michael hough
​Bishop Michael Hough

Ballarat Anglicans have begun their search for a new bishop after the troubled tenure of Bishop Michael Hough ended in December with final doses of controversy.

In the final days of his seven years as bishop, Bishop Hough smashed a chalice at a liturgical farewell for him and made senior diocesan appointments that were overturned by Archbishop Freier, as Metropolitan of the Anglican Province of Victoria.

At his liturgical farewell at Ballarat’s Cathedral Church of Christ the King on 18 December, Bishop Hough showed the congregation a ceramic chalice made for him by local artist Rob Hurley, describing it as a "beautiful pot". He then produced a hammer, put the chalice in a bag and smashed it in front of the altar, The Ballarat Courier reported.

"The pot is gone forever… the evil one is happy as he can now put forward his own pot as the answer to the needy thirst of the people," he said.

Bishop Hough told The Age he was using an example a psychologist gave him of smashing pots with some mentally ill people and asking them to use the fragments. Some tried to rebuild the pots, which was impossible, but others turned them into mosaics, preserving the decorations. ‘‘That’s where our church is – the same pot but a new manifestation,’’ he said. He denied that it represented the way he felt he had been treated in the diocese.

Two days later, in his final Ad Clerum, he appointed Fr Arthur Savage as Administrator, replacing Melbourne regional Bishop Philip Huggins, and made several other appointments of archdeacons and rural deans. Bishop Hough wrote that it was better to have an Administrator from within the Diocese and that it has been very difficult for Bishop Huggins to act as Vicar-General from Melbourne while also carrying a full workload as a regional bishop.

Bishop Huggins’ appointment as Vicar-General of Ballarat last year, along with Bishop Hough’s resignation, was part of a settlement reached with 13 clergy and laypeople who accused Bishop Hough of bullying. Under the terms of the settlement, the complaints to the Episcopal Standards Commission were withdrawn in June.

Archbishop Freier, in his own Ad Clerum on 21 December, wrote that Bishop Hough’s announcement had not been discussed with him and that it was a matter of considerable regret that the bishop, on his last day in the Diocese of Ballarat, "would act in a manner which effectively unsettles all the good work that has taken place over the last months". He expressed a hope that a way forward would be found which would enable Bishop Huggins’ contribution to continue until a new Bishop of Ballarat was appointed or at least until there was an appointment where the validity was unquestioned.

Dr Freier, who noted that he had attended Bishop Hough’s farewell, wrote that he had received preliminary advice that there were "very real doubts" whether the instruments of appointment Bishop Hough signed were valid and effective. He added that Bishop Huggins’ appointment continued unless such an appointment was revoked by the Bishop of Ballarat or his successor. It was not clear that such revocation had been effected.

"I would strongly advise against anyone assuming the authority of office of Vicar General, Archdeacon or Area Dean until these matters are settled," Archbishop Freier warned.

"That said, it is not my desire that the resolution of these matters be achieved only through legal means."

Archbishop Freier wrote that Bishop Huggins had confirmed with him that he had a book of forward engagements in Ballarat until Easter and remained willing to give pastoral support to the diocese.

"His exact words were, ‘Hard as it has been to do both NW [Region of Melbourne] and Ballarat, it has seemed best to offer this continuity to Ballarat. I am still prepared to do this’." 


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