October 21, 2014

Silent Clergy Killers: ‘Toxic’ Congregations Lead to Widespread Job Loss

– Source: Huffington Post

They are called “clergy killers” — congregations where a small group of members are so disruptive that no pastor is able to maintain spiritual leadership for long.

And yet ministers often endure the stresses of these dysfunctional relationships for months, or even years, before eventually being forced out or giving up.

Adding to the strain is the process, which is often shrouded in secrecy. No one — from denominational officials to church members to the clerics themselves — wants to acknowledge the failure of a relationship designed to be a sign to the world of mutual love and support.

But new research is providing insights into just how widespread — and damaging — these forced terminations can be to clergy.

An online study published in the March issue of the Review of Religious Research found 28 percent of ministers said they had at one time been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations.

The researchers from Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University also found that the clergy who had been forced out were more likely to report lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of depression, stress and physical health problems.

And too few clergy are getting the help they need, said researcher Marcus Tanner of Texas Tech.

“Everybody knows this is happening, but nobody wants to talk about it,” Tanner said in an interview. “The vast majority of denominations across the country are doing absolutely nothing.”

A secret struggle

The issue of clergy job security will be front and center next month when delegates to the quadrennial General Conference of The United Methodist Church considers a proposal to end “guaranteed appointments” for elders in good standing. The church’s Study of Ministry Commission says clergy job guarantees cost too much money and can focus more on the clergyperson’s needs rather than the denomination’s mission. On the other side, many clergy express fears that eliminating job security may lead to arbitrary dismissals. A major concern is that clergy will be judged based on their performance at “toxic” congregations, churches with so much internal conflict that it is difficult for any minister to have success.

The clergy have good reason to worry. A small percentage of congregations do seem to be responsible for a large share of congregational conflict.

Seven percent of congregations accounted for more than 35 percent of all the conflict reported in the National Congregations Study. And that conflict often had a high price.

In the 2006-2007 National Congregations Study, 9 percent of congregations reported a conflict in the last two years that led a clergyperson or other religious leader to leave the congregation.

It is difficult to get specific denominational figures, Tanner said. Many churches do not keep records indicating when a pastor was forced out as opposed to leaving voluntarily. And not only is it difficult to get clergy to open up about such painful experiences, many ministers are forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement to receive their severance package.

In their study, Tanner, Anisa Zvonkovic and Charlie Adams recruited respondents through Facebook groups relating to Christian clergy. Four-fifths of the 582 ministers participating — 410 males and 172 females from 39 denominations — ranged in age from 26 to 55.

The participants were asked whether they ever left a job “due to the constant negativity found in personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of the congregation.”

Twenty eight percent of the respondents said they had been forced from a ministry job. Three-quarters had been forced out once, and 4 percent had been forcibly terminated three or more times, the study found.

Even one time, however, is more than enough.

A heavy toll

Ministers who were forced out of their jobs because of congregational conflict were more likely to experience burnout, depression, lower self-esteem and more physical health problems, the online study found.

In addition, more than four in 10 ministers forced out of their jobs reported seriously considering leaving the ministry.

A separate survey by Texas Tech and Virginia Tech researchers of 55 ministers who were forced out of a pastoral position found a significant link with self-reported measures of post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

“This study shows that not only is forced termination an issue, but a cruel one that has very distressing effects on those who experience it,” Tanner, Zvonkovic and Jeffrey Wherry reported in the current issue of the Journal of Religion and Health. “It is important that Christian organizations recognize the problem and implement steps to increase awareness and solutions.”

Months of suffering traumatic and demeaning psychological and emotional abuse as they are slowly being forced out of their pulpits due to congregational conflict, Tanner said, “is a really, really horrible process.”

What makes it even worse is the complicity of silence that prevents clergy from getting the help they need to go forward.

