Pink Slips No Remedy for Unsatisfactory Clergy

By Harris, David | Anglican Journal, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Pink Slips No Remedy for Unsatisfactory Clergy


Harris, David, Anglican Journal


SHOULD CLERGY be fired without cause? General Synod is about to consider a law that would permit just that. It is a well-intentioned but it is wrong.

Currently, when a bishop, priest and parish agree on an appointment, the bishop licences the priest to function as the incumbent of that parish. (Some incumbents are called vicars or rectors; in Canada, they all amount to the same thing.) Once appointed, a priest can be forcibly removed from the parish only if he or she commits a civil or church crime. In other words, just because a bishop or parish doesn't like a priest, doesn't mean the priest can be fired.

This is important because, among other things, clergy are always involved in challenging and changing people's attitudes. Unlike most Protestant churches, where the congregation hires and fires the pastor, it gives Anglican clergy the freedom to provoke people into thinking about life in a way that might ultimately prove right and good, but that might cause anxiety from time to time and could lead to being fired in another denomination.

In general, lay people and clergy have been happy with this model for the past several hundred years, going back to our English roots.

It's not perfect, of course. There are mediocre and difficult clergy who never commit a crime but don't do a good job. There are also parishes that regularly treat their clergy shabbily. On the whole, both are exceptions that prove the rule.

General Synod is going to be asked to change the rule. The proposal would let bishops remove clergy from parishes for no particular reason. In fact, it's the whole idea.

The law would let a bishop remove a priest from a parish where there is obvious trouble, centred around the priest, but where there is insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing on the priest's part and "something has to be done." Under the proposal, the bishop's decision couldn't be appealed, only the amount of the settlement offered. And the priest wouldn't be allowed to serve as a priest anywhere else in that diocese.

In short, it's a draconian measure that would give bishops dictatorial power.

Bishops sometimes say they don't have enough power to fix problems in their diocese. While they may be justifiably frustrated by certain situations, more power is no solution. This plan would let bishops remove clergy on a whim, even if they say they wouldn't do it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And if there are so many problem clergy about, why should we not suppose that some of them are becoming bishops? So who is guarding the guardians? The proposal has no section for removing ineffective bishops from a diocese.

As an aside, Lutherans have expressed concern in the full-communion talks about the lack of accountability for Anglican bishops and the fact they don't have term appointments as Lutheran bishops do. …

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