Clergy vulnerable to inappropriate behaviour
When I was in Melbourne Diocese I was part of a working group that produced a resource called, Working to Bully-proof Clergy and Parishes – A way forward in dealing with bullying behaviours in a local church context.
I was reminded of being part of that working group when I read an article in this month’s TMA, which is Melbourne’s Diocesan newspaper. It is titled, Bullying of parish priests ‘a growing problem’.
It was written by a Melbourne priest who said that bullying of priests by prominent members of their congregations is rarely talked about: “These people are identified by an increasing body of literature…
“They usually have very little theological education, and always know more than their minister about everything theological. Some through a life in business see the Church as just another business and blame the priest for any drop off in ‘sales’.
“And others stand simply as blockers to any kind of change occurring in a church’s life or worship no matter how well or badly the church is travelling or whether or not the church community is growing or relevant to its community.
“Clergy abuse can take many forms, including whispering campaigns based on half-truths or outright falsehoods. These take their toll because they are carried out in secret and take hold before they can be refuted.
“Members of parish leadership teams react aggressively at meetings to any suggested changes without/before bothering to find out why a change has been put forward.
“Clergy families are attacked. Little or no respect is shown the priest. People use church rosters as weapons against the priest, withdrawing from rosters at the worst possible times to cause maximum damage to the church’s programs.
“One of the worst forms of clergy abuse occurs when a group within a church will favour one minister over another. They aim to wedge the clergy teams apart and create mistrust and envy. Their lack of maturity leads them to forget that a longstanding priest has far more experience and depth of knowledge of ministry than a newly ordained assistant who will move on in a very short period of time.
“Just as other forms of abuse must be condemned and stopped, so should clergy abuse. Members of parishes who see these things going on are in the best position to speak out in opposition.
“Those in authority also should be careful about blaming clergy involved for not being smart or tough enough. No amount of extra training of clergy can completely prepare them to handle abuse.”
As you reflect upon your experience of belonging to a church community can you identify any inappropriate behaviour towards a member of clergy?