David Briggs writes the Ahead of the Trend column for the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Comments

  1. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Andrew says:

    Many good points to consider in this article. Mix in the poor behavior of some Orthodox bishops and the problems outlined here become even worse. Are we getting to the point that in order for a priest and his family to survive the pastor has to be mediocre in his work and witness?

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      No. What it means that in order to escape the mediocre decisions of mediocre bishops (and there are good bishops, BTW), or to escape the abuse of the people described in the article (and the do exist, are often just a handful but intimidate the entire parish and not just the clergy), priests/clergy probably have to look for other sources of income.

      The thing is, one can’t really be mediocre under these circumstances, not in the long run anyway — just defeated. There is only so much abuse a person can take. Even more troubling is that the antagonists go after the clergy family too. Without episcopal support, there is no way to correct it as long as the priest is dependent on the parish for his livelihood.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Geo Michalolpulos says:

        I would add that certain malcontents should be identified and targeted for church discipline. It would be easier to do however is everybody in the parish tithed. Often these malcontents are the biggest givers.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          George, often they are not. When they are it is usually the person who is the “great benefactor” who believes his larger contributions given him ownership and voting rights and makes the priest his employee. Overall though this is rare. I have also seen benefactors who support the Church out of a measured and responsible sense of obligation. They are usually good men to work with.

          Usually, it is that the sociology of the parish is such that antagonists operate in the parish through dysfunctional relationships (family systems theory is a good way to analyze it) that developed over years. The priest, by virtue of his position in the parish, represents a threat to that order. If he is strong and independent, the attacks get especially vicious because his stability threatens the dysfunctional stasis the antagonists work hard to preserve.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Fr John says:

        Usually, it is that the sociology of the parish is such that antagonists operate in the parish through dysfunctional relationships (family systems theory is a good way to analyze it) that developed over years. The priest, by virtue of his position in the parish, represents a threat to that order. If he is strong and independent, the attacks get especially vicious because his stability threatens the dysfunctional stasis the antagonists work hard to preserve.

        Fr J – you are so right. Being myself previously familiar with healthy church culture as layman and deacon and now ill as I face the challenge of trying to correct a decadent parish, I concur that many of our communities are at death’s door from lack of episcopal intervention. A colleague told me today how our late bishop had essentially fed him to the parish council. The result as I take over nearly a decade later is a moribund parish populated by a few unteachable permanent council members and a penumbra of uninvolved, uncommitted stragglers. Time to pull the plug on this kind of ‘enabling’ yet? We may not get a choice when closure of ill parishes if forced by circumstance. A very painful, protracted death awaits.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

          Fr. John,

          I don’t want to be discouraging but without Episcopal intervention, the possibility of turning around a decadent parish is close to zero. The trouble usually starts appearing around the second year and spills into open conflict by the fourth. It usually is just a handful of antagonists at most who are behind it, sometimes just two or three people. Restoration can occur if the antagonists are told by the Bishop either get with the program or leave (the biblical model) but if that does not occur, the priest will end up leaving. If he doesn’t, he becomes dysfunctional. He either cultivates factions and plays one off the other, or he retreats into a kind of imposed distance where the face to face contacts and authentic fellowship with his people dries up.

          I had a small parish once that was ripped apart by a priest who had an affair with a parishioner. He was removed and a rigid priest replaced him. The second was a good man but his rigidity ended up freezing the problem in place. Fellowship deteriorated and the parish was racked by internal gossip and the insecurities that it fostered. It was dying a slow death.

          I was there for a year and made absolutely no progress. Finally I confronted the gossip head on. I told them that when we enter the Church by the front door we push Christ out the back door because we refuse to love one another. One woman quit. It turned out that she was the source of a lot of the discord in the parish. I let her go. In fact, I was glad to see her go.

          Within five months things started to turn around. The first sign was when some men remarked we needed to calk the windows. Then we paved the the small parking lot in the back (every fall and spring it turned into a mud pit). Then a man converted, then a family, then another family. Those converts showed the people that we had something worth preserving and the parish was restored. It is still doing well.

