By Kirk Petersen
Leaders of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) have rejected a recommendation that the church’s first female bishop should leave her role because of allegations of “bullying” and “systemic dysfunction,” The Times of London reported.
Instead, a mediation group will attempt to make peace between the Rt. Rev. Anne Dyer, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, and the people in the diocese who have raised grievances against her.
An August report from Iain Torrance, a prominent minister and academic who once served as moderator of the SEC’s General Assembly, said Bishop Dyer’s “impulsive over-reaction” to a dispute with the provost and minister of music of the cathedral “has become a scandal and I fear her position is irrecoverable.” The report also says Dyer has centralized diocesan authority inappropriately, having “become the chair of almost all diocesan boards (a number of which have subsequently not met).”
In response to allegations of bullying in the 18-page report, Dyer wrote in a letter to the diocese: “I am very sorry indeed that some in the diocese feel this way, and want to attend to the matters and concerns raised as a priority.” She added, “I had also felt myself, since I arrived, to be subject to significant bullying and harassment on a number of fronts.”
The report indicates matters came to a head in September 2020 after the closure, at least temporarily, of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, because of problems with the heating system that would prevent worship there in the winter. St. Mary’s, another Aberdeen church less than two miles away, was designated the pro-cathedral, or acting temporary cathedral.
In announcing the change, Dyer named herself the provost of the temporary cathedral, and relegated the Rev. Dr. Isaac Poobalan, who had been provost of St. Andrew’s, to a role as assistant priest at St. Mary’s. “I find it extraordinary that he has had his title as Provost removed and has been diminished in the way described,” Torrance said in the report.
In a subsequent dispute over which organist would play at St. Mary’s on Sunday, October 12, the director of music at St. Andrew’s, Christopher Cromar, threatened to go to the news media (saying later that he regretted doing so). The bishop directed that Cromar surrender his keys to St. Mary’s and refrain from attending services the following day. Despite the instruction, Cromar attended the next day’s service, and took communion from the bishop.
On Monday, October 12, Dyer suspended Poobalan as assistant priest at St. Mary’s, because he had not enforced her orders regarding Cromar. The bishop said Cromar’s “intimidating and threatening manner to me at communion” was “deplorable” and “unforgivable.”
An external human resources consultant cited in the report focused on the word “unforgivable,” saying “I find this difficult to reconcile with the Christian values espoused by the church and feel that the concept of ‘forgiveness’ is much embedded in the Christian faith.”
The new mediation group will be headed by David Strang, a former police executive and former chief inspector of prisons for Scotland. The group will “undertake its task as swiftly as reasonably practical in the circumstances, it being recognised that no specific timescale can be set for completion,” because the scope of the mediation required is uncertain.
Dyer’s episcopacy has been controversial from the start. When she was appointed in 2018, half of the priests of the largely conservative diocese protested because of her support of same-sex marriage, according to Christian Today. Aberdeen and Orkney was the only one of the SEC’s seven dioceses to oppose the church’s 2016 authorization of same-sex marriage in the church. The Torrance report found no evidence that the issue played a role in the recent conflict in the diocese.
The Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney comprises 46 congregations in the city and county of Aberdeen, as well as the Orkney and Shetland Island groups north of the Scottish mainland.
The Scottish Episcopal Church is an independent province of the Anglican Communion, which reported membership of 27,585 in 2019. Unlike the Church of England, which is by far the dominant church in England, the SEC is the third-largest church in Scotland, after the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) and the Roman Catholic Church.