A CONFLICT at Wymondham Abbey, in Norfolk, might need to have a Good Friday Agreement-style resolution, the retired judge brought in to investigate the situation has said.
In a Clergy Discipline Commission report leaked to the Eastern Daily Press last week, Sir Mark Hedley, a former High Court judge, wrote: “Attitudes are clearly hardened and must now be recognised as such. However . . . if Ireland could do it in 1997, who are we to say that Wymondham could not do it in 2020?”
Sir Mark was brought in to investigate complaints made against the Vicar, the Revd Catherine Relf-Pennington. Thirty-seven complaints were made against her, the majority of which were made by members of the choir. They included allegations of bullying.
Some 19 were taken forward by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, and the matter was passed on to the Clergy Discipline Commission.
“I must confess myself sceptical that these parties have the requisite Christian maturity to handle what would be a lengthy and inevitably painful experience,” Sir Mark wrote.
The November report concluded that the matter needs to be resolved, or it would be taken to a bishop’s tribunal — which, Sir Mark said, would cost tens of thousands of pounds. He said that the complaints were of “high-handed and over-authoritative behaviour amounting to bullying”.
The report says that the Vicar and the churchwardens denied the claims. They alleged that there was a “small group of troublemakers” within the choir who objected to the Vicar’s “firmly expressed” views.
Sir Mark described the situation as a “disgrace to the Christian community”, and said that there was “fear, resentment, and unhappiness” at the abbey.
Bishop Usher said: “The Church of England takes complaints about its clergy very seriously. . . I urge all involved at Wymondham Abbey to find ways to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ . . . and to work together in healing hurts and divisions.”
The Eastern Daily Press quoted the Mayor of Wymondham, Kevin Hurn, who said: “She [Ms Relf-Pennington] is a radical thinker, and takes a less traditional approach. Some services have been changed to reflect modern society, and I wonder if the town is ready for that.”