English Clergy Face Abuse

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One in ten Church of England clergy have been a victim of violent behavior during the past two years, research has found. The same proportion claims to have experienced more hate crimes.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of clergy have experienced verbal abuse and one in five has been threatened.

The research is the work of the University of London’s Royal Holloway, with the help of a £5,000 government grant. There are fears that increasing secularization, the declining status of clergy, and abuse scandals may be harming respect for clergy. Of the respondents who have experienced threatening behavior in the last two years, more than a third have been threatened more than once.

In the vast majority of cases, the threat was to harm the cleric, but 20 percent had a relative threatened and 35 percent had experienced threats to church property. Mental illness was a major factor in this behavior.

Ordained men were more likely to report being threatened while undertaking pastoral work such as home visits, while ordained women were more likely to report being threatened at church by a parishioner.

The proportion of respondents who believed clergy were shown less respect than two years ago increased with age.

“The clergy have a difficult job, especially when faced with the risk of violence, as documented in our survey,” said Jonathan Gabe, professor of sociology at the Royal Holloway. “The research suggests that further thought needs to be given as to how best to help clergy manage when faced with such violence.”

More than 540 clergy from southeast England, excluding London, took part in the survey.

Gale said a 2001 survey by the Royal Holloway found that a similar percentage of clergy had experienced physical assaults, meaning that clergy were just as vulnerable to physical attack as 17 years ago.

“There’s still no organized training for clergy in dealing with violence or conflict management,” he said.

John Martin


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