          This parish required no Episcopal intervention, but the cost to me was nevertheless very high. Had the Bishop intervened (an impossibility given the structure), those costs (which were arbitrary and had nothing to do with carrying my cross) would have been less.

          Antagonists who despise the Gospel (and we have them) will attack the priest if that priest does indeed bring Christ to his people. Lately though I have seen Bishops actually side with the antagonists (this increasingly seems to be formal policy in the GOA) and the priest is marked as a poor priest because he was not able to resolve the conflict. This has the unintended effect of elevating and authenticating the antagonists so that the decline of the already weak parishes is virtually assured.

  2. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Harry Coin says:

    Notice this article presupposes that the clergy in question were at least reasonably talented, capable, well suited to their careers — that they generally would have succeeded if only the community they were made to leave didn’t contain those horrid persecuting few. A quick search of the net will reveal folk who their seminary instructors urged not be ordained or urged not be assigned to parish life — who later were ordered ordained by their special friends in high places anyhow and caused explosions in every parish they went and for long predicted reasons.

    Also the article doesn’t count what I’ve seen as just as real a source of undue clergy trauma: the transfer of a priest out of a parish where basically everyone is pretty happy. But, because of agendas completely external to the life of that parish that the bishop has— out the successful pastor goes, and in comes the one the bishop imposes. Remember that for the most part bishops in the USA don’t really have an appreciation of the inner life here or there because they see it so infrequently. So they make these impersonal distant decisions. They are so insulated from any consequences of their decisions and have so many folk wanting their time — the closest thing I can compare it to is to carelessly let a pretty balloon settle where there’s a thorn and just by ignoring it fail to notice it just keeps getting smaller, and smaller… and smaller…..

    If the parish clergy ‘made tents’ as per St. Paul, that is, worked a job outside the parish as Fr. Hans suggests, these things would happen:

    1. The folk in the parish would have to step up. Hospital visits, shut-in visits, jail visits, community speaking at interfaith events— you know, all the stuff that’s supposed to be happening anyhow.

    2. There would be SO much money. Schools, free clinics, care for the indigent, whole-parish youth trips, it’s hard to imagine such a world.

    3. The relationship between priest and bishop would be based as befits spiritually centered persons, not the present … fill in the adjective yourself .. setup.

    4. Clergy would find their voices as to misdoing that brings much loss before their first retirement check arrives.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Andrew says:

      Now more than ever a priest should have a second career/job solely to preserve the integrity of his family and to minimize the affects of any episcopal shenanigans. I wish priests could be supported full-time but right now in Orthodox America there is no equity in clergy salaries and any priest can find himself without assignment or compensation very quickly.

      We all need to be mindful about how our actions as individuals and as community affect the well-being of clergy and their families.

      ~AE

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      jf says:

      Very good point. The previous articles assumed the trouble was with “decadent” parishes. In actuality, the problems I have seen had to do with a pastor looking the other way when the organist and the choir director were having an extramarital affair, sucking at the church trough and bullying parishioners, refusing to fill out their time cards or put on the programs the parishioners wanted. This resulted in the parishioners firing all 3. Then the new pastor came in, was critical of the parishioners and was sucking at the church trough, refusing to show up to work and was a drug abuser who sent out a suicide note to the parishioners. The parishioners were expected to take care of him instead of vice versa. This was not in an Orthodox setting, but a mainline Protestant setting. Oh, the Bishop blamed a couple of parishioners, but he had to eat crow.

  3. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Fr. John W. Morris says:

    This is a very good article. Every priest and bishop should be required to read it. If a parish goes through one priest after another, it is a sure sign that there is something wrong with the parish. Unfortunately due to our history American Orthodoxy has too many parish councils who believe that they are the highest authority in the parish and that the priest is a hired hand who can be hired and fired at their whim. However, I do believe that there is an important place for a parish council made up of good dedicated Orthodox Christians who see their role as helping the priest minister to the community.

