This article by Ruth Pollard was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
FORMER directors of Mercy Ministries yesterday admitted the evangelical Christian organisation had engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct by wrongly claiming their residential care programs were free and included support from psychologists, dietitians, general practitioners and counsellors.
The admission is part of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruling, after an 18-month investigation into complaints from former residents who were forced to undergo exorcisms and use prayer to treat serious health problems such as bipolar disorder and anorexia.
Targeting girls and women aged 16 to 28, Mercy Ministries also claimed – on its website and in advertising material distributed in Gloria Jeans cafes around the country – that its program was free, yet a Herald investigation revealed residents had to sign over their Centrelink benefits during their stay.
The ACCC ordered the former directors to pay $1050 to each of the 110 young women who took part in their programs from January 2005 to June last year, the total being $118,154. They have also agreed to attend annual trade practices compliance training for three years.
”Given the vital role charitable organisations have in our society, and the trust placed in them, it is imperative that their conduct is of the highest standard, especially in their dealings with vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community,” the ACCC chairman, Graeme Samuel, said yesterday. ”Misleading conduct of this kind is a matter of serious concern.”
Hillsong Church said in October it had cut ties with the group. At the same time, Mercy Ministries announced it was closing its Sydney home, citing ”extreme financial challenges and a steady drop in our support base”.