Clergy at risk

LONDON – Catholic and Anglican clergy should remove their clerical collars while off-duty to avoid being singled out for attack, a British church safety group said Sunday.

Criminals often target clergymen because they are perceived to have money.

The stiff, white neck pieces – nicknamed “dog collars” – can also attract those bearing a “grudge against God,” said Nick Tolson, who heads National Churchwatch.

“They’ve got to be aware that when they’re on their own, they’re at high risk,” Tolson said. “What we’re saying is that when clergy are off duty – say when they’re shopping at (the supermarket) – they should slip off the dog collar and put it in their pocket.”

Britain does not routinely monitor violence against clergy. But a 2001 University of London study found that seven in 10 clergy had experienced some form of violence between 1997 and 1999, and that more than one in 10 reported being assaulted, according to Tolson.

He said most assaults on clergy are committed by parishioners, but attacks by strangers could be avoided if clergy remove their collars while not on church business.

Tolson blamed dwindling church attendance for diluting the respect traditionally accorded to clergy in Britain.

“A knock on effect of this is that attacking a member of the clergy is seen by most criminals as no different to attacking a shopkeeper, robbing an old lady or any other member of society,” Tolson said.

The recommendation elicited a mixed response among Christian groups.

The Church of England said it welcomed the advice but noted that church rules say “clergy should dress as clergy.”

“Many would be reluctant to shed this very public sign of their ministry,”
the church said in a statement.

“We know that parish clergy can feel torn when it comes to balancing the desire to be visible and approachable within their community against the importance of protecting their safety and personal time.”

Rev. David Houlding, a prebendary (canon) at St. Paul’s Cathedral, called it a “silly, fashionable idea.”

“I feel much safer wearing my dog collar when I’m walking through the streets at night. There is still an air of respect to it,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “Most of the time, I wear it every day. It’s my uniform.”

Well, I have always liked to live dangerously so I shall continue to wear my collar. So far I have never been attacked verbally or otherwise, apart from a few wisecracks from the local school. But I have been approached and asked for prayer, for a listening ear, or for directions. The latter being a complete waste of time!

7 thoughts on “Clergy at risk

  1. I remember as a rather shy toddler (which will surprise people who have known me for the last 45 or so years) my grandmother assuring me that I need never be shy if somebody with a ‘back to front’ collar talked to me and always to respect the people wearing them. Despite having known some very strange clergy over the years, the lesson remains true for me, and I am sure for the majority who lke to see clergy in their proper uniforms. (Our last rector used to slip off her dog collar when she went to the shop after morning service to collect her paper and groceries she had forgotten on Saturday.

  2. Madpriest, now why didn’t I think of that? What would we arm ourselves with though? A processional cross with sharpened end? An overly starched lavabo towel ironed in the shape of a dagger? I think I’ll just stick with my pepper spray. (Just joking.)

  3. You know, Ruth. Purely hypothetically, of course. I would love one of those taser thingies. I mean, I don’t actually want to kill anybody or cause them permanent harm. But the thought of sending one of those teenagers from the local comprehensive, flying through the air after they have hurled some insult at me because they think it is so “grown up” and funny, has a certain appeal. In fact, let’s face it, it’s the stuff that clergy daydreams are made of (at least, for the male of the species).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.