NEW guidelines released this week by the Church of England urge dioceses to introduce harassment advisers, in an attempt to reduce the problem of bullying in the Church.
The 30-page report, Dignity at Work: Working together to reduce incidents of bullying and harassment, by the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council, has been drawn up in conjunction with the trade union UNITE, the arbitration service ACAS, and the Andrea Adams Trust, a charity that advises on bullying in the workplace (News, 18 April).
The guidance identifies various examples of bullying, ranging from “isolating someone or deliberately ignoring or excluding them from activities” to “spreading malicious rumours to third parties” and “aggressive bodily posture or physical contact”.
It encourages the introduction of harassment advisers, described as “concerned members of the clergy and laity”, who would receive special training to offer confidential advice to anyone who has been bullied.
The main duties of the advisers, who would have the backing of their diocesan bishops, would be to act as a “sounding board”, to record examples of unacceptable behaviour, and to put targets in touch with people who could help, such as area deans or archdeacons.
Rachael Maskell, the national officer of UNITE, which has 2500 members in its faith-workers section, and helped to draw up the report, said on Wednesday that it deals with about 50 cases each year involving clergy who have been bullied. “Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find bullying in the Church, and the Church needs to respond to this. We believe it has a moral responsibility to those who are bullied.”
She welcomed the suggestion of employing harassment advisers, and said that clergy who tried to implement change were often targeted by individuals in congregations who opposed them. “The Church hasn’t always been supportive enough of individuals who have been bullied, and we hope the report will change that.”
The report includes a model policy, which it calls on dioceses to adopt in order to prevent bullying. It encourages dioceses to discuss and develop the policy, so that “everyone . . . understand[s] that bullying or harassment of people is intolerable”, and that clergy and lay people know where to turn if they have been bullied.
There are no official figures about incidents of bullying in the Church of England. The results of a Question of the Week poll on the Church Times website in April found that 77 per cent of the 244 respondents had been aware of bullying in their church.
Dignity at Work will be downloadable from next week from www.cofe.anglican.org.