Hillsong Church will launch an independent review of its financial structure and systems to ensure the organisation can carry out its religious mission in the wake of allegations of fraud and extravagant spending.
Addressing the congregation on Sunday morning, global senior pastor Phil Dooley also revealed that 153 staff had taken voluntary redundancies in the last year, saving $9.47 million, and the church had implemented a new policy on gifts and honorariums, and changed its structures.
Last week, independent MP Andrew Wilkie made allegations against Dooley, church founder Brian Houston and other senior members of the church under parliamentary privilege, while also tabling 17 binders of church financial records provided to him by an unnamed whistleblower.
The Tasmanian MP said church money was used “to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian” and that Hillsong was “breaking numerous laws in Australia and around the world relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion”.
Dooley and church board member Stephen Crouch both apologised to the congregation on Sunday and committed to detailing the findings of a forensic audit, which began in August last year.
“I am also announcing today that on top of the forensic audit that has been conducted by [accounting firm] Grant Thornton regarding the allegations, we will be beginning this week a complete re-evaluation, via an outside third party, of our financial structure and systems to ensure they line up with the mission going forward.”
Dooley, who took over as head of the church from Houston last March, said Hillsong’s “full focus is to be a mission-driven church … we will do whatever is necessary to investigate these [allegations]”.
“We’re already implementing systems to ensure that if there are any excesses established, they cannot be incurred going forward. I can’t change the past, but I can play a significant role in changing the future,” he said.
The decision to let go of backroom staff, Dooley said, was made because “we want the vast majority of our staff to be front face-facing, focused on people, and the needed and necessary work of face-to-face ministry”.
Crouch, who also addressed the congregation, said the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission had commenced an investigation into Hillsong “within one week of Pastor Brian’s [Houston] resignation in March 2022. This investigation is still under way, and we are fully co-operating with the ACNC”.
Dooley defended himself against allegations made by Wilkie about his use of church funds on business class flights and gifts.
The pastor said he had made clear to the board, when he became global senior pastor, that he would not travel alone, to ensure the health of his marriage and family.
“If I travel internationally, I travel business class simply because I’m going somewhere to work and I have limited time,” he said.
“Last year, I only spoke in one church other than a Hillsong church and that was in Guatemala. And over 60 per cent of that flight was covered by the church in Guatemala. I’ve also paid a portion of that flight myself to cover costs of my daughter flying with me.”
“The rest was covered by our global church budget as I went to do ministry in both our churches in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. In fact, that trip involved nine different flights. And not all of them were business class.”
Dooley said he was disappointed Wilkie had used parliamentary privilege to make allegations against him and that it was “un-Australian” not to have contacted the church to seek an explanation for the spending.
“It kind of feels like being king hit from behind. But Jesus loves you Mr Wilkie … Mr Wilkie, you’re still welcome to attend any of our services,” he said.
The ACNC confirmed on Friday that it was taking the “extremely rare” step of confirming an investigation into Hillsong.
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