Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 18:13 UK

Vicars 'are not employed by God'

Rev Mark Sharpe
The Rev Mark Sharpe said he was told he was not employed by the diocese

A vicar has claimed an admission by his diocese that he was employed by the Church and not God could transform employment rights for clergy.

The Rev Mark Sharpe, 41, the Rector of Teme Valley South in Worcestershire, has accused the Diocese of Worcester of harassment and discrimination.

He said a bishop had previously told him he was employed by God and so was not entitled to "grievance management".

The Diocese of Worcester said it was disputing Mr Sharpe's damages claim.

It said it was not prepared to comment on the details of the case because no decision had been reached in the tribunal.

The union Unite said an admission at a tribunal hearing that clergy were employed by the Church could lead to improved employment rights in the future.

The cliche is we're employed by God, but that doesn't stand up in terms of how you have a working relationship with the people around you
The Reverend Mark Sharpe

Mr Sharpe is seeking compensation claiming he had been subject to constant abuse while his vicarage was infested by mice and frogs, with dangerous heating and electrical systems.

He said he asked to speak to the Bishop of Worcester about his complaints.

He said: "He told me that 'I'm sorry but you're not employed by the diocese, you have no legal relationship with the diocese and as such you're not entitled to any form of grievance management process'.

"The cliche is we're employed by God, but that doesn't stand up in terms of how you have a working relationship with the people around you."

Unite said the Church had historically claimed that clergy were exempt from employment regulations as they were "office holders" occupying "a living" and not employed by the Church.

But it said at a recent employment tribunal in Birmingham it agreed that Mr Sharpe "had the status of a worker for the purposes of this claim".

It said that if Mr Sharpe's compensation claim was successful and an appeal was rejected it could mean that clergy were subject to the same employment rights as most other workers in future.




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