Tag Archives: Bullying

Women Priests are Bullied More than Men

Anecdotally, it is known that women are bullied in the church to a greater extent than men. The data that was used in my previous post on bullying has been analysed by gender. It is noticeable that 11% of women say they are bullied most of the time or always compared with 0% of men, the chart is below.

Proportion of men and women suffering bullying

Women priests are regularly treated as being second class by congregations and even if it stops short of bullying it is simply exhausting; the church still hasn’t worked out what it feels about women and consequently does not adequately support women priests. Jules Middleton describes how guarded she feels in mixed groups of leaders as a result of being a woman in leadership in the church. Emma Percy describes the situation as an ‘ambiguous welcome’. She writes:

“Careful provision has been made at every stage for those who not only will not accept women as priests, but require the service of bishops who have not participated in the ordination of women. The path to acceptance for women bishops has also been lengthy and subject to the same caveats and provisions. [T]here are still profound inequalities in the Church’s treatment of women in leadership.”

Percy, E. (2017) Women, Ordination and the Church of England: An Ambiguous Welcome

This ambiguity and discrimination is bound to cause women to be badly treated in some quarters and this needs to be addressed.

The taboo subject of bullying

Bullying is one of the major stressors for clergy, one Diocesan Counsellor I spoke to commented:

A clergyperson can have their lives turned into a living hell by just two or three dysfunctional people in the congregation who relentlessly bully them. In years gone by these people could have turned their attentions to any number of people in authority living in the community – the doctor, the headmaster, the police officer, but now it is the vicar who has to cope with their dysfunction alone.

In a survey I asked clergy to respond to the statement “I experience bullying”, 22% said they never experience bullying, and 37% experienced it rarely, which left 41% who experience bullying sometimes, most of the time, or always. This is a huge number of clergy who are experiencing bullying in the workplace. The chart is below, it is notable how curates and associates suffer less:

Responses to the question ‘I experience bullying’

In the Scottish Episcopal Church, a similar survey has been conducted, the Church Times reports:

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents to a clergy well-being survey said that they had experienced bullying or harassment during the previous 12 months.

Speaking in the debate, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, said: “We must say that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. The trouble is, it has been.

I think Kelvin hits the nail on the head, we simply have tolerated our clergy being bullied, the impact is huge for the clergy who have suffered and for the church as a whole, it is genuinely shocking and needs to stop. One solution would be for Diocesan Human Resources Departments to help with protocols around bullying. Often clergy are ashamed when they are experiencing bullying, but silence will not help. I love these words from Bishop Alan’s blog:

One thing’s for sure. Doing nothing will make the problem worse, and you will increasingly internalise it until it becomes business as usual. To paraphrase Jesus, Once the light within you becomes darkness, said Jesus, you are well and truly stuffed. And so are all the rest of us.