We arrived home in SA on Saturday night. Before church the next morning, we went to McDonalds for breakfast (Well why not? – It is cheap and convenient, they make good coffee, and the hot cakes aren’t bad) and picked up a copy of the reliably abysmal Sunday Mail.
There was a short article about the tribunal into the behaviour of Bishop of The Murray Ross Davies.
The Archbishop of Adelaide has had an extraordinarily difficult task in dealing with what is the worst crisis in episcopal leadership in the history of the Anglican church in Australia.
Earlier in 2009 the Archbishop had announced an enquiry into Bishop Davies’ actions as Bishop. That enquiry produced some 100 signed statements from people around the diocese alleging various kinds of verbal, spiritual and emotional abuse. Once those statements had been received, a tribunal could not be avoided.
The legal status of the tribunal is doubtful. Bishop Davies has made it clear he will not be stood down while the tribunal proceeds, and that he does not believe the Archbishop or the Primate have any right or authority to intervene in the Diocese of The Murray. He may well be right.
I suggested a couple of months ago that it was doubtful anyone outside the Diocese of The Murray could act to remove Bishop Davies. Nonetheless, clear findings of ongoing abuse by a carefully conducted and impartial tribunal might give Diocesan Council the stateable reasons and courage it needs to end Bishop Davies’ employment.
I hope and pray that the tribunal will reach its conclusions reasonably quickly, and that actions will then be be taken which will give the best possible outcome for the Diocese and for Bishop Davies and his family.
Whatever that outcome is, it is likely that this will be the end of The Murray as a conservative anglo-catholic diocese.
That statement needs to be clarified a little. The Murray is not an anglo-catholic diocese. It is a polychromatic middle of the road Anglican diocese which has been served by traditionalist anglo-catholic clergy.
As long as their views have been heard, and they have been treated with care and respect by their clergy, the people of the Diocese have been generous in accepting that the Diocese and the wider australian church have been well-served by the special witness of The Murray to a particular and important strand of Anglican faith.
That has changed.
Traditionalist clergy in the Diocese, and organisations like the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) and Forward in Faith, have supported Bishop Davies to the point of refusing to hear or give any credibility to reports of inappropriate behaviour by Bishop Davies.
Even worse, they have shared with him in efforts to damage the credibility of anyone who complained or did not toe the line. This has left lay people feeling betrayed and deeply hurt.
The crisis in the diocese is not just over Bishop Davies’ leadership. It is a crisis of trust in the clergy.
This sense of having been betrayed, not just by a traditionalist bishop, but by almost all of the traditionalist clergy and the organisations to which they belong, means that it will be near impossible for someone who shares Bishop Davies’ conservative views to be elected.
The Anglican Church will be poorer for this.