As most of you know, at the end of August 2010, my bishop removed me from my post as an assistant priest at the Church of St. Francis, where I had worked for over eight years, leaving me without a salary and, at the end of February this year, a home to live in. The only reason I was given for this was that the diocese could no longer afford to pay for the post. I have never been the subject of disciplinary action.
In an attempt to get a new post in the Church, as well as applying for positions all over the country, I initiated legal proceedings against the bishop. I claimed for some sort of redundancy payment to get me on my feet and I accused the bishop of disability discrimination against me because his failure to provide me with a permanent position, my right under English disability legislation, led to me being in a post that could be terminated for purely financial reasons.
On Friday I received the reply from the bishop's solicitor. In it they stated that they would not be restricting their defence to the matters on which I was claiming but that they would try and prove that I deserved dismissal because of my behaviour and that I have a history of not getting on with the offices of the Church.
There are highly regarded witnesses who have offered to provide statements to the tribunal on my behalf which will repudiate such claims by the bishop and both myself and my solicitors believe the facts regarding the way I have been employed and the conditions applied to my employment speak for themselves However, any defence I put up to counteract an attack on my work record and character would, most likely, cause incredible harm to lots of people, some of whom I love dearly.
There is the family that came to me near the beginning of my ministry to complain about the inappropriate behaviour of their parish priest towards a teenage boy. When I reported the incident it was covered up (not by a bishop, I hasten to add, no bishop was even informed). There are officers of the church who I would accuse of not doing their duty in respect of my welfare who, in two posts I have held, were aware that I was under unfair attack but did nothing about it, or, at least, did nothing quick enough, even though it was in their power to do so. There are the officers of the church who have offered to help me even though they must realise, from viewing my experience, that this will effect their careers in the church adversely. Also, although I have often spoken up about controversial issues, I have never broken the rules of the Church of England through my actions. I can prove that those who accuse me of spoken indiscretion have themselves acted in ways contrary to the agreed position of the Church on certain matters and the revelation of their actions would harm people I love.
Also, I do have my health to consider. I have kept my mental illness in check for over ten years now. That I have got through all the stress of the last two years without sinking back into depression is one of my most proud achievements. But, a nasty court case and the subsequent national publicity might well be the straw to break the camel's back. I cannot risk going back to the hell it took me so long to crawl out of.
Anyway, all I would achieve, and I would achieve it whether I won the case or not, would be revenge and I am not much in need of that. This post and the knowledge of the guilt, excused and deflected and now buried deep inside them but always there, of the good people who did nothing, will suffice as enough revenge for me.
I have carefully considered all this over the weekend and discussed it with my wife and a clergy friend. I have come to the conclusion that, although from a practical point of view I am turning my back on the possibility of financial compensation that would save my wife and myself from destitution, the harm that I would be causing to other people if I continue with my claim is too much for my conscience to bear. In any case, it would not be the Christian thing to do and I can hardly accuse the bishop of acting in an unchristian manner towards me if I then act in an unchristian manner towards him and other parties, some guilty and some not. Therefore, this morning I instructed my solicitor not to proceed. I would point out here that the legal action would have cost me nothing as it is covered by an insurance policy.
So that's it. I am now a priest in name only which is as useful as a computer that is never switched on. I have come to the conclusion, based on countless rejections over the last two years, that, for whatever reason, I will never be employed by the Church again. As the priesthood was my vocation in life I will now be treading water until the day I die. I expect I will do some useful, maybe even interesting stuff, but it will be purely mechanical. My understanding of the priesthood is so tied up with parish ministry that, try as I might, I am just unable to see anything else as true priesthood.
But, although it is personally subjective, I believe that I will retain my integrity and I think I have proved that integrity is more important to me than any earthly reward or comfort. I have noticed that most people think such a standpoint is plain silly and that it does not take into account the reality of life. But they have not experienced the freedom, albeit, at times, an uncomfortable, even painful, freedom, that living life as close to the moral principles you profess brings.
The big question I now face is how will my new status effect my blogs? I have always spoken as a priest and now I am something different. I think that such issues will take a while to resolve. Things will change. Mrs MP believes the changes will be for the better. I wish I had her faith that stuff always turns out all right in the end.