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 Thirteen complaints before the General Synod Episcopal Standards Commission were withdrawn as part of the settlement.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.”