Australian Democrats: "Mercy Ministries misinformation referred to ACCC"

The original press release by Senator Lyn Allison appeared on the Australian Democrats website and can be viewed here.

Senator Lyn Allison
Parliamentary Leader and Democrats Senator for Victoria

The Democrats succeeded in having the Mercy Ministries referred to the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission for allegedly misleading troubled young women into thinking they would receive free, specialist mental health services but instead, bombarding them with extremist and damaging religious ‘instruction’.

“It is high time this religious group was investigated and called to account for what their victims describe as emotional and spiritual abuse,” Senator Allison said.

Mercy Ministries invite young women ‘suffering from the effects of eating disorders, self harm, abuse, depression, unplanned pregnancies and other life-controlling issues’ into the program claiming to offer “…… professional support from psychologists, dieticians, general practitioners, social workers, counsellors and program staff who all contribute to provide daily education for the young women in our care”.

“It was not free and it certainly was not therapeutic.  By all accounts Mercy Ministries staff had no accreditation or counselling qualifications and, according to the victims, the mental health issues that brought them to the program were ignored while they underwent exorcism and bible study.

A number of the young women who participated in Mercy Ministries’ live in program reported suicidal depression following the ‘counselling’ and ‘guidance’.

The Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs Chris Bowen advised Senator Allison yesterday that the matter had been referred to the ACCC following her Senate motion in March.

“Mercy Ministries may claim that, their service is ‘free’, and therefore not governed by the Trades Practices Act, however, these young women had to sign over all their benefits to Mercy Ministries.  There should be no doubt they were charged to be part of the program and therefore have a right to be protected from misleading practices.

“If the courts find this not to be the case then the law should be changed to protect such vulnerable people.

“It is also reasonable to expect Centrelink to make proper checks on the credentials of non-government organisations to whom they make direct payments on behalf of their clients,” Senator Allison concluded. 

"Hillsong affiliate in exorcism row"

This article originally appeared on a Catholic news website called CathNews and can be viewed here.

Exorcisms and other faith-based cures have been blasted by the peak body for mental health professionals who have made a stern warning about the potential dangers associated with them.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports allegations have been revealed of incorrect treatment of several troubled young women by the Christian group Mercy Ministries.  Mercy Ministries, which is linked to the Hillsong Church and benefits from fundraising and sponsorship by coffee chain Gloria Jeans, is not in any way affiliated with the Catholic religious order, the Sisters of Mercy.

On its website, Mercy Ministries claims to treat women aged 16 to 28 years old by “providing homes and care for young women suffering the effects of eating disorders, self harm, abuse, depression, unplanned pregnancies and other life controlling issues.”

But three former patients told the Herald the programs involved “emotionally cruel and medically unproven techniques”, such as exorcisms and “separation contracts” between friends.

The girls reportedly left the centre suicidal after being told they were possessed by demons.

The newspaper report also claims Mercy Ministries received the women’s Centrelink payments during their residential stay.

Mental Health Council of Australia spokesman Simon Tatz says it is important people receive treatment that is evidence-based, for instance psychiatry and certain drug treatments.

“It’s about getting people into treatments that are proven to work,” Mr Tatz said.

"Gloria Jeans CEO steps down, Hillsong controversy builds"

This article originally appeared on the Inside Retailing Online website and can be viewed here.

Ian Martini has stepped down as group CEO at Gloria Jean’s Coffees , reports the Australian Financial Review.

The company said in a statement “after much discussion with the board and for personal reasons, Ian will no longer be continuing as group chief executive”.

The business will be run by a senior management committee in conjunction with the company board represented by John Dwight.

Gloria Jeans has this week been embroiled in controversy over its sponsorship of Mercy Ministries – a ministry supported by the Hillsong foundation.

A recent Sydney Morning Herald investigation into Mercy Ministries alleges several young women suffering mental illnesses had been mistreated by the ministry.

Gloria Jean’s Coffees told the SMH it had no plans to change its sponsorship arrangements with Mercy Ministries, despite the allegations.

However several other companies that had been listed as corporate sponsors, such as Bunnings, Rebel Sport and LG have moved to distanced themselves from the ministry, the SMH reports.

"'Exorcisms, cruel techniques' part of Mercy Ministry treatment"

This article originally appeared on the ABC website and can be viewed here.

The peak body for mental health professionals has issued a warning on the potential dangers of faith-based cures for mental health problems.

The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed allegations of incorrect treatment of several troubled young women by the Christian group, Mercy Ministries, which is linked to the Hillsong Church.

On its website, Mercy Ministries claims to treat women aged 16 to 28 years old by “providing homes and care for young women suffering the effects of eating disorders, self harm, abuse, depression, unplanned pregnancies and other life controlling issues.”

But three former patients told the Herald that the programs involved “emotionally cruel and medically unproven techniques”, such as exorcisms and “separation contracts” between friends.

The girls reportedly left the Mercy centre suicidal, after being told they were possessed by demons.

The newspaper report also claims Mercy Ministries received the women’s Centrelink payments during their residential stay.

Mental Health Council of Australia spokesman Simon Tatz says it is important people receive treatment that is evidence-based, for instance psychiatry and certain drug treatments.

“It’s about getting people into treatments that are proven to work,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Federal Human Resources Minister Joe Ludwig says the allegations regarding Centrelink are being investigated.

Meanwhile, coffee chain Gloria Jean’s says it will continue its sponsorship and fundraising of the Mercy Ministries program.

A spokeswoman says the company was told the allegations were unfounded.

"Hillsong, Gloria Jeans accused of exacerbating mental illness"

This article originally appeared on the LiveNews website and can be viewed here.

The Hillsong Church and Gloria Jean’s Coffee are under fire for failing to provide young women suffering severe illness with adequate medical attention during their time at Mercy Ministries.  According to a Sydney Morning Herald investigation, the women signed up to months at the secretive ministry – supported by the Hillsong group and sponsored by Gloria Jean’s Coffee – which offered them no medical or psychiatric care.

The alleged victims say they’ve been forced to undergo years of psychological and psychiatric treatment as a result of their time at the ministry.  They are also complaining that the program required them to sign over all their welfare benefits.  The Mercy Ministries website claims it “exists to provide opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and life-transforming power. 

“It does, however, promise support from “psychologists, general practitioners, dietitians, social workers, (and) career counsellors”.

But the women say no professional care was offered at all, in favour of Christian counselling and “expelling demons”.

Naomi Johnson, who was 21 and suffering from anorexia when she entered the ministry, told the Herald that the ’treatment’ she received was extremely damaging and subsequent professionals had trouble getting anything out of the group.

“The first psychologist I saw rang and spoke to Mercy.  She wrote to them over a period of time, just trying to get answers.  They were very evasive; they avoided her calls.  Eventually she got some paperwork, some case notes, from them.”

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