    Archpriest John Morris

  4. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    NIcole Troon says:

    Given the principles described here, perhaps judicious for bloggers and commenters as well to consider whether they/we too may be “toxic” to clergy…of all ranks…

  5. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

    Wow! George, between monomakhos and aoi you are really exposing some harsh realities of life in the Church. I agree with those who suggest a priest should obtain as much education, experience and professional certifications/licensures he can. In the first place to benefit and enrich the ministry God gives him in the parish and to provide him an opportunity to take care of his family should the unexpected parish “termination” happen. Thank God I made the decision early in the ministry to, as much as it was within my ability, never be so at the mercy of any one person or group of people financially to not do the right thing for the right reasons; even if it meant I needed to move on. I have had a couple parish experiences with toxic parishioners and the episcopal “effort” to address these circumstances. In each instance the bishop came down on the side of the “toxic” few. I came to realize that after almost 20 years in the priesthood it seems to be a general rule that bishops will pander to the misguided whims of a few, often the path of least resistance, and suffer the loss, demoralization of a priest and his family. A priest he can replace; proceeds to the diocese from perogie or baklava sales not so much.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Harry Coin says:

      Married bishops would have the sensitivity and perspective to at least better manage and perhaps avoid these sorts of things. Not least by allowing smaller diocese so the inner nature of the communities can be better comprehended and so better matched with better guided clergy. When you’ve got ‘a diocese’ or ‘a metropolis’ that spans more miles and more people than the WHOLE of the population of The Ecumenical Throne, Alexandria and Jerusalem combined, and you do this without the disconnect making your head explode, and you are ok getting to each of ‘your parishes’ once or twice a year to visit ‘your spiritual children’ (nevermind you can’t recognize the priest’s relatives much less the parishioners) and if there is fuss what can you do? Send your chancellor? No, easier (on you) to move clergy rather than face the fact you really have little clue who actually does what day to day in this or that parish.

      We doom ourselves by allowing such leadership to continue as if it was all really just good, nice wonderful and fine.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        M. Stankovich says:

        Mr. Coin,

        It seems peculiar, if not ridiculous, to imagine that the longstanding, well-known “pandering” which Fr. Peter describes would be resolved by “married bishops.” You presuppose that monastic hierarchs are lacking some vital information regarding the nature of “day-to-day” parish life, as opposed to Fr. Ioannes’ contention that what they lack, in fact, is moral authority. These are fundamentally, substantially, and essentially different issues. I have so frequently stood by at the vesting of a bishop to hear, “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power; Your right hand has shattered Your enemies.” (Ex. 15:6) It would seem this has become some vacant parody of Alanis Morissette, “I got one hand in my pocket, and the other one is [vaguely] throwing the peace sign.” And the beneficiaries of this “peace at the cost of moral authority” are the clergy and their families. Obviously, the necessity of an alternate “skill set” has embedded itself in the canon of theological education, hopefully making the days of sitting on the front porch waiting for my clergy friends – the same heads upon whom our bishops laid their right hands – to return home from driving a school bus simply pitiful memories.

        While I believe your point regarding married bishops is otherwise worthy of debate, I believe it does not belong in this discussion.

        • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
          Harry Coin says:

          I did offer reasons to support the assertions, while your negativity based upon appeals to lack of moral authority is specifically rejected by the Gospel uplifted at every service– which describes the ground of Christian moral authority and specifically upholds bishops being chosen from among ‘husbands of one wife’.

          Again I notice our present situation appeals to two groups: Those attracted by and comfortable with moral vs visible dissonance, and those able to see glimpses through the dross about what all this could be, was meant to be, aims for.

          We have lost a balance essential to our title as Orthodox and we will not move forward but will continue to dwindle until we restore it.

          • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
            M. Stankovich says:

            Mr. Coin,

            Of course the lack of moral authority is specifically rejected by the Gospel uplifted at every service; that was my point. And if you are accusing me of a lack of foresight – and good Lord, man, the cognitive dissonance is glaring – it could only be explained by your lack of insight. Fear and the absence of forthrightness are not born of the lack of “skills” or data derived from a marital state, nor signs of humility but, according to St. John Climacus, are the consequence of pride. And should you be daring enough to inquire, “Why, in heaven’s name, do you allow the priest [and here feel free to add your own quote from St. Chrysostom's On the Priesthood, e.g. "likened to the role of the angels"] to suffer at the hands of these Grendles?” the response will invariably be: “Ah, father/mother/brother/sister/auntie, you cannot appreciate the complex pastoral dynamics involved here…” But Master, for thirty years?

            I believe, Mr. Coin, you have mistakenly misinterpreted my “appeals to lack of moral authority” as negativity when, in fact, I remain quite enthused and encouraged. I spent more time in and around St. Vladimir’s Seminary than anywhere on this earth – though the balance quickly shifts – and trust me, I listened. Everything Fr. Peter has written above was well known, but was considered “inside information.” That Fr. Ioannes and Fr. Peter speak so openly is “fresh air” and “what all this aims for” in my estimation.

            • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
              Harry Coin says:

              Your argument is with the Gospel and church practice for centuries, changed back then only for economic and political reasons of the day long since over and not changed back despite loss causing visible disconnections and scandals of vast proportion. Even now look at Rome– such profound loss as to be staggering and what really has changed? Plenty of words on paper. But are the clergy married? Or nearly all ‘ordained young never married’ in our modern context?

              You completely misread my posting, probably on the basis at heart your argument is with the more authentic tradition. Lack of upholding that is what I think is at present bringing us low. To continue doing what plainly isn’t working out while the answer is within our Tradition is to doom ourselves. Those who made the changes several centuries after the church started for local economic and political reasons did so for survival and the good of the church. Are we a living church or museum curators? Is the Spirit taking a little nappy while we coast and dwindle? We have our answers within our own Tradition, but those who like to preside while we shrink is purposefully declining to restore lost balance. Senior empty nester proven clergy to also be among the actually monastic as full bishops — if the only lack is the failure of the wife to die. Smaller diocese instead of these bizarre ‘metropolis’ and ‘diocese’ that span more states and population than entire ‘Patriarchates’ overseas.

              It’s just so very plainly dissonant, folk see it and decline to mention it as they quietly enjoy our festivals and then go elsewhere. They assume speaking out is about as useful as telling a skunk it smells. Probably just make folk upset and improve nothing. Some few, too few, see past the dross to what this could be, what it was intended to be.

              Perhaps if the present so called spiritual fathers were able to pick out who in the community are the priest’s relatives much less know something about the lives of ‘their spiritual children’ in the parish we would be growing. All we have to offer is piety and authenticity what with Orthodox in our title. If we plainly don’t do as we preach among leadership sucking great sums from parishes but not responsible for virtually any new faces let’s not tisk tisk and such about lack of growth.

              I suppose a person on drugs thinks they’re completely normal and the other people are just not making sense. Folk with blind spots don’t think they have anything they don’t know about, they haven’t any spots they haven’t the perspective to address. Yet– We have an entire sacrament about marriage and plenty of ‘very goods’ about it in our most major texts, yet we have almost zero folk who know anything about it in high leadership today. Once when men outlived women we did. Once when married were bishops we did. Not now. Population ages and makeups have changed, we retain rules while totally violating their spirit and we shrink as a result. Wake Up! Our balance is lost! Look where our worst uncorrected scandals lay. The clergy that get transferred and cause explosions after explosions, covered up, enabled. When a married priest after decades loses his wife and after ten years remarries he is ‘Mr’ and defrocked. When a bishop violates sexually men and women for decades eventually he is defrocked to the ‘rank’ where he still has church title ‘Fr’. Seeing any blind spot there? Possibly?

