Say sorry to everyone you bullied, bishop demands of ‘authoritarian’ vicar

A vicar accused of bullying a choir at a 12th-century church has been ordered by her bishop to apologise to everyone who complained about her. The Rev Catherine Relf-Pennington has faced a string of complaints about her supposed “authoritarian style” since taking on her role at Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk four years ago. They include claims that she assaulted a chorister after banning her from the choir and reversed her truck into a parked car in the car park, causing a “six inch-long gash”.

The vicar has argued she was bullied by the choristers, who were “anti-woman priests”.

Vicar must ‘bring about reconciliation’

Now, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, has attempted to defuse the row by publishing a series of “directions” for the vicar and the abbey’s church council.  They include ordering Ms Relf-Pennington to meet those who complained about her and “to apologise to them without reservation for the behaviour which gave rise to the allegations which they raised”. His seven-page report adds that the reason for the apology is to ensure that the vicar “does all within her power to bring about reconciliation with those who made allegations, and to set an example of repentance for the church community at Wymondham”.

A spokesman for the bishop confirmed that the Diocese could start “clergy disciplinary measures” potentially ending up in a tribunal if the “directions” were not followed. The vicar has so far not commented on the bishop’s report.

Former High Court judge once investigated claims

A total of 37 complaints were initially made against her after she was appointed associate vicar at the abbey in 2013, and promoted to become its first female vicar in 2017. In January last year, it emerged the Church had brought in Sir Mark Hedley, a former High Court judge, to investigate the claims.

He urged both sides to settle their differences to avoid a public tribunal hearing and described the ongoing issues in his report as “a disgrace to a Christian community”. Sir Mark wrote: “On the one side are a group of choir members and others associated with them. Their complaints are essentially of high-handed and over-authoritative behaviour amounting to bullying.”

“I must confess myself sceptical that these parties have the requisite Christian maturity to handle what would be a lengthy and inevitably painful experience.

Attitudes are clearly hardened and must now be recognised as such.”