Vicars are employed by God, not Church, says UK court ruling

A VICAR who lost a four-year battle over his right to claim for unfair dismissal has cleared up one question - vicars are not employed by the Church, but called by God.

The Rev Mark Sharpe claimed he was forced out of his role in the Church of England parish in the UK when locals began a hate campaign against him.

Rev Mark Sharpe claimed he was forced out of his role after hate campaign
Rev Mark Sharpe claimed he was forced out of his role after hate campaign

He said his dog was poisoned, his car tyres slashed and his mail was tampered with.

Mr Sharpe moved to the area with his wife and four children to take up the parish post in 2005, but stepped down four years later, saying he had developed health problems as a result of harassment.

He took his case for unfair dismissal to court, claiming that Church and the Bishop of Worcester should have warned him about the problems the parish was facing, and offered more support in the job.

The union Unite backed his case, calling for a landmark legal decision which would see faith leaders "finally awarded basic employment rights".

But Court of Appeal judges disagreed. Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice David and Lord Justice Lewison ruled that, as a man of the cloth, Mr Sharpe was "neither a party to a contract of employment, not a worker" and therefore could not claim for unfair dismissal.

The Rt Rev John Inge, the Bishop of Worcester, said he was "delighted" with the decision to recognise that faith leaders served a divine boss, rather than one of the flesh.

"To become employees, clergy would lose the freedoms which are at the heart of the Church's ministry and this is not something that they want to give up," he said.

"It is regrettable that Unite fails to understand the context in which parish clergy exercise their ministry whilst the Church seeks to uphold the freedoms enjoyed by its clergy."

It is not the first time Mr Sharpe has taken legal action against employers.

He previously lodged a successful case against the Ministry of Defence after being exposed to hardcore pornography while acting as a chaplain to servicemen travelling on warships.

The Navy admitted sexual harassment but denied discrimination on grounds of religious affiliation.


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