Friday, 3 October 2008

Worcestershire rector claims harassment

The Church Times reports today on the case of The Reverend Mark Sharpe.

See Diocese accepts priest in harassment case is ‘worker’ by Shiranikha Herbert with some additional material by me.

A CHURCH OF ENGLAND cleric is a “worker” who is entitled to bring a claim against the Church, the diocese of Worcester conceded as a preliminary point in a claim brought in an employment tribunal at Birmingham by the Revd Mark Sharpe, Rector of Teme Valley South.

Mr Sharpe, who is 41, a former police officer who was ordained in 2001, claimed that during his three-year tenure he had been subjected to constant verbal abuse, his pet dog had been killed, faeces had been smeared on his car, and his tyres had been slashed. He also claimed that the vicarage where he lived with his wife and four children was infested with mice and frogs, the heating and electrical systems were danger ous, and deadly asbestos had been found.

He applied for damages for economic loss, injury to health and to his feelings, and aggravated damages for his time in the parish, which, he said, had a 40-year history of vicars, including his two immediate predecessors, who had left in controversial circumstances…

There is a further report on the Charity Finance website headed Church denies union claims of employment rights revolution.

The Church, however, says that the tribunal case has no impact on the status of any clergy outside the case itself. Agreeing to consider Revd. Sharpe a ‘worker’ was a requirement to allow the case to move forward, said Sam Setchell, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Worcester.

“The Unite union is making much of a legal technicality that is part of the normal preliminaries to a tribunal. It does not have the wide-ranging implications claimed,” said Ben Wilson, a spokesman for the Church of England. “As the union themselves concede, this case is still in its preliminary stages.”

The tribunal is hearing a case brought against the Diocese of Worcester by Revd. Sharpe who alleges that over his three years at the parish he has been subject to verbal abuse and harassment. The Reverend claims that his living conditions were extremely poor; that asbestos was found at his accommodation and that its electricity and heating systems were dangerous. The Diocese of Worcester denies the allegations, but has refused to make further comment while the case is ongoing.

The claims made by the Unite trade union can be found in its press release.

For more links and background to this case, see the Church Times blog article headed ‘Clergy set for biggest boost in employment conditions in 500 years’, according to union.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 8:43am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

If the Church does not want it's reputation to suffer it must act pro-actively and state a positive policy on clergy conditions, a clergy charter, I suppose. The case seems to fall into two parts; the provision of a home on which the church should emulate the best practice of commercial landlords and the harrassment which to some extent goes with the territory but the church should support him in obtaining injunctions etc. The question is not the legal status of clergy but the responsibilities which the church accepts towards them or will have imposed on it by society.

Posted by: David on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 10:28am BST

Just a few weeks to go before my baptism, and I am getting the uncanny feeling that I am being tested...:-). Is it me, or does the Church of England appear increasingly to be a nest of vipers? Is this media hysteria or should the 'Red Archbishop' start to put his own house in order? I am not surprised that parishes cannot get clergy, even where there's still parishioner demand. But: "constant verbal abuse, his pet dog had been killed, faeces had been smeared on his car" - is this a general attitude towards clergy, or is it again just the 'Calibanity of England'?

Posted by: orfanum on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 11:20am BST

I think it's really hard to make the case here that these are the actions of the Church. They are the actions of disturbed individuals in the parish -- individuals over whom the church has no control.

The vicarage issues are important but even there, the local council is the one responsible.

Posted by: ruidh on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 4:51pm BST

I'm not sure I understand the vicar's complaint in full. Is he under the impression that the bishop killed his dog and smeared the car with feces? For that matter, does he know that Churchpeople were responsible? How are those acts the Church's fault?

Posted by: BillyD on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 5:58pm BST

Simon, are you sure this is in Shropshire? AFAIK, the county is divided between Lichfield (N of the Severn) and Hereford (S of the Severn).

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 6:44pm BST

What on earth is going on over there? Who is it that has been subjecting the Rev. Mr. Sharpe with this alleged abuse? I am assuming he has evidence for these charges. Where has his bishop -- or at least his archdeacon -- been all this time? Such a situation, if indeed true, would be inconceivable in TEC. (The kind of harassment Mr. Sharpe alleges would lead not only to immediate intervention by the diocese, but would also be grounds for filing criminal charges against the perpetrators.) If the English clergy actually need a labor union, then the bishops are obviously not doing their jobs. And some C of E bishops actually have the gall to tell the Americans and the Canadians how to run our churches!

