Hillsong’s recently appointed global senior pastor, Phil Dooley, has announced the church will launch a review into its financial structures following accusations of fraud and extravagant spending.
Last week, Australian MP Andrew Wilkie accused Dooley, Brian Houston and other church leaders of using church money to “do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian”.
He blamed Dooley for spending thousands in flying business class with his daughter while alleging Houston used “private jets like Ubers”.
Wilkie also said the church was “breaking numerous laws in Australia and around the world relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion”.
Using parliamentary privilege, the independent MP based his allegations on leaked documents given to him by a whistle-blower.
Dooley and the chair of the Hillsong Global Board, Stephen Crouch, apologised for the allegations to the Sidney congregation on Sunday and announced an “outside third party” will begin a review of the church’s “financial structure and systems to ensure they line up with the mission going forward”.
A change in the policy of gifts and honorariums and savings of $9.47 million (£5.18m) due to 153 employees opting for voluntary redundancy were also announced as changes to the church’s structures.
Dooley explained the decision to let go of staff was made because they wanted “the vast majority of our staff to be front face-facing, focused on people, and the needed and necessary work of face-to-face ministry”.
He also addressed the personal accusations against him, explaining that when he became senior pastor last month, he had asked the church’s board not to travel alone to ensure the health of his marriage.
“If I travel internationally, I travel business class simply because I’m going somewhere to work and I have limited time,” he said.
“Last year, I only spoke in one church other than a Hillsong church, and that was in Guatemala. And over 60 per cent of that flight was covered by the church in Guatemala. I’ve also paid a portion of that flight myself to cover the costs of my daughter flying with me.”
“The rest was covered by our global church budget as I went to do ministry in both our churches in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. In fact, that trip involved nine different flights. And not all of them were business class.”
Houston has also defended himself against the allegations saying that while on post as senior global pastor, his focus was on “all-important ministry aspects of our endeavours”, and he didn’t have “nor wanted any access to the church’s finances”.
The 69-year-old accused the independent MP of using his parliamentary privilege to “espouse unproven and spurious claims about Hillsong Church that are, in the main, either out of context, misleading or false”.
For Dooley, it felt “un-Australian” and “like being king hit from behind” that the MP did not contact the church to receive an explanation for the spending.
He concluded: “But Jesus loves you, Mr Wilkie … Mr Wilkie, you’re still welcome to attend any of our services.”