AN EMPLOYMENT judge made a "perverse" decision when he ruled
that a former rector was unable to bring a claim against his bishop
and diocese, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) heard last
The Revd Mark Sharpe resigned from his post as Rector of Teme
Valley South, near Tenbury Wells, in December 2009, and is seeking
to overturn a decision by Birmingham employment tribunal, which
upheld the position that C of E clergy are neither employees nor
workers, but office-holders (
News, 22 February).
John Bowers QC, for Mr Sharpe, urged EAT judge Mrs Justice Cox
to "strip away the mystique and esoteric language used by the
Church of England", and recognise that "common law has been
developed by the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal to the
extent that it recognises that incumbents of a benefice in the C of
E are not only office-holders but also employees."
He said that recent decisions affecting ministers of other
denominations showed that "the tectonic plates have moved on this
Mr Bowers said that the powers of bishops and duties of priests,
in canon law, amounted to sufficient control, supervision, and
direction to show that priests were employees of their bishops.
But Geoffrey Tattersall QC, for the bishop and diocese,
described the canons as "symbolic". He said that a bishop had no
power to instigate a complaint, and could only discipline a priest
with his consent. "Disobedience to a bishop doesn't amount to
conduct unbecoming, and doesn't become a disciplinary matter," he
said. "The reality of the relationship is such that the canons do
not have any meaning. It is symbolic, and in practice it means not
Mr Tattersall argued that decisions about the employment status
of ministers should be taken on a church-by-church basis: "Just
because a Methodist minister is deemed to be an employee does not
mean that a C of E minister will be."
The judge reserved judgment, and said that the case involved
"extremely interesting arguments" that required "a great deal of
attention and thought".