THE Anglican Diocese of Bathurst must fund a $1 million legal fight with the Commonwealth Bank or risk the devastation of its ministry in regional NSW.
Anglican Bishop of Bathurst Ian Palmer said the bank has applied for a court order to force the Diocese to sell off assets until an outstanding $25 million still owed to the Commonwealth has been repaid.
Bishop Palmer said such a sell off would seriously undermine the church’s ministry at every level.
“We will be left with nothing,” he said.
The cost of mounting an appeal against such an order is expected to be in excess of $1 million, however, Bishop Palmer said with a $25 million debt hanging over its head, the Diocese can’t afford not to defend itself.
“We do not believe they have the right to order us,” Bishop Palmer said.
“I think we have many good avenues of defence.
“It is our duty to defend those properties and gifts given to us in trust for the benefit of the community.”
Bishop Palmer said it is now up to the parishes within the Diocese to come up with the necessary money for the legal fees.
Each parish will be asked to contribute a certain amount of money for the legal fund, but it will be up to them how they raise the money.
To that end, a meeting will be held on Saturday where parishes will be given the opportunity to put forward a plan for coming up with their contribution.
This may necessitate selling assets, or there might be some other way.
“We seek to raise money from the parishes in order to defend the action taken against us,” Bishop Palmer said.
Thirty-four parishes make up a Diocese that covers about a third of NSW, stretching from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border.
In the Bathurst region, church assets include the All Saints’ Cathedral, The Walshaw Hall, the Deanery, the Bishops’ residence, St Barnabas’ Church and Holy Trinity Church, plus some churches and community halls in the outlying villages.
It is uncertain as yet how any forced sell off would affect one of Bathurst’s leading private schools, All Saints’ College.
“I don’t know how it will affect All Saints’ as there is a separate ordinance for its control,” Bishop Palmer said yesterday.
The Diocese recently sold two schools, one in Dubbo and one in Orange, to the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation.
Bishop Palmer said the important thing is these schools are continuing to go from strength to strength, even though it has come at a cost.
“They are a gift by the Bathurst Diocese to the region,” Bishop Palmer said.
The Diocese has already sold off St Paul’s Anglican Church in Stewart Street to cover the remainder of the Bathurst Bell Tower debt.
There have also been staff redundancies, and the Anglican News has been disbanded – although this is now being written as an e-edition staffed by volunteers.
“The churches are not there to serve themselves, but their communities,” Bishop Palmer said.
“They conduct funerals, comfort the bereaved, minister to people, help couples prepare for marriage, baptise babies, and carry out a great deal of welfare work.
“I am amazed by the dedication of people in this Diocese. To take that away will impoverish the area enormously.”