Australia-based Hillsong Church Sunday announced that it will conduct an independent investigation into its financial structure following allegations of fraud and financial misappropriation. Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley said that the church is making “significant operational changes” following criticism from Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie.
Dooley confirmed that the church will conduct, “a complete reevaluation, via an outside third party, of our financial structure and systems to ensure they line up with the mission going forward.”
He revealed that 153 staff members had voluntarily resigned in the previous year to reduce “back-end” administrative roles, saving the church $9.47 million. Dooley stressed the practical relief the church provides to vulnerable communities, including youth outreach, international charity campaigns and foreign aid. He also defended several accusations made against his personal use of church funds, including travelling overseas by business class and travelling with his family. Wilkie alleged that Dooley spent up to $58,000 on business class flights to Guatemala with his daughter, $42,000 to Mexico and $32,000 from Cape Town to Sydney.
“I am deeply disappointed that Mr Wilkie would choose to use parliamentary privilege so that he does not have to be held accountable for whatever he tabled,” Dooley said, calling the MP’s actions “un-Australian.”
Speaking at the Parliament’s Federation Chamber on Thursday, Wilkie tabled 17 binders containing financial records he obtained from a whistleblower, stating that “Hillsong is breaking numerous laws in Australia and around the world relating to fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.”
He cited several expenses incurred by the church, calling it, “the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.” The documents allegedly account for church expenses including a three-day retreat to Cancun in 2021 costing $150,000, exorbitant cash gifts awarded to pastors involved in former Hillsong leader Brian Houstons’s 2019 sexual misconduct allegations and royalties to Hillsong musicians.
Wilkie confirmed that the whistleblower documents had been verified. However, when he presented the information to national tax, securities and charity regulators last year, no action was taken.
Following Wilkie’s address, charity watchdog Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) confirmed that it is investigating allegations against Hillsong. The watchdog stated that it had not received a “whistleblower disclosure,” despite Wilkie’s statements. The church is complying with regulatory authorities, ACNC reports.
Hillsong is a contemporary Christian church founded in Western Sydney in 1983, which has expanded its churches across 30 countries worldwide. The church has gained global prominence through its popular musical groups, messaging of “health and wealth”, and the Sydney-based Hillsong College, which offers courses in theology, ministry and pastoral leadership.