With this kind of thing going on in England, and meanwhile elsewhere we have the insufferable behavior of Akinola, Orombi, Jensen, Venables, etc., somebody please explain to me again why there is anything desirable about being a so-called "Anglican."

Posted by: WSJM on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 7:06pm BST

From "Simon Sarmiento adds":

"Mr Sharpe says that he disclosed information about the Church of England in his benefice, but because the diocese took no action, he and his family have suffered harassment and discrimination."

Thanks, Simon. I was wondering, "harrassed due to WHAT?"


"Mr Sharpe took over the parish in January 2005, but has been on sick leave since early in 2006 ... he became a Royal Navy chaplain in 2004, but resigned later that year, and in 2006 won compensation from a Devon employment tribunal after claiming sexual harassment aboard two warships."

Um, methinks someone MIGHT be sensitive to the point of being ill-suited to the priesthood? [Either that, or the Reverend Mr Sharpe seems extraordinarily unlucky! :-0]

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 7:08pm BST

It is pretty horrendous, for sure. But note: the parish had a long history of clergy leaving "in controversial circumstances." Maybe the CofE deployment office ain't doing a 'heckuva' job in disclosure to applicants about parishes? And what about the bishop of said diocese? Are they walking around with blinders? Scoping out an applicant for a placement works both ways - I mean didn't Mr Sharpe
know what he was getting into? Did he check out the parish? Ask questions? Let's call for transparency, right? Makes me wonder if this is just the tip of the iceberg. What do y'all think?

Posted by: Jay Vos on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 10:27pm BST

Dear Orfanum,

Do not delay the occasion of your Baptism. You are being baptized into Christ - not just into one of the parts of His Body, The Church.

It is sad that any of Christ's ministers should have suffered the problems of this particular priest, but there again, to become a priest is no guarantee of the absence of suffering and pain. On this, Saint Francis Day, we are reminded of a Little Brother who renounced everthing to follow Christ - even unto death. With Francis, there was no security - no pension; only the knowledge that he was serving Christ - in his brotherwe and sisters in the world.

One does not become a priest to attract the comforts of the middle classes. But, like Christ, who 'had nowhere to lay his head', we may have to be content with whatever is provided for us by the ones to whom we are called to minister.

Having said that, a Church that does not provide the necessities of life for its clergy may find it has no-one willing to 'forsake all' to preach the Gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 3 October 2008 at 11:16pm BST

Whoops, sorry, county name corrected. No idea why I said that!!

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 4 October 2008 at 12:52am BST

When he has to pay rates on his vicarage , mybe then he can join the workforce?

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Saturday, 4 October 2008 at 7:43am BST

Dear Father Ron Smith,

Many, many thanks for your encouragement. I will not be delaying my Baptism, rest assured. It has taken me 20 years to get here, but now, strangely, I feel impatient!

Posted by: orfanum on Sunday, 5 October 2008 at 7:18pm BST


May God richly bless you and fill you with all the Blessings of Christ on your Baptismal Day.
I can understand your impatience, Orfanum. What God is offering you is a share in God's mission to spread the compassion and love of Jesus to everyone, regardless of.............?

None of us is worthy of our calling, but God is merciful to all who seek God. I've found the joy in God's service to be sufficient for me - even into the ripeness of years that I have been given.
Deo Gratias! Prayers and Blessings.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 5 October 2008 at 11:26pm BST

"If the Church does not want it's reputation to suffer"

Um, David, I think you're several centuries late with this little warning, at least on this planet.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 6 October 2008 at 11:49am BST

ruidh - "The vicarage issues are important but even there, the local council is the one responsible."

Why is the council responsible? The Church is the landlord and it is responsible for making sure that the vicarage is habitable. They may call the Council to deal with infestations, but the diocese has the duty to act.

TBH, like all Tribunal cases there are two sides to the story, but the Church has to accept a 'duty of care' to its 'workers' - both by law and by moral duty. That includes protection from harassment (including that caused by other people) as well as proper living and working conditions.

Posted by: Richard on Tuesday, 7 October 2008 at 3:50pm BST

" That includes protection from harassment (including that caused by other people)..."

I don't see how this is true at all. Since when is one's employer responsible for harassment by third parties? Surely it is the police's responsibility to deal with this, and not the Church's.

Posted by: BillyD on Thursday, 9 October 2008 at 4:30pm BST
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