Sunday, July 5, 2009

'Bullying' bishop to cost church

AN ANGLICAN bishop is being officially investigated for misconduct in an unprecedented case that could cost the Australian church nearly a third of its financial reserves.

An independent investigator will examine allegations of bullying and harassment by Ballarat bishop Michael Hough against clergy and laypeople in his diocese.

The Ballarat diocese chancellor, Michael Shand, QC, announced the decision by the Episcopal Standards Commission at Ballarat's synod council on Friday.

It has been estimated the investigation by Sydney lawyer Geoff Kelly will cost about $400,000. Depending on his findings, the commission will set up a tribunal with power to depose the bishop — also unprecedented in Australian history — which could cost another $350,000. Mr Shand told the synod this would be paid by the national office.

National treasurer John McKenzie said yesterday the Anglican Church of Australia's reserves were $2.5 million.

Bishop Hough welcomed the investigation as the next step in the process, and said he would let it unfold. He said: "I don't have time to muck around with this. I'm too busy on God's business."

The complaints, from 13 past and present clergy and several senior laypeople, have not been made public, but are believed to allege bullying and harassment, including abusive emails. Some clergy claim they were forced out of the diocese.

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