This article by Ruth Pollard was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
“Ever wondered how to exorcise a demon? There’s a handy publication that guides the uninitiated, with subheadings such as “doing the actual deliverance”, “identifying additional demons” and “what to do with obstinate demons”.
“They sometimes talk: they may threaten the person or you. They have been known to say, ‘I am going to kill you,’ and other unsavoury phrases. Command them to be quiet in the Name of Jesus,” Restoring The Foundations advises.
“The minister’s attitude is one of commanding. He needs to be firm and prepared to press in. He does not need to be loud. (Demons are not deaf.) The ministers’ commanding attitude resembles that of a person speaking to a little ‘yappy’ dog commanding him to go home and stop barking,” the manual says.
This guidebook was used by staff at Mercy Ministries, the Hillsong Church and Gloria Jeans-connected group that purports to provide “care for young women suffering the effects of eating disorders, self harm, abuse, addiction, depression, unplanned pregnancies and other life-controlling issues”.
And although Mercy Ministries now says the book is no longer part of its “curriculum”, it seems it has learnt little else about how to properly treat young women with mental illnesses or drug problems.
Multiple government agencies and investigating bodies are aware of its activities and yet 10 months after the Herald revealed that Mercy Ministries’ staff and volunteers were performing exorcisms on mentally ill young women to drive the demons out, not one of those agencies has found a way to hold this fundamentalist Christian group to account.
At the time, its then-chief executive, Peter Irvine, was quick to tell anyone to beware of these troubled young women. Sometimes they lie, he said, with a sad shake of his head.
Since then Irvine has sent a letter of apology to the women in the Herald articles. It seems he was the one wrestling with the truth.
“I would like to apologise for the statements that I made to the press in March 2008. I did not accurately reflect the situation and I regret my comments,” he wrote.
Since then, Mercy Ministries (which has no connection to the Catholic Sisters of Mercy) has churned through two chief executives and closed one of its homes (on the Sunshine Coast), although it appears it is still attempting to establish a facility in Perth.
Some former residents, still recovering from their experience, summoned up the courage to attempt to make complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Centrelink, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, the Queensland Health Quality and Complaints Commission, and two state departments of fair trading.It is clear there are false and misleading claims in its advertising – Mercy says its program offers “professional support from psychologists, dietitians, general practitioners, social workers [and] counsellors”, yet former residents say those services were not available and that counselling was provided by Bible students with no qualifications.
The claim the service is free is also untrue. Residents are required to transfer Centrelink benefits to Mercy Ministries.
Social security-funded exorcisms. That’s your taxpayer dollars at work, folks. Yet no one, beyond the brave young women who spoke out about the abuse, has done anything to stop it.
A couple of politicians have expressed concern – the former Democrats senator Lyn Allison said: “It is high time this religious group was investigated and called to account for what their victims describe as emotional and spiritual abuse”, and the South Australian Labor MP Ian Hunter described Mercy as a “money-making cult, posing as a Christian-based counselling service”.
This sorry saga has exposed the weakness of our complaints bodies – few, if any, are prepared to investigate despite detailed complaints from several young women over their alleged mistreatment.
Neither the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission nor the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would disclose whether they had investigated Mercy, and the Queensland Health Quality and Complaints Commission said it would “monitor the operation of Mercy Ministries and is in the process of conducting further assessment of the Ministries’ practices” but stopped short of proceeding with a resident’s complaint.
In March last year the federal Minister for Human Services, Joe Ludwig, said: “I am very concerned about these serious allegations, and I have asked Centrelink to investigate its payment arrangement.”
So has Centrelink investigated? “Centrelink conducted a full investigation into the appointment of Mercy Ministries as nominees for Centrelink payments,” the general manager, Hank Jongen, said. “Investigation of the current customers reveals nothing untoward. There are no records of any complaints about the nominee arrangements.”
Nothing untoward? Casting out demons, isolating young women from their parents and friends, preventing them from accessing psychiatric care and medication, inappropriately supervising doctor’s visits – how is any of this not untoward?
Again, it is left to the consumers to hold these groups to account. Forget the eating disorder, the depression, or the related alcohol or drug problems – take on the money-making machine of the Hillsong Church, the coffee chain Gloria Jeans and their related entity, Mercy Ministries, because the Government bodies established to monitor their activities are busy doing something else.”