This article by Ruth Pollard originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
Complex ties link Mercy Ministries to its supporters, writes Ruth Pollard.
Deeply felt ties bind Mercy Ministries, Gloria Jean’s and the Hillsong Church, connected through a complicated chain of directors and former directors – as well as donations.
As they deal with allegations, revealed in the Herald yesterday, of inappropriate treatment of residents in Mercy Ministries’ Sydney and Sunshine Coast houses, they insist the organisations are completely unrelated, despite sharing common board members and directors.
“Hillsong do not own or run Mercy Ministries … Hillsong are a financial supporter, as are many churches in Sydney and around the country,” said Peter Irvine, who until recently was both the managing director of Gloria Jean’s Coffees and a director of Mercy Ministries.
Mr Irvine is still on the board of Mercy Ministries and is responsible for its corporate sponsorship, and told the Herald he had taken a back seat at Gloria Jean’s Coffees, although he is still a board member and shareholder.
He said there was no conflict of interest in holding the two roles, saying he had focused for the past year on publishing a book and consulting businesses on franchising rather than any day-to-day running of Gloria Jean’s.
Mercy Ministries’ accounts were audited each year, Mr Irvine said. However, it produced no annual reports and would not publicly release any financial information.
A copy of its financial statements and reports submitted to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last October indicate it had income of $1.365 million in 2006, yet it is unclear how much of this includes transfers of Centrelink payments by the young women who seek out Mercy’s help.
As to the women’s allegations, Mr Irvine said: “In any program you will always get a few that are disenchanted because they do not get their way and then criticise everything.
“The girls are not forced to come into the program … our people go out of their way to explain and prepare them.”
Two former directors of Mercy Ministries, Mark and Darlene Zschech, who brought the program to Australia from the US in 2001, have also been associate directors of the Hillsong Church’s annual conference.
Darlene, described as “one of the key worship leaders at Hillsong Church”, and her husband no longer appear to have any connection to Mercy Ministries.
Mercy Ministries’ accountant, Stephen Crouch, is married to another organiser of the Hillsong conference, Pastor Donna Crouch.
The Hillsong Foundation, the church’s charitable arm, supports Mercy Ministries to deliver the programs.
Gloria Jean’s Coffees supports Mercy Ministries through corporate donations and fund-raising activities that include cash donation boxes in stores and an annual fund-raising weekend, “Cappuccino for a Cause”, where 50 cents from each cappuccino sold goes to Mercy Ministries, a spokeswoman said.
However, information on how much financial support Gloria Jean’s contributes to the ministry, support that has continued since 2003, was unavailable, she said.
And despite the swag of allegations over the Mercy Ministries program – including claims that young women with mental illnesses had been forbidden from gaining access to medical or psychiatric care unsupervised, or from doctors independent of the program, and claims of the use of exorcisms to treat health problems – the spokeswoman said Gloria Jean’s would not be reviewing its sponsorship arrangements.
The Catholic Sisters of Mercy, who have long been involved in health care, education and social welfare programs throughout the country, have stressed that they have no connection with Mercy Ministries.
“All Sisters of Mercy in Australia wish to make clear to their co-workers, family members, friends and associates, current or potential benefactors and any other interested persons, that they have no relationship whatsoever with Mercy Ministries Inc,” a spokeswoman said.