God cannot be sued: Village vicar who claimed he was forced out of his job by 'League of Gentleman-style parishioners' told 'you cannot take your "employer" to court'
- Rev Mark Sharpe claims his dog was poisoned, excrement was smeared on his car, his car tyres were slashed and his phone line cut
- He said parishioners boasted they 'chewed up and spat out' the previous rector
- Reverend, 44, has been dubbed 'the man who sued God'
By Katherine Faulkner and Andy Dolan
A village vicar who says he was forced out of his job has been told he cannot claim unfair dismissal because he is ‘employed by God.’
Reverend Mark Sharpe claims he had no option but to resign after a campaign of abuse by parishioners he likened to characters out of the League of Gentleman.
The 44-year-old Reverend accused the church of failing to support him in the remote country parish in Teme Valley South, near Tenbury Wells.
Religious views: Rev Mark Sharpe as vicar in Hanley Broadheath, left, and today as he attempted to sue God at an employment tribunal
All Saints Church, which is in the parish at the centre of the row
After his resignation, he compared his treatment at the hands of parishioners with the television show in which a remote community is fearful of outsiders.
Rev Sharpe said: ‘This is a local parish for local people - that is the attitude.When I arrived here, I held a lunch for the church wardens of all six churches.
‘At the end of the lunch, one of the wardens, Sally Jones, boasted that they didn’t get on with the previous rector so they “chewed him up and spat him out”.’
Mrs Jones denies that she made this comment.
His claim of constructive dismissal was being supported by Unite, the union.
But lawyers for the Diocese of Worcester pointed to ecclesiastical laws which state that clergy are not employees but office holders ‘employed by God.’
They say vicars are therefore not eligible to claim unfair dismissal, because God cannot be sued.
After moving to the parish in 2005, Rev Sharpe said he was subjected to constant harassment and even threats.
The locals were so hostile to the new vicar that he installed CCTV cameras to protect his family.
Rev Sharpe says his dog was poisoned, animal excrement was smeared on his car, his tyres were slashed, his home phone lines were cut and his heating oil was stolen.
'Forced out': Reverend Mark Sharpe with wife Sara and children Naomi, Lydia, and Thomas at the Worcestershire rectory where life was so miserable for them
'Murdered': Rev Sharpe said his dog Sasha was poisoned during the 'campaign of intimidation'
One church warden even objected to Rev Sharpe’s beard, warning him that locals wanted a ‘clean shaven clergyman’, Birmingham’s Phoenix House Tribunal Centre heard.
Rev Sharpe claims he asked Bishops to help him, but they ‘washed their hands’ of the case.
He eventually left in September 2009 after developing stress-related ill-health.
Rev Sharpe told an employment hearing that he had written to Bishops begging them to intervene, but they refused to help him.
‘What confused and upset and distressed me was that I was told: “We are not dealing with it. Doors shut, end of,”’ he said.
‘I was told that I couldn’t access a grievance procedure, that I didn’t have any rights.’
Instead, he said, a series of replacement vicars were ‘parachuted in’, one of whom was ‘preparing secret reports to the bishop’ about him, including comments he had made in ‘confidential meetings.’
In December 2009, the Reverend’s wife and three youngest children left the dilapidated four-bedroom rectory after the Diocese of Worcester launched eviction proceedings against them. Their eldest child was away at university.
Taking on the Lord: Rev Sharpe's lawsuit is reminiscent of the Billy Connolly film The Man who Sued God
At the time, the Reverend Sharpe, who was ordained in 2001, said: ‘My career has been ruined, my health and that of my wife and children has been shattered, and my family has suffered terribly from all the strain.’
Reverend Sharpe said the Diocese had ‘glossed over’ the serious problems in the parish, which is made up of six churches in local hamlets and villages, when he agreed to move his family there.
‘When we came here, I was told by the church that they were looking for stability, as the last vicar had left after 18 months for health reasons.
If most employees resign from their job because of an employer’s behaviour, it may be considered to be constructive dismissal. They would need to show that:
- The employer has committed a serious breach of contract
- They felt forced to leave because of that breach
- They have not done anything to suggest that you have accepted their breach or a change in employment conditions
‘I found a situation that was allowed to fester for decades, where of the four local parishes only three were legally constituted because two had refused to merge
‘This dated back to 1979 and I was staggered that it had not been sorted out already.
‘When I tackled it, it sparked a wave of resentment from the community which has culminated in my family and I living in a climate of fear in a supposedly rural idyll.
‘There have been too many incidences of harassment over the last four years for them to be the odd coincidence.’
Describing the beard incident to the tribunal yesterday, Mr Sharpe said: ‘It was a church warden who complained about it.
‘I said I had grown a beard because I had a skin infection.’
When asked if the warden had then retracted their objection to the beard, Mr Sharpe replied: ‘If only it had been that simple.’
Rev Sharpe has not worked as a vicar since leaving the parish, and has been diagnosed with M.E, the chronic fatigue illness.
His wife, an environmental health officer, said: ‘I feel like four precious years of family life have been robbed from us.
‘It has been the worst time of my life. I used to be a committed Christian, now I am agnostic.
‘If this is Christianity in action I don’t want anything to do with it.’
Unite officer Rachael Maskell said: ‘The fact that Mark and his family have been forced to leave their home during the so-called season of goodwill at the pinnacle of the Christian year is a disgrace, and a dark stain on the church’s reputation.
‘This is a toxic parish with a 40-year history of clergy leaving abruptly or in broken health.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2064823/God-sued-Vicar-told-employer-court.html#ixzz1eVuZmddQ