              Last — if you had a choice about going to a doctor that had and then recovered from your disease over against one still a doctor that did not: you’d go to the one who knows your problem from both the inside and the outside. If you had a choice about going to a doctor or only a student of medicine— you’d go to a doctor. Notice that never married bishops go to doctors and not students of medicine. However they expect the married to go to them? While they know something about being administrators, at best they know what a student might about being pastor to married pastors, married anybody. People hear such ordained young never married preach about humility, then speak about the necessity of confession by the married regarding all things to them before permitting communion. Growing, are we? We won’t until this balance is restored. I see no real energy for it anywhere that might make a difference, but then I don’t see everything. Just calling it like I think most see it, the ones that don’t stay but would have liked to once they got to know how it works.

              I suppose the Gospel story about our leadership purposefully overlooking weeds choking those ‘new seeds’ not strong enough to overcome them applies.

  6. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Anonymous says:

    Sad commentary, this. It can indeed, work both ways (and even both ways at once!). Unfortunately, I have witnessed this first hand. A Priest can be toxic to members of his parish, too. Food for thought on the phenomenon here:
    http://dory.typepad.com/wittenberg_gate/2005/05/controlling_per.html

  7. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    David Briggs’ article on “Silent Clergy Killers” is right on target! Some denomination executives have indicated that the upward trend of forced terminations of ministers is now in decline. That is not evident in Briggs’ article nor in our work at the Ministering to Ministers Foundation (MTM). Satan is still alive and active!

    “Leadership Magazine” reported in their 1996 Winter Issue that of those responding to their survey, 22.8 percent of Protestant ministers in the USA have been pushed out their ministry position at least once during their career. That’s nearly one in four ministers! Only 54 percent of these ministers go back into a full-time parish ministry position.

    Briggs cites some very interesting information from the study done by Texas Tech and Virginia Tech Universities. Their study shows that 28 percent of ministers have been forced from their ministry position at least once. This means that the percentage of ministers being pushed out has increased from 22.8 percent to 28 percent in about a decade and a half. That’s an increase of over twenty percent, which is significant. A study by Alan Klaas, President of Mission Growth Ministries, shows that only seven percent of the time was the cause the personal misconduct of the minister.

    At MTM we have also noticed an age bias in forced terminations. We are currently studying more than one thousand ministers that have attended one of our intense five-day Healthy Transitions Wellness Retreats concerning age discrimination. We are very aware that ministers over age 55 are particularly vulnerable.

    The amount of pain evident in one of our Wellness Retreats is overwhelming. Lives are crushed. Hopes and dreams are dashed. Self-esteem is eroded, self-confidence drags the ground, and they usually feel a mixture of failure, guilt and shame though usually no suggestions of misbehavior were involved. There is normally an enormous amount of anger, though suppressed, and the tramatization usually results in some level of depression. They never expected to be treated so cruel by those they came to serve. The Apostle Paul, when writing to a troubled church, concluded I Corinthians 12 by saying, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” His great exhortation on love follows in the next chapter. Maybe it’s time Paul’s admonition on love is put into practical application.

    For more information on forced termination and the MTM mission and ministry visit our web site at http://www.mtmfoundation.org

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Charles, thank you for this. I don’t know the statistics for the Orthodox but I know enough priests who were forced from their parishes for the same reasons. We have bishops, ostensibly a layer of protection for priests subject to this kind of abuse, but unfortunately many don’t protect the priest (some do and they are respected by the priests because of it) and a handful arbitrarily move priests even when they are successful in their parishes.

      Your paragraph about the reaction by clergy who suffer this abuse is accurate. The cruelty of the antagonist is difficult to comprehend until you experience it first-hand and even extends to the family especially when the priest is strong and resilient. To be expelled from a parish even when the pastor’s ministry is successful (which means the charges are either contrived or small mistakes magnified) calls everything into question. The pain is deep because it is emerges from a betrayal of the first order, and betrayal is a particularly difficult circumstance to come to terms with.

