Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Sunday, 13 April 2008 09:53 UK

Clergy 'bullied by parishioners'

Clerical dog collar
Vicars can been targeted by a powerful few in their congregation, says Unite

Members of the clergy are being bullied by parishioners while the Church is doing little to prevent it, a trade union has claimed.

Unite says vicars are experiencing psychological, emotional, verbal and physical abuse.

It blames the "pressures of modern society" for the increase in the number of bullying cases.

The Archbishops' Council of the Church of England insists it is listening to priests and taking action.

'Out of control'

Rachel Maskell, of Unite, told the BBC that the bullying could take various forms "and every story is different".

"For example a group of one or two powerful people in any congregation may not like the style of worship, the times of meetings and even when the main activities are taking place in the Church," she said.

We believe that the bishops shouldn't be crossing the road to the other side, as happens in the great parable of the Good Samaritan
Rachel Maskell
Unite

"But these campaigns seem to get out of control and rapidly turn into little campaign against the minister.

"It could be in the forms of letters to start with and then complaints being made, often to the bishop themselves."

She said bishops were "hiding behind the legal technicalities of the situation", but that they had a "moral duty to act expediently when they see on of their ministers in distress".

She gave one example of a minister who was off sick due to bullying, and had only had one meeting with their bishop in seven months.

"Frankly we believe that the bishops shouldn't be crossing the road to the other side, as happens in the great parable of the Good Samaritan, but should be actually supporting their ministers."

Bullying 'intolerable'

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, John Packer - who chairs the committee of the Archbishops' Council which deals with clergy's conditions of service - said bishops were taking action.

For example, next month they were producing a document entitled Dignity at Work.

This would declare both that harassment and bullying were intolerable and also give ways in which dioceses could help in such situations.

One of the difficult things is that often the allegations of bullying are made by both sides
Bishop John Packer

"Although these cases are rare, there are instances where co-operation between clergy and church councils does break down," he said.

"I think I believe that bishops do respond when they see ministers in distress.

"I do think there is a difficulty in that we are dealing with a situation where cooperation is necessary.

"One of the difficult things is that often the allegations of bullying are made by both sides - both bullying of clergy and bullying by clergy - and that's why I would want to move towards a situation in which mediation is used much more often than it is now."




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