Church under fire for leaving clergy in lurch

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The Independent Online
The Church in Wales has been criticised by its vicars for not giving enough help to clergy who have affairs with parishioners.

Nearly one in five clerics canvassed in new research bemoan the lack of support for men of the cloth who are unable to resist the sinful lusts of the flesh. And more of the Welsh clergy have also complained about the lack of church care for those in the ministry who succumb to the temptation of alcohol, have marriage problems, suffer from stress, or simply stop believing.

New research giving a unique glimpse of the innermost thoughts of male clergy in Wales, reveals a congregation of clerics worried about lack of care, who suffer overwork, burn-out and stress and who, on a less spiritual level, lament the better wages, houses and career prospects of clerics across the border in England.

The research comes in the wake of concern about the high number of ordained clergy who been leaving the church. A quarter of clerics ordained since 1971 have left the Church in Wales, according to the report in Contemporary Wales, shortly to be published by the University of Wales Press.

The researchers sent questionnaires to 672 clerics, many of whom had left, including a few found serving time in prison, but based their research on the 307 still working full time for the CiW.

The report's authors, Professor Leslie Francis and Susan Jones, say there are clear warning signs in the research for the church: "It needs to be recalled that as many as one in four of the clergy ordained between 1971 and 1992 have ceased to minister within the CiW. Many of those clergy who remain in active ministry show significant signs of dissatisfaction. Many are feeling stressed and burnt out. Many feel unsupported by the church they serve. Many lack confidence in the bishops ... The warning signs are there and it would clearly be irresponsible for the Church in Wales to ignore them." It adds: "A crucial question to be faced by the churches is that of who cares for the carers. A major finding from this survey concerns the extent to which clergy feel unsupported by the church they serve."

The research shows that one in six vicars complain that the church does not show enough care for clergy who have affairs with parishioners. Around 40 per cent were also unhappy about the lack of help for those in the ministry with sexual problems. Around half bemoan the absence of sympathy for vicars suffering marriage breakdowns, and 27 per cent criticise the lack of care for clergy with homosexual relationships.

Six out of 10 of the clergy complain the church doesn't show enough support for clergy who suffer work-related stress, while a quarter reckon that working with people all day is a strain. "A fifth say they feel emotionally drained from their parish ministry and 18 per cent say they feel fatigued when they get up in the morning and have to face another day in the parish," says the report. Nearly four out of 10 the clergy say the church is not sufficiently supportive of those who have crises of faith, and a similar proportion criticise the lack of care for those with alcohol problems.

The bishops in the church get a rough time from the vicars too. Only 30 per cent thought they produced good leadership to society, and only 22 per cent of clergy believed the bishops were good theologians.

The research also reveals a group a clerics who believe the church is too lenient with those who fall victim to temptations of one kind or another. Seven per cent thought the church too soft on clerics with marital and alcohol problems, and 15 per cent reckon that colleagues who had affairs with members of their flock were getting away too lightly.