A BITTER row within the Anglican Church will come to a head next month in Portland with a call for the resignation of Bishop Michael Hough.
The 57-year-old bishop of the Ballarat diocese, which covers most of the south-west, is also at the centre of an ongoing investigation by the national Anglican Episcopal Standards Commission into allegations of bullying and harrassment.
Complaints by at least 20 people including clergy are being examined by the commission which started its investigations 18 months ago.
The Standard understands one non-clergy complainant is from the Warrnambool district and some are from Colac district.
It is the first time in Australia's European history Anglican clergy have called for the removal of their bishop and has recently been noted in the church's UK newsletter.
Now with the annual diocesian synod scheduled for Portland only a month away there's a new push to have him removed.
A group calling itself Ballarat Laity Against Bullying (BLAB) has organised a petition to be circulated among all 30 parishes in the diocese and plans to present it to the Portland conference on June 19 and 20 requesting the resignation.
One member warned if the bishop did not step down many would leave the church angry he was trampling over their traditions.
The Standard was told the petition could be expected in the Warrnambool region soon and may be distributed through door knocking rather than approaching parishioners at church services.
The group yesterday circulated a media release claiming all attempts at a resolution by clergy and laity had failed.
"No healing or growth in the diocese can happen while Bishop Hough remains the diocesian bishop," it said.
"A bishop is the focus of unity and pastoral care, but Bishop Hough is the focus of division and disunity.
"It is therefore imperative that he resign forthwith."
Comment was unavailable from the diocesian office yesterday, but Warrnambool parish priest Father Scott Lowrey said the issue was in the hands of "the appropriate body".
"There are a range of allegations being investigated by the commission and we are prayerfully awaiting their outcome," he said.
The bishop introduced a more contemporary style since his appointment in 2004. Some critics have described him as an evangelistic zealot and also a mediaeval-type despot.
Early last year he described the complainants as a small group of malcontents unable to adapt to a changing church and conceded his zeal may have offended some people.
However, one BLAB member Gillian Canavan of Ballarat said discontent was widespread and growing.
"The petition has just started, but even in little parishes we are getting at least 60 signatures," she said.
"You don't put up with a despotic form of leadership when there's no attempt to unify.
"If the church members want to lose their traditions and be lead by some sort of roving John the Baptist then so be it. We just want people to be aware of what he really is."