This is a time of on the job training for new clergy to prepare them to take on a parish of their own. A portfolio of evidence is compiled and sent off for assessment. A satisfactory portfolio is required to continue in ministry and apply for another role.
The first 18 months of my curacy were very challenging.The confidence and competence I had had prior to ordination seemed to have vanished. I was very unhappy and felt something was not right but could not put my finger on why. At around the 18 month mark, comments from my training vicar rang major alarm bells. After doing some research, it dawned on me why I had been struggling so much. This vicar was emotionally and spiritually abusive, using gaslighting and other bullying tactics to manipulate and control me. It also became apparent that I was not the first to have had such an experience with this individual.
Initially, the diocese was reluctant to even talk to me about the matter, ignoring me for several months. However, the abuse was significantly affecting my health and I was signed off by my GP. At this point the diocese finally agreed to move me, on the basis that “no one was at fault”. I was grateful to be moved to a different context with a wonderful priest who treated me with respect, didn’t try to force me into her own mould, or cross boundaries in regards to my marriage and family. This contrast highlighted how damaging the previous vicar had been, and compelled me to raise my concerns more formally as I feared others could be put in the same situation. I was additionally concerned that my abuser was on the Senior Leadership and Development Program and may take on a senior position in the Church of England in the future.
It took months to feel like I was taken seriously. The complaints process was incredibly slow, and the bias evident. Every component of my complaint, and the 200 pages of evidence, was completely dismissed. Indeed, my abuser seemed to have successfully turned the tables so that I came out of the process as the one at fault. This experience was traumatic and required trauma therapy to begin to recover from.
Having submitted my portfolio of evidence in September 2021, and desperate to leave the diocese and move on, I heard nothing for months. I was eventually invited to a meeting to discuss the ‘timeline’ in Feb 2022.
However, the focus of the meeting was changed and I was instead informed that I would not be signed off from my curacy. My portfolio had been returned and had passed, but for reasons relating to my complaint and defending my family, the Bishop decided that he was not going to sign me off. I had no future in the CofE and had to step back from my job immediately. It was deemed that even with a year’s extension there was no way to remedy the situation – it was a done deal.This decision was the ‘professional opinion’ of one individual, who had very little contact with me, who said “What I wrote/said was my judgement, and I did not involve anyone else in making that judgement”. This all seemed immensely unfair and a very poor process. I was asked to step back from everything I was doing from that meeting and go on what was essentially gardening leave.
Once this had been presented to me, I was told they were going to offer a “package to help me out”. Some coaching and counselling could be provided as well as lost earnings as a small lump sum. However, myself, my wife and my three children would need to sign within 2 weeks and leave the house within 2 months. Far from being a package to help me out, it was instead a settlement agreement with non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses, designed to bury my complaint and get rid of me. I felt incredibly mislead. I was equally puzzled as Justin Welby had said the previous year that NDAs should not be used in the CofE. From conversations had since, it seems NDAs are still standard practice in the CofE and I fear the Archbishop’s words were nothing more than virtue signalling.
I was extremely grateful for union support, through which a better deal was negotiated that would provide the significant financial support required to enable us to leave the house and move on. However, my union rep got Covid and missed a deadline. This forced the sponsoring Bishop to confirm that I was entitled to everything in the initial settlement agreement and that this was not conditional on signing non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses. I was disgusted that the church was willing to act dishonestly by implying these clauses were non-negotiable. It became clear that this was about one thing: Buying my silence.
Words from a documentary exposing a megachurch resonated hugely with my experience: “What I have consistently heard from abuse survivors from faith communities is the following: the abuse that was perpetrated against me by the perpetrator was traumatic, and is going to take me a lifetime to process and to heal from. What was worse that than that, was the response of the very community that I thought was going to be my greatest advocate, but they turned their back on me. That, I don’t know if I will ever heal from.” Boz Tchivijian, Attorney Advocate for abuse survivors.
I hesitated for several months, fearing I would have no choice but to sign to be able to afford to move on.But every time I got close to signing, my mental health would plummet. I struggled with suicidal thoughts enormously during this period. I felt very unsupported during this time. At one point, in despair, my wife emailed the diocesan bishop informing her I was suicidal. She didn’t respond, but the head of HR responded concerned that this meant I wouldn’t be signing the agreement. I reached out to NHS support, who deemed it appropriate to report the abuse I had suffered to the police. The union referred me to a solicitor who explained the settlement to me and voiced concerns that I wasn’t being paid notice period and accrued holiday. This meant the lump sum was likely to be taxed. The only advice I was given about the NDA was that I shouldn’t talk about anything to avoid the risk of a hefty bill.
I later discovered I was able to request financial support from another organisation setup for survivors of church related abuse. This was something I should have been referred to the moment I made allegations, alongside a referral to safe space. Unsurprisingly the diocese failed to do this. I referred myself some months later when I became aware of this support. Eventually, despite being pressured, I chose not to sign. I couldn’t go through with it, which is why I’m free to tell my story here.
I contacted Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to see if he would follow through on his words regarding NDAs. I got a response from a safeguarding officer telling me to go elsewhere and this statement regarding NDAs:
“In relation to the issue of the Non-Disclosure Agreement, you raise an extremely important and valid point. The Archbishop is himself opposed to NDAs, which prohibit people from making proper complaints against an organisation or indeed appear to prohibit appropriate whistle blowing. The Archbishop is aware that on some occasions in reaching a settlement with an employee then there is a need for a confidentiality clause to be part of that agreement.”
It seems the Archbishop overstated his point in public. But as the email made clear he’s not going to follow through.
I’m absolutely disgusted by what I’ve seen. I can’t believe an organisation claiming to be a church can treat people like this and act in such an unethical way. I am grateful to be able to walk away and cut all ties with the Church of England. It is not something I want to be a part of. I hope #NDAfree and others can work to put an end to these horrendous practices that can be so damaging to survivors like myself.