Bishop of Lichfield re-assures clergy over bullying claims

The Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill

The Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill

The Bishop of Lichfield has written to all clergy in the diocese to re-assure them following media reports about alleged bullying in the Church of England.

The move by The Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill follows reports of bullying being “rife” among members of the clergy.

In his letter he said he had come across cases of priests who bullied congregations and congregations who bullied priests, but said these were “very few but very painful for those on the receiving end”.

The Bishop added:

“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.”

The bishop said any clergy who felt they were on the receiving end of bullying could seek help from their area bishops.

The letter in full:

“A story on the Today Programme, picking up one from the Church Times before Christmas, about a case in Worcester in which a vicar complains that his parish is “toxic” and the union suggests that the two bishops should resign for not sorting it out. 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.”

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