any such enquiry, nor is he obliged to act in accordance with any recommendations such an enquiry may make.
In the case of the Diocese of The Murray, the Diocesan Council has already passed a vote of no confidence in the bishop. This was ignored.
The Bishop has indicated he will not co-operate with an enquiry, and that he will not comply with recommendations made by any tribunal.
In these circumstances the only purpose of an enquiry into his behaviour as bishop, or a tribunal to consider whether he has acted in ways which are scandalous or bring the church into ill-repute, is to give the Synod of the Diocese, or Diocesan Council, which is Synod’s standing committee, a clear and legally defensible reason for ending his employment, and the courage to do so.
The political complication is that there have also been moves in the Diocese of Ballarat to force an enquiry and tribunal into the behaviour of Bishop Michael Hough.
Enquiries and tribunals are expensive, time-consuming and embarassing.
But the real difficulty for the Primate and for the Archbishops of Adelaide and Melbourne is that the Dioceses of Ballarat and The Murray are the last two traditionalist Anglo-catholic dioceses in the country. Starting tribunals into both bishops at the same time may look like persecution by a large liberal power group of a small, unpopular and largeless voiceless minority.
The traditionalist minority in the Anglican Church of Australia (I am part of this minority) has been quick to claim persecution, and quick to demonise its liberal opponents. It is possible, even likely, that claims of theologically based persecution would be made in the media if tribunals were called into both bishops.
It would not be persecution. For the sake of the complainants, the persons complained of, and the wider church and community, allegations of abuse of any kind need to be promptly, carefully and impartially investigated.
I am not suggesting there is any parity between the situation in Ballarat and in The Murray. I have little knowledge of allegations made against Bishop Hough, and have deliberately distanced myself from events in The Murray.
From publicly available information and news reports, it appears the complaints in The Murray are largely from lay people, with some 200 written complaints made to the Archbishop over the course of Bishop Davies’ ministry, and nearly 100 statutory declarations made in support of a tribunal, the declarations alleging various kinds of verbal, spiritual and emotional abuse.
In Ballarat, the move for a tribunal seems to have come largely from a group of disaffected clergy.
In both cases answers and closure are needed.