Legal action against Bishops

Legal proceedings have been brought against the former Anglican Bishop of Bathurst, Richard Hurford, and current Bishop Ian Palmer by the court appointed receivers of the Anglican Development Fund (Bathurst Diocese).

A spokesman for McGrath Nicol stated this week that following an investigation into the affairs of the development fund, it had started legal proceedings against certain members of the ADF board (Bathurst Diocese) and various related parties.

To date, only the names of the two Anglican bishops have been confirmed.

A 15 day hearing has been set for April 2015.

McGrath Nicol partners, Joseph Hayes and Barry Kogan, were appointed joint and several receivers and managers of the Anglican Development Fund (Bathurst Diocese) on October 1, 2013, by orders of the Supreme Court of NSW.

On October 15, 2013, final orders were made by the Supreme Court of NSW confirming the appointment.

The spokesman said since their appointment, Mr Hayes and Mr Kogan have conducted investigations into the affairs of the Bathurst ADF.

“As a result of these investigations, the receivers and managers have commenced legal proceedings against certain ADF board members and various related parties,” he said.

He said the ADF was incorporated in 1999 as a fund under the Anglican Church of Australia (Bodies Corporate) Act 1938 (NSW).

“It acted as a financial intermediary which borrowed funds from certain financiers such as the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and on-lent those funds to schools, parishes, and other institutions within the Bathurst Diocese which are subject to the control of the General Synod,” the spokesman said.

“The ADF’s activities included governing, controlling and managing those borrowings, and considering applications received for loans from approved diocesan entities.”

Last week Bishop Palmer said the Diocese of Bathurst would be defending itself against the application of a court order by the Commonwealth Bank to force it to sell off property bequeathed to the church or given in trust to pay off a $25 million debt.

Bishop Palmer said such a sell-off would seriously undermine the church’s ministry.

“We will be left with nothing,” he said. “We do not believe they have the right to order us. I think we have many good avenues of defence.

“It is our duty to defend those properties and gifts given to us in trust for the benefit of the community.”

The prospect of a Bathurst Anglican Diocese property sell-off is not all bad news says one senior Anglican leader because people do not need churches and halls, all they need is a welcoming home or a sturdy pub.

In a meeting on Saturday, 250 parishioners turned out to hear a plea from Bishop Ian Palmer for help to raise over $1 million to defend the church in court, against an order from the Commonwealth Bank.

Bank management has ordered the church hierarchy to sell off its assets immediately, to repay about $25 million it owes.

Bishop Palmer said previously, the church would survive the battle but it would undergo changes.

The Bush Church Aid Society national director Reverend Mark Short has a suggestion as to how that change could happen.

He said a sell-off could present new worshipping opportunities to the church because instead of formal church gatherings, overseen by ordained ministers, lay people could take on a bigger role.

“There really isn’t a lot that ordained ministers can do that lay people can not do ... they can run prayer groups and Bible studies from their homes,” he said.

As long as the community has trained lay people, and a place to go, the community does not need a formal church or hall, he said.

The Bush Church Aid Society is an Anglican organisation which sends trained support people to areas in regional and remote Australia where access to church resources is limited.

Lay people could not give Holy Communion and they could not marry people but they could perform most aspects of prayer and a church community was not about the buildings, rather it was about the people, Reverend Short said.

“I don’t want to downplay the grief that people would have if they were to lose a building, buildings have history and are cared for,” he said.

“There would be an initial period of grief but if people were encouraged to work through that period and explore opportunities they would have a renewed sense of optimism.”