In at least two Anglican dioceses in Australia, growing numbers of clergy and laity are in open revolt against their local Bishop, much to the embarrassment of the church’s increasingly inadequate national leadership.
Over the Christmas period it was reported that the Bishop of The Murray in South Australia, Ross Davies, is seeking a seven-figure payout before vacating the position in which he has been under siege from his clergy, and laity, for at least two years.
Late last year, he returned from extended “sick leave” and outlined a series of self-imposed restrictions on his activities, including not being available to the media.
Despite several attempts at intervention by the Anglican Primate, Phillip Aspinall, and the Archbishop of Adelaide, Jeff Driver, the divisions between the Bishop and a significant number of his people remain unresolved. A resolution is now as far away as ever given the impoverished Diocese would not have any hope of funding the payout he is apparently seeking.
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But an even bigger problem for the church has emerged in the last eight or nine months in the much larger, and once very successful, Diocese of Ballarat.
When the Bishop of Ballarat, Michael Hough, left for England in the middle of 2008 on leave and to attend the Lambeth Conference, an open revolt against his leadership of the Diocese broke out.
It has certainly not been resolved since his return, as the Melbourne Age highlighted last Saturday, with senior Ballarat Anglicans describing Hough as “gracious and charming in public but vindictive and vitriolic in private”. Accusations have emerged that his leadership is characterised by bullying and harassment.
Up to half the Diocese’s clergy have reportedly made formal complaints against him. The newly established national Episcopal Standards Commission has been asked to assess the possibility Bishop Hough has a case to answer. If he has, a tribunal will be set up to decide whether he should be removed as Bishop.
Bishop Hough is clearly not going to go quietly. If a tribunal is set up then the church faces weeks of highly unfavourable media coverage and months more of increasingly dysfunctional behaviour within an important dioceses.
Meanwhile, the wider divisions between the church’s conservative and traditional faction, led by the Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, and the majority of more progressive dioceses continue to widen.
While a formal split is not likely, the conservative faction are increasingly ignoring the majority in both the Australian and worldwide church –persisting with their opposition to women bishops and so called “permissive” policies on issues such as recognising same s-x relationships.
The problems in the Murray and Ballarat dioceses are embarrassments for both “factions”. Bishop Davies has been a leader of the conservative faction, while his Ballarat counterpart belongs to the progressives.