No appeal allowed for fired clergy

Published July 1, 1998

Priests can now be fired from their jobs by their bishops for any reason and may not appeal.

General Synod adopted a new licensing canon which allows a bishop to revoke the licence of a clergyperson under any circumstances. The dismissed cleric may request arbitration about the length of notice or the financial settlement in lieu of notice but not over the termination itself.

Even though two speakers warned of possible “capricious misuse” by bishops, the new canon was adopted on second reading, meaning it takes effect immediately. It completes a task begun by the 1983 synod.

A discipline canon was enacted in 1992, but the one on licensing was defeated in a standoff between bishops and clergy on the issue of dismissal without cause and no right of appeal.

Licensing is a key element in the relationship between a bishop and a clergyperson. Though ordained for life, clergy cannot function in a diocese without a licence or other authorization by the bishop. Revocation means loss of livelihood.

Church lawyers have long argued the church needs standard procedures for granting, and especially withdrawing, a licence to minimize the potential for wrongful-dismissal lawsuits in the civil courts. One lawyer said, “The courts are reluctant to intervene in the internal personnel policies of churches as long as procedures are in place and they are followed.”

The new canon does require that before revoking a licence, the bishop must meet with the candidate to review reasons, to consider possible alternatives and to agree on financial and other terms for the dismissal.

Because the motion had to receive a two-thirds majority from each of the bishops, laity and clergy to pass, defeat by the clergy — as in 1992 — seemed a strong enough possibility that proponents split the motion to ensure adoption of the non-controversial first section.

However, in contrast to the vigorous debate in 1992, this year’s debate seemed almost perfunctory and the few amendments were defeated.


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