      It’s true too that clergy in their fifties are particularly vulnerable. I don’t know why that is but my hunch is that by the time you reach your fifties much that can be learned about parish ministry has been learned particularly how to deal with people. Creativity can blossom but creativity mixed with self-confidence seems particularly threatening to the functionally unstable. Usually the unstable people are only a few, but a few can do a great amount of damage. I’ve noticed that many of them are what I call “jello-people” — there is no solid interior structure to deal with. You address one point and the antagonism resurfaces in another area and when you address it there it emerges in a third and on and on. You just can’t get your hands around anything solid.

      On the other hand, it is also a time of increased vulnerability. Many clergy are underpaid and end up putting a lot of necessary expenses (dental bills, etc.) on credit cards. After a few decades pay increases and it is time to put the financial house in order. You simply don’t have another decade to make that kind of sacrifice. Further, children are in high school and moving them is a disruption that can take years to heal, especially if forced. Some antagonists have a nose for vulnerability and take to it like a snake to a downed bird. Strong words, yes, but it accurately describes the absence of conscience displayed by their actions.

      When we have unstable hierarchs (the bishops who remove priests arbitrarily), the ramifications reach further than the targeted priest. All priests end up feeling threatened and deliberately ramp down to avoid the same fate. That the bishop can’t see this strikes me as evidence that he should not be in a leadership position in the first place. You would think that even elementary self-interest would compel a bishop to protect his high performers even if he personally dislikes them or that the endless calls and letters of complaint by antagonists are bothersome. Yet this point never seems to penetrate his awareness, even if you tell him straight up.

      The end result is increasingly frustrated priests (this, I think, is an accelerator of clergy misconduct although the cause might lie elsewhere), and the elevation of the C-Team to Varsity. Not much gets done besides fundraising appeals and the other necessary things to keep the machine running. It represents the slow demise and perhaps death of the organization.

      Unfortunately a good friend of mine, a particularly sound and creative priest, has just been arbitrarily removed (Fr. John Peck). There is no good reason for his dismissal and he has been offered nothing to help him along the way. He will have transition expenses but the Metropolis (Diocese) refuses all aid. It’s an injustice of the first order and while the unwritten rule demands silence in these matters, it is difficult to remain silent when you see a friend unjustly treated — and he is not the first either.

      • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
        Harry Coin says:

        The moment a priest can’t make reasonable day-to-day financial ends meet, and the parish isn’t able or isn’t willing to cope with that, the priest should use the network of folk at the parish to get a job outside the parish Then organize the parish to ‘step-up’ as needed for the hospital visits and other things the people can do.

        This is not less than modelling sobriety and true fatherhood. Unless you are a monastic with no financial obligations other than the clothes on your back– if there isn’t enough from the parish to keep it together then no use to whine about it, just get a job outside, make tents, and move forward.

        Actually the moment the priest makes ends meet financially outside the parish suddenly lots of personality issues become easier to manage.

  8. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
    Jim of Olym says:

    No one seems to comment here on the defective clergy who kill parishes. It seems that it is the laity who do that. Well, I have experienced a priest that killed a thriving mission, with the ‘blessing’ of the bishop who ordained him, and that of the bishop and dean who supported him even though many in the congregation kept shouting, yelling, and crying: “Help us before we perish”. and we did just that.

    • Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top
      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      That’s a problem that lies with the bishop. If you have clergy that can’t lead a parish or are harming it in some way, then your recourse is the bishop who is supposed to intervene.

  9. Back to Recent Comments list  Back to top

    Thanks for sharing. I learned something new today. I think with that issue, we cannot avoid some issues like that, but since it is a church issue it is a sensitive thing to talk about. Although some religion allows their pastor or ministries to have a marriage life but still they can serve the church.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Leave a Comment Source: Huffington Post, with a hat tip to the American Orthodox Institute. [...]

  2. [...] Fascinating article and research on “clergy killers” (how small groups of people are forcing pastors out of churches and the effects it has on those clergy) [...]

Care to comment?

*