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The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

How to Get Rid of Your Rector-Advice to the Laity-Satire

How to Get Rid of your Rector- Advice to the Laity

Rectors, vicars and assistant rectors can grow to be a real pain in the life of a parish. There was a time when a rector had life tenure as a way to assure that he or she had the freedom of the pulpit and not have the position threatened by the whim of a vestry or bishop. Now it is possible to get rid of the clergy leadership under recent canons. However, it is a cumbersome process: conferences with the bishop, caucuses with the vestry behind the clergy’s back, trumped up charges of incompatibility or poor management.

But now there is a much easier way. All parishes have drama queens both male and female in their midst. Perhaps the parish has an acting company or a drama group, you know, those groups that put on Christmas pageants and act out the parables for the church school kids.

Choose one of the attractive women from the group and rehearse her on how to seduce the clergy leadership. Get her to have a séance with the cleric. She doesn’t have to go all the way, just make an approach. No matter what the cleric does doesn’t matter. The actor then goes to the Bishop and says the cleric has made an inappropriate sexual advance. Describe the scene to the bishop, give a good cry or a gentle weep and convince him or her that the Rector or Vicar has made a sexually charged innuendo. A wounded vulnerable woman makes the best “victim” against a straight male, female, lesbian or gay priest. The bishop isn’t stupid so give a convincing performance.

The Bishop is virtually forced to call in the cleric, reveal to him or her that an allegation has been made but the Bishop may not reveal who made the allegation, so the actor is in the clear and the cleric will be removed from the leadership position until further investigation. Meanwhile the cleric’s name is revealed to the public, but not the name of the accuser. The cleric won’t be back as rector and leader. The vestry is free of that nuisance and can go find another victim, I mean cleric, to lead the parish.

It is fun, easy, quick and no one gets hurt but the clergy who come and go anyway.


Anonymous Roger said...

Bravo Robert, I couldn't have said it better myself....

9:01 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Hi Robert:

This is Chris Hansen in London; long time no see. Sorry we didn't know you were in London earlier this year or we'd have tried to schedule a meet-up.

The situation you describe is a very tense one and one that is almost insoluble under the "normal rules of engagement", as it were. Nowadays, it's quite clear that to avoid situations like this, the cleric is well-advised to meet any person either in the company of another person (who could be an independent witness in case of accusation) or in an office which has a glass-wall or window into a room in which another person (the parish secretary, perhaps) sits and is "on guard". Any other situation carries the threat of a false accusation.

Of course, confidentiality probably makes it unlikely that the first scenario (another person in the room) is practical. Imagine confessions in such an environment.

On the other hand, people in positions of authority taking advantage of that fact to be sexual predators on people in their pastoral care are not, unfortunately, rare. I'm sure you and I both know of clergy who have done this and people in parishes who have had it done to them. And religion does not, on its own, seem to be a very good defense against this. Lots of clergy use it as an offensive weapon--repugnant as that is to us all.

The sovereign rule in all these cases, when brought, should be the protection of those under the pastoral care of the cleric. This means, in my view, ensuring that the cleric does not have unsupervised or one-on-one pastoral contact with people in the parish. I don't see any way in which an accused cleric can be anonymously removed from his or her cure of souls.

When an accusation turns out to be either false or unprovable, then the cleric needs to be moved to another position of some sort, and when the accusation is proven false, the accuser needs to be handed over to the civil arm.

However, I don't see any way in which a cleric who is accused can safely be allowed to stay in his or her position while the investigation is going on.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, in this case. There need to be clear rules of engagement in these matters.

1) No private pastoral one-on-one meetings with anyone. Full stop. End of story.

2) Counselling sessions must be conducted in clear view of another person (but out of earshot, of course). In case of necessity an open door to the room should be maintained and someone should be outside out of earshot of normal conversation but able to respond to distress calls.

Does it pain me to say all this? Is this what we have come to?

Unfortunately, yes, it has come to this. We are all sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God, and need God's mercy and forgiveness. Clerics, as much as anyone, are sinful people and need as much forgiveness as us layfolk do. But much is demanded from those to whom much is given.

As for getting rid of clerics, the clerical freehold here in the good ol' Church of England is the "Clergy Laziness and Incompetence Job Tenure Measure", in my opinion. I have been struggling with this for a while now and there is nothing that can be done, bar a successful criminal prosecution or an expensive ecclesiastical trial that few dioceses or bishops are willing to conduct, when a cleric with the freehold is no longer fit to serve. Archdeacons may threaten, Area Deans may fulminate, but the cleric with the freehold needs only to ensure that he takes one service on Sunday and he (it's mostly men who do this) is free to do what he wishes the rest of the time, even if his parish is going to rack and ruin.

The cleric who is good and holy and conscientious deserves a freehold as a reward for good and faithful service, but the cleric who is lazy and neglectful gets it too, just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

Measures are being taken here to remove the freehold from new incumbents and install disciplinary methods that will protect parishes from the lazy and incompetent. The clergy aren't too keen on this. There is a clear clergy "union" when they get together in which they refuse to acknowledge any any of their number are deficient. I am at the point now (I am lay chair of the deanery and various things in the Diocese including on our rough equivalent of the Diocesan Standing Committee) where clerics are apt to treat me as "quasi-clerical" and share such things. But most laity are kept in the dark about such things. Those of us in suffering parishes, however, know all too well what lazy and incompetent clergy (who were moved around from another post just to move the problem away from that post) can do to a thriving parish.

I have ranted too long, I'm afraid. There is a chance that I and my husband may be in San Francisco this year and we would love to take you and Ann out for lunch or dinner if it's convenient. And if you're in London again, please don't hesitate to call. I love your blog and have it syndicated on livejournal so I can see it regularly. I hope that you and Ann are well and hope to see you soon.

1:17 AM  

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