A petition with the title "Equality For Mental Health", signed by over two hundred celebrities, has been addressed to the ministers of the U.K. government responsible for the upcoming spending review. The introduction to the petition begins:
We, the undersigned, have joined together to mount a cross-party, cross-society campaign aimed at persuading the Government to help reduce the suffering of those with mental ill health by increasing investment into the provision of mental health services.
The petitioners state that they are of the opinion that the economic, human and moral argument for better provision for, and a new attitude towards, those suffering from mental health problems is "clear."
The signatories include various show business stars, footballers, politicians, health professionals and academics. It also, as I just knew it would as soon as I read about it, includes the signatures of Justin Welby and John Sentamu. I assume that as they sign themselves as most reverend and as archbishop of Canterbury and York respectively, they intend their support of the petition to be regarded as representing the attitude of the Church of England as an institution in regard to mental health matters. But it matters not if this is the personal support of two archbishops or the support of the whole hierarchy of the Church of England, because I know from my own experience that, at least, the attitude of Justin Welby to those with mental health problems within his own denomination is identical to the attitude of many, if not all, of the senior staff of the dioceses.
I am living and ongoing proof that the bishops of the Church of England say one thing and then do another when it comes to mental illness. They are, basically, hypocrites who want to look good in public whilst, behind closed doors, claiming special privileges in order to practice discrimination against the mentally ill and those who have suffered from mental illness in the past.
I was ordained to the diaconate, and subsequently the priesthood, of the Church of England in 1995. During a disastrous first curacy with a bullying vicar who I had to report for taking a teenage boy to a sauna and photographing him in the nude (reported to me by the boy's mother, a member of the congregation), I suffered a mental breakdown. Over the next five years I went through mental hell and needed prolonged stays in hospitals on at least four occasions (forgive my vagueness, it is all a bit of a blur). The last hospitalisation led to me being signed off sick from work indefinitely. Eventually, with the help of an occupational therapist, I turned the corner and started the long road back to being fit for work. It was a painful and hard process but, after a year, perhaps longer, I was well enough to consider some kind of return to work.
An archdeacon was sent to see me and he asked what I intended to do. As I was the priest in charge of two parishes at the time I suggested that I should start with being responsible for the one of the churches with the hope that I would be able to manage both churches in the near future. The archdeacon told me that would not be possible and the the bishop would be in touch with me. I was, in due course, summoned to the bishop's office and informed by the bishop that, as a person who had suffered from mental illness should never be allowed the cure of a parish, I should retire, resign or be made redundant. I fought his pronouncement with everything I had and, in the end, he backed down. But he demoted me to the post of an assistant curate at another vicar's church and put me on a two year contract only. Furthermore he made me see work advisers and counsellors who he insisted reported back to him with details of what I said when I met them. I also had to undergo work reviews far more intrusive and intensive than any other priest in the diocese which included being cross examined by a member of the laity who just happened to be a doctor (although not a mental health specialist). At the end of my two year contract I had to go through the battle to keep employed all over again and was given another two year contract which was followed by a one year contract and then a period where I worked with no contract at all. Eventually, the bishop used the excuse of the vicar I worked for moving on to sack me and remove my wife and myself from our church owned house.
I was informed by both the government's Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Mind charity that, if I had been working for a secular employer, my treatment by my bishop would have been unlawful under discrimination at work legislation. However, the bishop could, knowingly, discriminate against me as much as he wanted because the Church of England is exempt from much employment legislation. The bishops had insisted on such exemption so that they could legally discriminate against women and gay people. My bishop used the exemption to discriminate against me in a way that was not the purpose of the exemption, not that the exemptions ever had any morally good purpose. Under the law of the land my original suggestion, that I started back at work with the responsibility for just one of my two parishes, would have been regarded as appropriate accommodation for my state of health. The bishop's refusal to consider that option was not only immoral, it was an illegal act of discrimination in the secular employment sector.
After we had been forced to move from our home we moved to an ex-coalmining village in the diocese of Durham hoping to make a new start as I had been told by our local archdeacon, who was dealing with "my case," that he did not believe I should get any further help from the bishop. At the time of our move the bishopric of Durham was in interregnum. I hoped that the new bishop would be more sympathetic to my situation than the bishop who had made my life so unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, the evangelicals in the diocese swung the vote and we ended up with Justin Welby who, from the beginning, was obviously just passing through on his way to one of the right at the top jobs. I asked the new bishop of Durham for help. I said I needed reconciliation and restitution. He replied, through an area dean, that he was unable to provide me with such help. In fact, in his correspondence with me he made it perfectly clear that, just like my previous bishop, he did not consider the job of parish priest to be open to somebody who had suffered from mental illness. Both of the bishops were obsessed with the idea that my illness was all down to my inability to cope with stress even though none of my psychiatrists had ever diagnosed stress as a problem (and, of course, the bishops had insisted that they got to see my medical records). What is more, both bishops completely ignored the report, which the church insisted on and paid for) of a highly regarded clinical psychiatrist from the local teaching hospital, which unambiguously stated that I would make a very good parish priest, a bit eccentric but perfectly capable of doing a very good job. So, Welby failed me big time, he even belittled my faith in him in an email in a way that really hurt. My experience of our present archbishop of Canterbury leads me to personally conclude that he has little pastoral ability and a view of the priesthood that is based on contemporary business models rather than a priesthood with Christ as its paradigm or with any sacramental element.
I fully accept that those of us with mental health problems can be difficult to "deal" with. Many of us, including myself, obviously do not understand the "normal" world and its mores and customs. I have to live in what is, in essence, an alien world, where people, including those nearest and dearest to me, follow a logic that just doesn't make any sense to me. Of course, I must also assume that my logic makes little sense to them. I also accept that my response to the bigotry I had to endure was very angry in deed (but, then who created the monster?) However, the physically handicapped can also have complicated needs that require accommodation and can also be angry about their lot. But nobody nowadays, not even the bishops of the Church of England, although it has not always been so, would consign them to the rubbish heap of long term unemployment and social ostracism.
I want an apology for the way the Church has treated me from someone in the Church whose status gives the apology worth and I want restitution. I realise that this restitution will not be everything I once wanted as the damage has been done and the hurt is a reality that cannot be swept under the carpet no matter how much anger management counselling I sign up for. The cause of my great sadness is that I know this restitution will never be forthcoming because I am asking too much from the bishops of my church. I am asking them to be like Christ for me and to sacrifice their pride, in particular their institutional pride, for my sake. I have never met a bishop who has the capability or desire to act in such a way. It may be that to get to episcopal rank in the Church requires a coldness of heart that makes impossible the attributes of shepherd and healer.
Whatever, the archbishops' signatures on this worthy petition are bunkum, a fraud, a deceit and more a cause for potential scandal than the rebellious mumblings of this mad priest will ever be.