This article by Bob Smietana originally appeared in The Tennessean and can be viewed here.
Former leaders of the Australia franchise of Nashville-based Mercy Ministries of America have agreed to pay damages for misleading women in their care.
Mercy Ministries Australia ran two homes for young women with eating disorders and other problems. The program was supposed to be free. But residents were forced to sign over their government assistance checks. Mercy also promised psychological care but failed to deliver.
Seven former Mercy Australia leaders admitted their conduct was false, misleading and deceptive and will apologize to 110 former residents under the terms of a settlement. They’ll also pay each resident $1,050 Australian, about $100,000 U.S. total.
Graeme Samuel, head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, said that charities must act with integrity. Mercy Australia failed to do that.
“Misleading conduct of this kind is a matter of serious concern, and I am pleased that those directors ultimately responsible for the conduct have offered both an apology and payment to the young women affected,” Samuel said in announcing the deal on Tuesday.
Mercy Australia was started in 2001 by songwriter Darlene Zschech — who wrote gospel megahit “Shout to the Lord” — and her husband, Mark, who are friends of Mercy founder Nancy Alcorn. But Mercy Australia was an independent charity, with no oversight from Nashville, said Christy Singleton, spokesperson for Mercy Ministries of America.
Mercy Australia closed down in October. Singleton said that Mercy’s Nashville offices were not involved in the recent agreement.
“Mercy Ministries did not take responsibility for those actions,” she said. “… Those individuals have taken responsibility.”
In the United States, Mercy runs homes in Nashville, St. Louis, Sacramento and Monroe, La. All offer free care.
Singleton said that the Nashville office relied on reports from leaders in Australia to ensure the program was run ethically.
“What we knew was what was reported to us,” she said.
Mercy now has stricter controls for overseas programs. All homes now have to sign a ministry collaboration agreement. The agreement allows Mercy to sanction or dismiss affiliates that violate the agreement. Singleton said that Mercy Australia was not disaffiliated — a lack of funding caused the Australia homes to close.
“It’s unfortunate because so many girls there still need help,” she said.