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Newark clergy propose anti-bullying by laity resolution

Newark clergy propose anti-bullying by laity resolution

Four clergy from The Diocese of Newark have submitted a resolution to Diocesan Convention, asking the bishop to convene a Task Force to develop a policy to address the bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy by lay persons.


Resolved, that this 140th Annual Convention of Episcopal Diocese of Newark call upon the Bishop to appoint a Task Force to develop a policy to address the bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy by lay persons, and report its findings to the 141st Annual Convention.


Harassment and bullying are forms of abuse. Abuse is ‘a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights by any other person or persons’. (Promoting a Safe Church)

A person who is bullied may suffer emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially and spiritually. It is not well understood that the impact of bullying can be life long and affect the person, their relationships and their capacity for ministry. Effects of bullying on ministry can include: loss of coping skills; disillusionment; inability to concentrate; loss of motivation; decreased productivity and competence; bad decision-making and poor judgment; loss of faith or crisis of vocation; difficulty trusting others; diminished employability; and premature desire to cease employment. Bullying also leads to repetitional damage for the wider church, and the individual congregation as well as for the clergy person.

Bullying, harassment, and abuse do not necessarily happen face-to-face; they may be inflicted by written communications, email or phone or conducted through third parties. Some of the most damaging behaviors include spreading malicious rumors to third parties.

The Church is required by God to foster relationships of the utmost integrity, truthfulness and trustworthiness. Yet bullying, harassment, and abuse of clergy are well documented. We believe it is of vital importance that the Diocese of Newark send a clear message that these behaviors directed toward clergy will not be tolerated.

All complaints of bullying, harassment and abuse should be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. Currently there is no disciplinary canon governing laypersons. While the Title IV Disciplinary Canons address in detail policies and procedures for bullying, harassment and abuse by clergy, there is no policy or procedure to address complaints of the bullying, harassment and abuse of clergy.

Complete resolution is here.

The Church of England has addressed this in its Dignity at Work materials. These materials recommend training and intervention approaches for both clergy and laity who feel they have been bullied. As they note:

It is worth bearing in mind that seeking legal remedy can be a protracted, costly and painful process, and it is not designed to address the underlying issues. Working to develop a culture that makes it less likely that bullying will take place, and acting swiftly to nip it in the bud if it does, will help to reduce the need for legal action.

What is your diocese doing to support clergy and laity who are bullied and confronting those who are bullies?


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Elizabeth Kaeton

In my experience – and, I’ve listened to hundreds of stories from men and women clergy over the past decade – speaking the Truth in love (“whistleblowing”) is a very dangerous enterprise unless the bishop is fully supportive of the clergy person who is the target of the antagonist / bully / harasser.

My assessment (supported by the anecdotal evidence reported by Reideger and Maynard and others) is that bishops are, more often than not, part of the problem because they have no experience with conflict resolution – much less bullying and harassment (a whole different kind of conflict in which there is generally no negotiation with the antagonists) and do not have staff who are able to negotiate through this sort of situation. In these situations, clergy are left out to dry – isolated and silenced.

Liz, I think a seminar outline would be welcomed help.

Liz Zivanov+

There are some of us who have been able to get through this without leaving and without significant damage to the parish. Others have suffered greatly and the damage to parishes is long lasting.

Sounds like it’s time to offer some seminars on the reality of these situations, with supportive follow-up to participants. Diocesan gatherings and GC would be most appropriate places to offer this very practical help and information. I don’t think seminaries are appropriate because those folks usually don’t have an experiential context in which to effectively receive the info. (Personal opinion…)

I will probably pull together a seminar outline if anyone is interested in being part of that development.

John B. Chilton

Daisy, I whole-heartedly agree.

Going off in another direction, I wonder how much reporting bullying is like being a whistleblower. I have two things in mind here. One is that the whistleblower often ends up worse off than if they had not blown the whistle. And, two, suppose you are someone who can deal with bullies personally; do you have a responsibility to blow the whistle on the behavior you were subjected to for the good others who might be suffering from the bully?

Daisy Kirkpatrick

It seems to me that promoting a culture of loving but Truthful confrontation would help to alleviate some bullying situations. Some of the abusive behavior by the laity that I have seen might have been stopped by simply confronting the person. When the clergy person shied away from confrontation, it got much worse. It was as though by not naming the behavior tacit consent was given for its continuing.

Even if the confronted person leaves, the parish is better off, healthier, without the disgruntled sowing seeds of discontent.

Perhaps seminary training and other workshops could be offered in healthy and loving confrontation – how to name hurtful behaviors.


“it would seem that the problem of bullying / harassment of clergy by laity is not only widespread, it might have something to do with the anxious state of the church.”

Hmmm. I suspect bullying of clergy by laity goes hand in hand (mano a mano) w/ bullying of laity by clergy. Kyrie eleison.

JC Fisher

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