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One in ten clergy ‘treated violently’ in past two years, survey says

11 January 2019


Police search near St Mary’s, Thornbury, in Gloucestershire, after the murder of the Vicar, the Revd John Suddards, in 2012

Police search near St Mary’s, Thornbury, in Gloucestershire, after the murder of the Vicar, the Revd John Suddards, in 2012

TEN per cent of C of E clergy who responded to a government-funded survey said that they had been treated violently during the past two years — in one in five cases, sustaining injuries.

The survey was carried out by academics from Royal Holloway, University of London, with £5000 funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government via the police’s anti-hate crime website, True Vision (News, 1 June 2018). About 5000 clergy in parish and cathedral posts were sent online surveys last June, on behalf of National Churchwatch, which provides safety advice for clergy and churchworkers. A total of 536 serving clergy responded to the survey: a mixture of full- and part-time stipendiary clergy, and self-supporting ministers.

The nature of the violence reported by respondents included being slapped, kicked, pushed, sexually assaulted, or struck with a weapon. In 22 per cent of cases, the cleric was injured as a result of the assault.

More than two thirds (68 per cent) of respondents to the survey said that they had been victims of verbal abuse. The reasons for the verbal abuse included declining to give someone money when asked; “anti-Christian sentiments”; and alcohol and drug problems. Where the verbal abuse occurred repeatedly, respondents in almost half of cases attributed this to mental illness.

Nearly one in five (19 per cent) of respondents had suffered threatening behaviour during the past two years. Mostly, the threats were made regarding the cleric, but, in almost one fifth of cases, a relative was threatened; and, in just over one third, the threat concerned church property.

A small number were threatened during acts of worship, and male clergy were more likely to be threatened during home visits; female clergy were more likely to be threatened on church premises.

Jonathan Gabe, Professor of Sociology at Royal Holloway, said in a press release: “The clergy have a difficult job, especially when faced with the risk of violence, as documented in our survey.

“The research suggests that further thought needs to be given about how best to help clergy manage when faced with such violence.”

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: “Clergy are called to offer care to some of the most vulnerable people in society, including those with drug and alcohol issues.

“The Church of England aims to ensure clergy receive appropriate training to safeguard their own self-care, and to safely offer pastoral care to others.”

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