The BBC recently reported on bullying of clergy which the union Unite says has become rife. They say that priests are being picked on and bullied by Bishops and parishioners. They have heard of incidents where Bishops threaten clergy with job loss or taking their licence away. They also tell of clergy being bullied by their own congregation, with one having tyres slashed and worse, all because the priest tried to tackle financial problems, allegedly.
Bullying is a horrible thing. It is horrible when you are a 5 year old being picked on at school because you wet yourself. It is horrible when you are 7 and have red hair or wear specs. It is horrible when you are 12 and puberty brings puppy fat or spots. It is horrible when you are a teenager and can’t afford a pair of Uggs. And then you get to workplace bullying which can take many forms, be it sexist or racist or agist or just plain nastiness. But there is always the Union to join and they can help you fight your case.
Except, until recently, clergy couldn’t join a union because they were exempt from employment law like the rest of the workforce. There is nobody to negotiate minimum stipend, nobody to legislate on hours worked and all the rest. But when it is all going well, we don’t mind. Well its a vocation, isn’t it? We knew about the pay and the hours before we went into it. But putting up with some bits that others would find abhorrant, doesn’t mean that we should put up with bullying.
Of course, dealing with bullying is most effective when a third party is involved. Mediation can help each side understand how their behaviour has affected the other. But what if the person who would naturally be the mediator is the bully? And what if you aren’t a member of a Union who could step in where angels fear to tread? And what if you are just too embarrassed or frightened to confess that you are being bullied? Instead, you just change job. Become a teacher where you will be looked after by the union.
From time to time we see this subject rear its ugly head. Someone writes a thesis, or an article in the Church Times. Blogging Bishops pick it up and we all tell stories about so-and-so ‘who left the priesthood and we all know why’ or countless Curates who were deeply miserable but thought it was the norm. But I’m not sure that many churches actually do anything about it. And what if indeed it is the Bishops who do the bullying? Where do we go then? How do policies get made if the problem lies with the policy makers?
And folk outside the Church are shocked that such a terrible thing should happen in the Church. One reason is that outsiders always seem to think that Christians should be awfully well behaved, never saying a bad word, never criticising, and certainly never bullying. They don’t seem to get that churches are made up of people just the same as they are. I’ve heard of some pretty un-Christian behaviour from some individuals, Vestries and congregations. But we just don’t deal with it very well.
I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that I don’t like it and I do think we need to address it somehow.