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Freier acts over Hough appointees

06 January 2011

by Muriel Porter Australia Correspondent

THE Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, in his capacity as Metropolitan of the Province of Victoria, has moved swiftly to coun­ter controversy over appoint­ments made by the outgoing Bishop of Ballarat, the Rt Revd Michael Hough.

On 20 December, his last day in the see, Bishop Hough appointed a retired priest, the Revd Arthur Savage, as administrator of the dio­cese, effectively removing a Mel­bourne regional bishop, the Rt Revd Philip Huggins, as Vicar-General.

Bishop Huggins has been admin­istering the diocese since June this year, when Bishop Hough re­signed as part of a confidential settle­ment reached with clergy and laity who had accused him of bullying (News, 25 June 2010). Thir­teen complaints before the General Synod Episcopal Standards Com­mis­sion were with­drawn as part of the settlement.

Bishop Hough also appointed two archdeacons and two rural deans. The new appointments bring to four the number of archdeacons in the diocese of 26 parishes, many of which are vacant.

Dr Freier, in an ad clerum to the Ballarat clergy, said that the change of administrator, and the new ap­point­ments, had not been dis­cussed with him, even though he had been present at Bishop Hough’s fare­well ser­vice two days earlier. Bishop Huggins was fully expecting to con­tinue in the post of Vicar-General, he said.

Dr Freier quoted preliminary ad­vice that there were “very real doubts whether the instruments of appoint­ment . . . were valid and effective”. While he waited for “definitive legal advice”, Dr Freier cautioned the new appointees not to assume the au­thor­ity of office.

Meanwhile, there have been mixed reactions to Bishop Hough’s farewell sermon, in which he used a hammer to smash a ceramic chalice before the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the King, in Ballarat (News, 24/31 De­cem­ber). Bishop Hough’s supporters gave him a standing ovation at the service, but others believe that the Bishop casts himself as a victim.

The Ballarat newspaper The Courier said: “Rather than offer his congregation a prayerful and mo­tivating service . . . he chose to stage a self-indulgent rant designed wholly and solely to garner pity.”

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