Parish guidelines aim to end bullying

17 April 2008

by Pat Ashworth



PARISHES and dioceses are to receive guidance from the Archbishops’ Council on how to prevent bullying and harassment within a church context.

Dignity at Work has been drawn up in consultation with the trade union UNITE, the arbitration service ACAS, and the Andrea Adams Trust, which provides information on workplace bullying.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, who chairs the Deployment, Remuneration and Conditions of Service committee, said on Tuesday that the guidelines had been prompted by concern over relationships between clergy and lay people: something he described as not a new issue, but one that had come to the fore.

“Within our culture there is more understanding of bullying and harassment, and therefore, rightly, a greater concern to stamp it out. We need to be aware that sometimes things go wrong, and, when they do, intervention needs to happen,” he said. The Bishop said that the guidelines were also a response to the legal position contained in the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997, and the 1991 European Commission code that protected the dignity of men and women at work.

The guidelines were not associated directly with the clergy terms-of-service legislation, but sprang from similar concerns, he said. “It is important that access to tribunals exists, and that will be built into the terms-of-service legislation. But it is far better if we can actually find ways of mediating which mean that we don’t have to go to a tribunal or through a legal process.”

The guidelines address situations where, for instance, a priest says that he is being bullied by a small group within the congregation, or where members of the congregation feel they are being bullied by their priest. “It can work either way round. You do get situations where what’s seen as strong leadership on either side moves into bullying,” said Bishop Packer. “It’s very rare that someone thinks that they are bullying; it’s not that infrequent for both sides to feel they are being bullied.”


The guidelines put stress on mediation and restorative justice, which the Bishop acknowledged could be difficult. Dignity at Work contains a model policy that dioceses can use as a basis for developing their own arrangements.

Development of the guidelines had been a complicated process, the Bishop acknowledged. “We wanted to be very careful that we were even-handed, and that in the examples of bullying behaviour we weren’t pretending these were all the possible examples,” he said.

“We wanted to ensure there was a fair variety of possible things: from isolating someone or deliberately excluding them from activities to insults and name-calling, deliberately withholding information, or filing incorrect information — even displays of offensive material, which one might not think of and which are sometimes used as a way of bullying or offending people. We wanted to make sure we were giving dioceses, in the first instance, some ways of thinking through what might be happening.”

The draft document runs to 24 pages. It is expected to be issued in June, and will be posted on the Church of England website as well as being circulated to bishops, clergy, and lay people who chair diocesan synods.

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