Disgrace charge brought against bishop

The Age, Australia/March 9, 2010

Two South Australian Anglican bishops have brought formal charges of disgraceful and scandalous behaviour against a third, claiming that he tried to stack his diocesan council to get a $1 million payout and that he protected and promoted a senior priest accused of sexual abuse.

In a nine-count charge lodged with the church's Special Tribunal, Bishop Ross Davies of The Murray diocese in Murray Bridge is alleged to have taken a year's sick leave without ever providing evidence of ill-health and dodged his duties as a bishop.

The claims, brought by Adelaide archbishop Jeff Driver and Willochra bishop Garry Weatherill, say Bishop Davies lives outside his diocese and worships at a Catholic church in Adelaide while still being paid, that he has publicly claimed the Anglican Church of Australia is not a true Christian church, and that he took part in consecrating a dissident bishop against church rules.

In his diocese he licensed as Anglican clergy two bishops of the dissident Traditional Anglican Communion, which split from the Anglican church after it ordained women in 1992.

Bishop Davies said he would defend the charges. "I don't think I've done anything that deserves me to be ejected from office," he said.

According to the Anglican Directory, the tiny diocese, which covers the south-east region of South Australia, has 26 parishes - of which 10 are vacant - and lists more than 50 clergy, including six bishops. Few of them are active in the diocese.

The nine charges, with more than 100 particulars, include allegations of bullying, verbal and emotional abuse. They claim Bishop Davies protected former Archdeacon Peter Coote, whom three women accused of improper advances, and ignored recommendations by a church disciplinary committee.

A disaffected group called Voice of the Laity has set up a website to air grievances. Its founder, Lee Lyons, says the bishop's own diocesan council passed a vote of no-confidence in him, after which a deputation went to Archbishop Driver.

She said the bishop's capriciousness had cost Murray Bridge an Anglican school: the school board got a bank loan, but was persuaded it should take a loan from the church. When it needed to make some payments, she said, they were told "feelings have changed and the loan isn't available". The bishop engineered the resignation of the new school board and the school was built, she said, but had to be sold.

Bishop Davies said he would not comment on the allegations, but said he was still active as bishop and would remain so.

He said he had never made any public comment against the Anglican Church or fellow bishops. "I'm honour-bound to abide by the code, and it would be dishonourable."

Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier is on the three-man special tribunal hearing the case, which is expected to take some time.

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