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Hillsong Church making changes amid financial abuse lawsuit, Phil Dooley says

Phil Dooley
Phil Dooley is the interim global senior pastor of Hillsong Church. |

Hillsong Church's Interim Global Senior Pastor Phil Dooley says changes to the organizational structure of the denomination are underway after a suspended employee alleged in a recent lawsuit that the Australia-based megachurch misappropriated donations and gave "large cash gifts" to former Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston, his family and other church leaders.

In an update posted on Hillsong Church's website Friday, Dooley said he will share in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday the "progress Hillsong Church is making to bring significant change to our organizational structure."

He also confirmed the lawsuit against Hillsong Church "involves employment issues" and "various allegations that pertain to church finances."

"While I'd like to provide you with more specific details I unfortunately cannot, because while the claims can be publicized, it is inappropriate to respond or comment publicly because the matter is before the court. However, I can assure you that my heart, and the desire of our leadership, is to deal with this matter as we approach any other issue — with humility, love, and prayer," Dooley said.

"While I have been advised that during the court process we will defend these claims, I also acknowledge that there are many things we must do — and are already doing — differently to how we have operated in the past," he added. "This is a new day for Hillsong, and we are today a different church to what we were even a year ago. When issues like this arise, our first response must be to look to the Holy Spirit and be led by Him."

The lawsuit was filed in Australia earlier this month on behalf of Hillsong employee Natalie Moses as part of a Fair Work Act case against the church, ABC News reported.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission is reportedly investigating the church since March to verify if the organization has complied with Australian regulations governing the operation of charities.

Moses, who works in the church's financial department, alleges that around March this year, she was asked to prepare internal responses for the ACNC investigation.

Peter Ridley, the church's chief financial officer, allegedly told key financial department members during a March 29 meeting that God would protect Hillsong during the investigation because "God protects the righteous and Hillsong is the righteous."

In her lawsuit, Moses alleges the church engaged in many questionable financial practices in what her attorney, Josh Bornstein, calls a "cowboy culture."

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that leaders at the Hillsong Church headquarters illegally disguised international transfers by making payments through the church's United States-based entities.

Brian Houston
Hillsong Church Senior Pastor Brian Houston of Sydney, Australia, speaks at Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on Oct. 7, 2016. |

Internal audits conducted by Moses uncovered questionable financial records unlikely to comply with Australian legislation, the lawsuit further claims. 

Along with claims that church leaders made "significant" gifts to church directors, family and friends, Moses said they used church credit cards to pay for international travel and designer products.

Houston, Hillsong Church's founder, resigned as global senior pastor on March 23 after it was revealed that two women made serious complaints of misconduct against him in the last 10 years.

His resignation also came over a year after the U.S. arm of Hillsong Church was rocked by allegations of financial abuse from former members who said pastors frequently splurged tithe money on lavish expenses. This accusation came on the heels of a sex scandal that erupted at the Hillsong NYC location.

Houston boasted at the time about Hillsong Church's "record of excellence in financial accountability globally and an unwavering commitment to financial integrity."

In his response on Friday, Dooley reminded church members that the contents of the lawsuit are currently "allegations."

"Please keep in mind that anything you may hear, or that may be reported, are allegations that are untested and unproven," he wrote. "But equally, I want you to know that if throughout this process we find that we need to make changes, we will. We are confident that truth will prevail, and we appreciate your prayers."

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