Union fights for disabled church man
UNION officials today accused the Church of England of showing a disgraceful lack of respect for a disabled clergyman, after they axed his post.Church authorities have stopped funding Kesgrave's curate, Rev Tim Breene.
UNION officials today accused the Church of England of showing a disgraceful lack of respect for a disabled clergyman, after they axed his post.
Church authorities have stopped funding Kesgrave's curate, Rev Tim Breene.
And as Mr Breene suffers from dystonia – a problem with the muscles in his neck – he is unable to take on extra work or other posts that have come up.
For the last five months his job has been funded by Kesgrave residents and local church charities
Mr Breene, 44, has been assisting the Rev Robin Spittle at Kesgrave's All Saints church since 1999.
The diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich used to support the post but withdrew all funding last year.
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Mark Robinson, a regional officer for Amicus, has been representing Mr Breene in meetings with the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. He said: "We genuinely believe the way the diocese is treating Tim is outrageous. Their disrespect for his disability is absolutely disgraceful.
"Any other employers would have had to find him suitable alternative work, but the clergy is not covered by ordinary employment legislation.
"Legally, there is very little we can do for him but we are providing him with support and legal advice, and campaigning on his behalf."
The situation has also caused upset in the community.
More than 200 parishioners signed a petition, which was sent to the Arch-Bishop in protest at the situation, but were told there was nothing he could do.
Angry parishioner David Mead wrote to the town's newsletter to express his disgust at "the ghastly situation".
He wrote: "Although we are the most prolifically expanding town in East Anglia, in need of more spiritual guidance and assistance, rather than less, the Rev Robin Spittle is likely to be left on his own."
Mr Spittle said: "Tim is no longer employed by the diocese and we, as a church, are very unhappy about that, but we are intending to employ him ourselves.
"If Tim was not employed here I would not be able to do my job anywhere near as efficiently. He does a lot of visiting and is especially gifted at working with marginalised people.
"Securing Tim as my assistant is very important to me and very important to what I believe God is trying to do in Kesgrave."
Mr Breene said: "I am profoundly greatful to Robin and Jenny Spittle and the parishioners for their support. I feel deeply let down and am devastated by the whole thing but I feel, at this time, it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Church authorities originally tried to cut the funding for Rev Breene's post in 2001. They offered him a "half post", meaning he would only receive half a stipend for working the same hours.
Mr Spittle said: "To offer half a stipend is illogical. A stipend is not the same as a salary, it's the amount of money needed to live on. I do not see how you can only be given half the amount you need to live on."
Tim's disability means he is unable to work the number of hours a full-time vicar would. By the end of the afternoon, the muscles that are affected become very painful, often making evening work impossible. This means taking another half-post elsewhere is not an option for him.
Mr Breene turned the offer of half a post down and continued in his role at Kesgrave. But in October last year he was told all funding for his job was to be withdrawn.
The diocese say they have done all they can to support Mr Breene and have not acted contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act, although they are not legally bound by it.
Nicholas Edgell, diocesan secretary, said Mr Breene's post in Kesgrave is "in addition to the manpower plan for the diocese" and is one for which there was no budget provision.
He said: "Since October 1999, Mr Breene has repeatedly been made aware this situation could not be allowed to continue. Throughout the next four years, Mr Breene made no application for any vacant posts.
"In December 2001, the diocese and Ipswich deanery made a significant adjustment in order to accommodate a new half time post in Kesgrave for Mr Breene and offered it to him. This was never accepted.
"Throughout 2003, several letters were written to Mr Breene again offering him the half time post at Kesgrave. However, Mr Breene failed to respond to any of them and as a result he now finds himself without a position."
They added that Mr Breene is entitled to apply for early retirement to the Church of England Pension Board on the grounds of ill health.
Do you think the Church's decision is the right one? Who do you think should pay for Mr Breene's post? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
The clergy of the Church of England, working in most parochial ministry jobs, are not employed but hold a licence issued by their Bishop in return for which a stipend is paid, plus free housing and other benefits.
Because they are not officially employed they can be referred to as 'office holders' – i.e. they do not have an official contract of employment
At the moment, office holders are exempt from the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act.
However, an overhaul of the act in October will change this exemption.