News last night that my friend of more than thirty years, the Right Reverend Ross Davies, has resigned as Bishop of The Murray.
Over the last year, a Special Tribunal of the Anglican Church has been meeting to consider charges brought against Bishop Davies by the Archbishop of Adelaide and the Bishop of Willochra.
These charges included disgraceful conduct, wilful violation of church ordinances and wilful and habitual disregard of his consecration vows.
The Tribunal was to hand down its findings today.
It is not clear whether the Tribunal will still make its findings public. That the Bishop has accepted a payout of $150,000, whereas up till now he had been insisting he would not leave unless given close to $1 million, suggests that a deal may have been done – ‘Leave now, and leave with some diginity, or …’
There seems little doubt that the charges would have been upheld. This would have given The Murray’s Diocesan Council grounds to reaffirm its earlier vote of no confidence, and a firm basis for his dismissal.
I am still concerned for Ross’ well-being. He must be dreadfully confused and unhappy. He seems unable to see or believe that he could have changed the outcome by changing the way he behaved.
Even at the beginning of this year, if he had genuinely apologised for (and not the previous ‘I’m sorry if anyone is upset’ kind of apology) the bullying and manipulation, lies, vindictiveness and financial mismanagement, and promised to try to undo the harm he had done, and genuinely tried to do so, he could have stayed in office with the good will of both people and clergy.
There has always been a great deal of respect for the office of Bishop, and a great deal of caution and compassion in the way some very difficult issues have been handled. Credit to Archbishop Jeffrey and Bishop Garry for their attempts to juggle care for Bishop Davies, justice for the Diocese of The Murray, and proper and open processes.
I have been grateful too, as have others, for the enormous amount of work the Voice of the Laity has done, for the fair-mindedness it has shown all the way through, and for its steadfastness in the face of constant and often unpleasant opposition.
This outcome is not something to celebrate, yet many people, and faithful lay people in particular, have worked hard to find a way for Bishop Davies and the Diocese to move forward. That will now be possible.
No deal was made. The Bishop has demanded that the Tribunal drop the charges against him. His resignation seems to have been an attempt to forestall the tribunal’s making, or making public, any findings against him.
His argument seems to be that since he has resigned, and purports to have relinquished his holy orders (something he cannot do, as he knows), the Tribunal now has no jurisdiction over him, and cannot properly investigate any claims against him, nor make any findings on the basis of those claims.
He is wrong.
The claims relate to Ross Davies’ behaviour when he was Bishop of The Murray. The Tribunal has not only the right, but the responsibility, to investigate those charges, and if the evidence warrants doing so, to make appropriate findings and recommendations.
The Tribunal has found eight of the nine charges against Bishop Davies proven, and recommended he be removed from office.
Disgraceful conduct in this context means behaviour which, if known, would bring the Church into disrepute.
The tribunal found he bullied and threatened parishioners and regularly attended services for other denominations.
‘Regularly attended services for other denominations’ sounds trivial.
But it was more that he regularly attended other churches in Adelaide when churches in his own rural diocese had no priest, and it was part of his duty as Bishop to provide them with ministry.
A sad day, but a new beginning for the Diocese of the Murray.
A last update to this story. This is a link to the findings of the Special Tribunal. This document is in the public domain.
I am glad that there has been official recognition of the emotional abuse suffered by lay people and clergy over the last ten years. That recognition and validation is an important step in their healing, and a public demonstration of the church’s commitment to justice even in the most difficult circumstances.
However, I am sorry that every member of the Tribunal was from the liberal wing of the church.
The document linked above makes it clear that theological matters did not enter their considerations at all.
But perception matters, and the perception of fairness matters. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the only two conservative anglo-catholic bishops in Australia have been forced out of office this year.
Given the view in some quarters that there is widespread persecution of traditionalist anglo-catholics in the Anglican Church of Australia, it was foolish not to take every possible step to ensure that the proceedings which led to those outcomes were above criticism.
Having said that, it is entirely possible that the Archbishop and the Primate did seek a credible, experienced conservative to sit on the Tribunal, and were unable to find one willing to do so.
I am sure Ross will now seek to be received into the Roman Catholic Church.
I hope they will find a ministry for him. He is a gifted teacher and administrator. It would a great pity if those abilties were lost.