BBC report today on bullied clergy:
Workplace bullying of the clergy has become "rife", according to the union Unite which says priests are being picked on by bishops and parishioners.
The union has set up a hotline where the clergy can report abuse, and says it deals with up to 150 cases a year.
"Bishops have got a lot nastier", says the Reverend Gerry Barlow, chair of the faith workers branch of Unite. Unite says the bullying frequently comes from superiors within the church who may be under financial pressure.
"A bullying case can go on for a long time", says Terry Young, a former minister who runs the helpline. "They're picked on for everything they do wrong, so in the end the person runs around terrified. You see these people unsupported, driven into depression and a nervous breakdown."
There are roughly 8,000 stipendiary clergy, though I guess Unite covers the non-stipendiaries too. Over the last 10 years, roughly 250 per year have left the CofE payroll - some of this is movement to other posts (e.g. chaplaincies, Diocese of Europe, work with other agencies like CPAS), but without more detail it's impossible to know how many have quit through stress, who might otherwise have stayed with a better working environment.
This is a topic Bishop Alan has regularly covered, and he has plenty of good reflections on the nature of bullying, and what to do about it. It's an issue the CofE as a whole is alive to: the report Dignity At Work, published in June 2008, is a report on bullying and the clergy, with suggested policies and procedures for Dioceses who want to take it seriously. It would be interesting to know how many Dioceses now have such a policy in place.
At present there's nothing about this on the Unite website, and nothing else on the web, so I'm not quite sure where this story has come from. Given that Unite also covers clergy from non-Anglican churches, and from other faiths, so it's not clear if that 150 is just CofE clergy (in which case it's about 2% of clergy, which is pretty high) or of everyone covered by the union.
Back in the dim and distant past, when I worked for Clarks shoes, one or two people I was 'managing' ended up off with stress and physical ailments, mainly because I was so rubbish at my job. At the same time there were others who I found very intimidating, and was glad to get moved to a different placement after 6 months. The nature of power and authority is so muddled in the CofE that pretty much anyone could end up bullied by anyone else, if the personalities and situation conspire in that direction.
I can tick off in my mind several cases which might end up on this hotline, so it's good that it's there, but it would be even better if the support and love was there from the local and Diocesan community. Unfortunately, parishes are such sealed units that it's very difficult to pop 'over the fence' to offer support, and when you're down and being kicked, it's very difficult to ask for support in the first place.
For interest: Church Times online question about whether people were aware of bullying in their church. 80% of respondents (296 at time of writing) voted 'yes'.
And two questions:
1. how does anyone know that Bishops have 'got a lot nastier'? That's quite a brush to tar the men in purple with. Is the number of reported cases going up, or down? And if so, is that because the helpline is now better known, and the CofE itself is giving this issue a higher profile?
2. Financial pressure may mean that there are redundancies in the pipeline. This is probably a new situation for many dioceses. Redundancy is never great (unless you hated the job anyway), but Dioceses need to do some thinking about how they go about this. Voting through a job cut in Diocesan Synod with the post holder present and debating the point doesn't sound ideal. What's the alternative?
Update: interesting piece by Ruth Gledhill, links roundup at Sam Norton.