Perth Synod meets amid “great discontent bordering on anger”

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The synod of the diocese of Perth has met this last weekend at Peter Moyes Anglican Community School with an overall mood which one correspondent described to as “great discontent bordering on anger”.

The synod, presided over by current administrator Bishop Kate Wilmot, was a fractious affair dominated by a number of contentious issues.

Roger Herft’s Legal Expenses

Synod was disturbed over not only the amount of money paid for representation for Archbishop Roger Herft at the Royal Commission (a sum of approx. $480k) but the manner in which the disbursement was approved. In answer to written questions, the administrator explained that the monies were originally paid out of the professional standards budget but in August 2017 the costs were reallocated to an “archbishop’s establishment fund”, a move which the trustees approved having been advised that a claim on the Newcastle Diocese’s own insurance policy was not feasible.

Of the payments, $146k was made to Warren Symington Ralph the legal firm of Eric Ross-Adjie, one of those diocesan trustees and also the current acting chancellor. The approval of the payment was not made by a written resolution which was, Ross-Adjie stated in answering questions, a “lesson to be learned”. The terms were on a “normal commercial” basis and Ross-Adjie recused himself from discussion of the appointment (and was on a leave of absence from the firm when he acted as vice-chancellor).

In answer to a pointed question as to how nobody in diocesan council noticed a movement of $480k in funds, Bishop Wilmot answered that it

Doesn’t relate to income and expenditure

Moves to have a trustees oversight committee set up and other proposed governance reviews were defeated on technicalities.

Changes to Clergy Tenure

Adding to the tensions was a proposal for legislation to change the system of clergy tenure so that many rectors would become vicars with a 5 year license. Again, concerns were raised over the manner this had developed with many complaints from the floor that there had been little or no consultation on the matter.

The level of opposition was so high that an “unholy alliance” was formed between conservatives and liberals to defeat the legislation. understands that the deal involved a quid pro quo where conservatives would provide their support to liberals (who were very worried about loss of tenure in their parishes with poor income and, in return, liberals would agree not to press the same-sex marriage issue this year.

Suspension of Chris Bedding

As reported in the local media, a local rector, Chris Bedding, was suspended from ministry by bishop Wilmot after numerous complaints about his activity, in particular his “blasphemous” stand-up comedy act. understands that the final catalysing action that brought about his suspension while a full professional standards investigations happens was his invitation for people to bring their “yes” votes in the current postal survey on marriage for “blessing”.

Synod saw a large number of members wearing yellow “suspended” badges in support of Bedding. The positions he advocates for (in particular, strongly supportive of changes to the definition of marriage) are widely held across the diocese.

The Rejection of Central Authority

What has become clear from Perth synod’s two days together is that the diocese has lost confidence in its leaders. The two most contentious statutes on clergy tenure and professional standards were both withdrawn by the acting chancellor when it became clear that the lack of consultation on both matters meant they would not pass. Other centralising moves were also strongly criticised, including the new “MESH” system – a centrally-enforced property maintenance programme that parishes are claiming is inflexible and unnecessarily costly. The current contract extends for 3 years.

The Diocesan Council was “put in its place”; too many decisions were made over the year that appeared secretive and unaccountable. Even Bishop Wilmot did not escape. Our sources at synod report that there was great frustration with her leadership and she did not help matters by repeatedly cutting people off when they were speaking. We are told that by the end of the second day some speakers showed “open disrespect” when they were informed they needed to ask for an extension of time for their speech. Some simply continued to speak despite Wilmot repeatedly insisting they no longer had permission to do so. She was described to us as coming out of synod “battered and bleeding”.

There is a sense amongst the majority Perth liberals now that things will improve under incoming-Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy. As we have reported previously she is seen by the diocese as “one of us” and it may be that issues of trust will be somewhat restored. As we have already noted, there is expectation that Goldsworthy will be supportive of a move to endorse same-sex relationships. This appears to be the panacea for so many of the discontented.

For now, many in the diocese are licking their wounds, reassessing how things function and looking with anticipation to what the installation of a new Archbishop will bring in 2018.


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Bruce Lyon

    Hmmm. Thanks for this update, David. A sad status quo, to say the least.

  2. Peter

    Not entirely sure Herft or the Perth Diocese got value for money for the 480k. I was present during the entirety of Case Study 42 and Herfts legal team often left early to catch flights home and did pretty much nothing when they were there. Perhaps Herft should have availed himself of the FREE legal representation offered by the Royal Commission.

  3. Hector M

    Had to lol at the Ross Adjie comment (“a lesson learned”). The secretive behaviour of Diocese of Perth power brokers must stop. Maybe that Synod was the beginning of much-needed reform but that will only become clear after Bp Goldsworthy is installed and she presides over her first Synod as Archbishop. If the momentum for reform is not maintained then a moment of real possibility will be lost.

    1. Peter

      It’s that type of ‘secretive behaviour’ that led the Diocese of Newcastle into the crisis it now faces. Herft had an opportunity in Newcastle to reform the Diocese and assist victims of sexual abuse but chose to side with the old guard and allow the same old crew to run the place. It seems he has done the same in Perth. He has clearly learnt nothing.

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