From the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds to The Times:
Sir, We reject strongly the assertion that there is a “culture of bullying” in the Church of England (“‘Bullied’ clergy turn to trade union for protection”, Jan 5). We take allegations of bullying very seriously. Even one case matters because it is one too many. Our experience tells us that bullying is rare within the Church, (so Anne Atkins and all the rest of us who say we see it very regularly are obviously lying) but, as in any human organisation, it can happen. For this reason, the Church has published and distributed guidance on preventing bullying and harassment, developed in consultation with external experts, including Unite. Parishes can use the guidance to stimulate both discussion and action to confront the issue.
The Church has very recently made new legislation to give clergy greater security and similar rights to employees while preserving their historic officeholder status. This gives flexibility to clergy to develop their ministry in different ways as an expression of their individual calling. The law will come into force in 2011.
The Right Rev John Packer
Bishop of Ripon and Leeds
Chairman of the Deployment, Remuneration, and Terms of Service Committee, The Archbishops’ Council
From the Bishop of Lichfield to his diocese:
It would be wrong to comment on a specific case which will be the subject of a court hearing but the programme suggested that bullying was not unusual in the Church of England.
I’m not so sure. Bullying comes potentially from three directions: the parish, the priest and the Bishop or his officers. I think that my twenty-one years parochial experience is pretty typical in that I always knew myself to be supported by the overwhelming number of my parishioners and could always look for support from my Rural Deans, Archdeacons and Bishops. But I have come across cases (very few but very painful for those on the receiving end) of priests who have bullied congregations, and of priests who have been bullied by congregations. I have no personal knowledge of bullying bishops or archdeacons but doubtless they exist.
The programme also included stories of clergy going to visit their bishop for what they assumed was a pastoral chat but turned out to be the sack. I have never sacked a priest and probably wouldn’t be able to if I tried unless he/she had been found guilty of a criminal offence or conduct unbecoming of a clerk in holy orders. Unemployment tribunals obviously assume that we clergy are employees of a big firm where the Archbishop of Canterbury is the managing director but where clergy don’t have the usual safeguards that employees have. In this diocese we are committed to giving clergy all the benefits of being employees while still holding their privileged place in law as office-holders. Clergy often say that they value their legal independence and compare themselves favourably with those free-church ministers who can be sacked by their congregations.
I would encourage any clergy or ministers who feel they are being bullied to seek help either from me or, in the first instance, their Area Bishop.
Thank goodness, for BISHOP ALAN (although even he starts off by saying things are worse elsewhere - not a very good opening statement in a pastoral situation):
Bullying behaviour goes on, of course, in all working contexts, including the Church — in my experience less so in the Church than in other contexts in which I’ve worked, education and prisons, but any incidence is shameful and wrong.
Whether it’s laypeople bullying clergy or clergy bullying clergy or clergy bullying laypeople, any whiff of bullying needs to be explored and discussed, preferably with area dean or bishop's staff, or someone, fully and accurately as early as possible.
Whoever is allegedly bullying whom, the best response is early awareness. The most problematic cases (of which there is only a very tiny number) are usually situations that have stewed for ages. early investigation shows up anomalies for what they are, and protects everyone. If bullying is not happening, it can be excluded, and if it is, it can be exposed for what it is. Like domestic violence, the key thing is to break the cycle producing it as soon as possible.
The involvement of Rachael Maskell’s union, Unite, has always, in my limited experience of it, been extremely helpful. A good union rep can normalise the whole situation by setting the various anecdotes around it in a broader context, whilst ensuring that their member is well protected. Rachael is absolutely right about the key role of law in protecting laypeople and clergy — sometimes people speak of ecclesiastical law as an anomalous by-product of establishment designed to annoy free spirits. It is actually their baseline protection, and everyone else’s — a key part of the infrastructure.
The successful extension of section 23 rights to all C of E clergy by Common Tenure, a legislative job that began almost 10 years ago and goes live at the beginning of 2011, is absolutely necessary. I have a particular interest, formally, in the implementation group for this change in this diocese, and we all have a part to play. Stories like this demonstrate to any who might have wondered about it, why this piece of work, which has been going on over almost 10 years, is so important to complete effectively. I strongly recommend all clergy to take up the option of common tenure when they’re offered it later this year. Even if they don’t think they need it, the universal takeup of the protection it offers is good for the culture of the whole Church.
When Common Tenure is implemented, this time next year, more legislation could be desirable. I don't think anyone will actually know until the new system has been operating for long enough to assess its impact. In the meanwhile, unions (who have had a battering themselves in the past thirty years) need to work hard to recruit in all sectors, and I support them in doing this.
Guess what? Bishop Alan is only an area bishop and how he managed to get that far up the greasy pole with such integrity is beyond my ken. His is the sort of real sympathy and practical initiative that ordinary, parish clergy are crying out for. And he's not stupid. He's realised that if you don't patronise people and if you show that you are at least trying to understand their concerns, they will love you and follow you into the gates of hell itself when you are made Archbishop.