A PARISHIONER is suing the Melkite Greek Catholic church’s archbishop for $25,000 she donated for an elaborate religious icon, has slapped a caveat on his investment property and is demanding he return $30,000 in luxury furniture.
In turn, the church is trying to evict Ms Bahia (Betty) Abou-Hamad, a lawyer, from one of its properties.
The row involving Archbishop Issam John Darwish has also taken place amid claims of intimidation at the church’s headquarters in Greenacre, in south-west Sydney.
As the legal battle over the attempted eviction of Ms Abou-Hamad heads back to the Supreme Court next week, subpoenas have been issued requesting the church open up its financial records for scrutiny, and that the archbishop produce transaction records for his personal and home-loan accounts.
The action comes as the archbishop, the Eparch of Australia and New Zealand, is about to hand over the leadership of the Melkite Catholic Church to Bishop Robert Rabbat.
Archbishop Darwish’s troubles began last year when the Melkite Catholic Eparchy Corporation tried to evict Ms Abou-Hamad from the church-owned house in Waterloo Road, Greenacre, which she had been renting for her business.
Police were called when Ms Abou-Hamad discovered chains locking the gates to the house and a sign saying her office had been closed.
The corporation filed a possession of land action in the Supreme Court to evict her, arguing she had only a six-month lease on the property.
In an affidavit, Archbishop Darwish, who lives next door, said he agreed to Ms Abou-Hamad using the house for only six months and that last year the church’s board of directors asked Ms Abou-Hamad to move out so the chaplain for the Church’s Holy Saviour School, Father Ibrahim Sultan, and his family could move in.
Ms Abou-Hamad is defending the action, saying she had a three-year lease with a similar option over the property, which abuts St John’s Church.
She says, in evidence, that she was paying $1200 a month in rent for the three-bedroom property and had also paid large sums of money in advance for an iconostasis – a wall, usually covered in religious icons, that separates the sanctuary from the nave in an Orthodox church – after the archbishop told her the church did not have the money to build it.
Ms Abou-Hamad filed a writ in Bankstown Local Court after she found the iconostasis had never been built.
Ms Abou-Hamad claimed she paid a total of $25,000 – in two payments in March and November 2009 – into an account, with the express agreement that it was rent in advance that should be used to build the religious wall.
Ms Abou-Hamad has alleged she later learned that the first $15,000 payment had been transferred out of the account, and the second payment of $10,000 had been transferred into a personal account.
The archbishop will not comment on the legal action and has yet to file a defence.
His lawyer, Walid Kalouche, did not return The Sun-Herald’s call.
On Friday, Mitry Lawyers, on behalf of Ms Abou-Hamad, filed a request for default judgment against the archbishop in addition to the caveat on his investment property in Parramatta.
Ms Abou-Hamad has alleged the archbishop’s secretary, Sue Nabaki, had intimidated her and applied for a restraining order in Bankstown Local Court.
Ms Nabaki, without admissions, made an undertaking not to assault, molest, harass or threaten Ms Abou-Hamad for 12 months, or to enter her office.
Ms Abou-Hamad has also demanded the return of $30,000 of furniture, including Chesterfield lounges and a dining room suite, which she supplied to the Archbishop, who is due to relocate to Lebanon later this month.
The archbishop has agreed, in writing, to return the furniture, although he said: ”I was always under the impression these items were donated by Ms Abou-Hamad to the Melkite Catholic Church, without any conditions.”
The hearing into Ms Abou-Hamad’s eviction continues in the Supreme Court this week.