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SOMETIMES it is good to turn the other cheek. And sometimes it is better to fight back with a swift kick in the groin.
Clergymen and women are to be given martial-arts training amid concern that they are too vulnerable to attack. The white-collar union MSF, which represents more than 1,500 clergy, is to begin self-defence classes based on tae kwon do in the new year.
A survey of Anglican clergy found that they are more likely to be attacked than probation officers or doctors, with one in eight suffering an assault. Attackers are often beggars but they can also be members of the congregation who have been denied their preferred wedding day.
The Rev Bill Ward, head of the MSF?s clergy section, said: ?It is a sad fact of modern life that members of the clergy will come into contact with individuals who are likely to resort to violence.
?Most clergy receive no training at all in dealing with violent people so we are making a start with our own self-defence classes and hope that the Church of England will follow suit.?
Vicars can be especially vulnerable because they are expected to see those in need, and because most vicarages are adjacent to churches; vagrants and drug users believe that there may be valuable items to steal from churches or vicarages.
The Rev Paul Andrew, minister at St John the Evangelist in Hammersmith, West London, said: ?We certainly do feel vulnerable. Only half a mile away in Fulham a priest was murdered in the autumn. A Roman Catholic minister near by was the subject of an arson attack. A friend of mine from theological college was murdered three years ago. It really brings it home to you.?
Mr Andrew said that he would sign up for the tae kwon do lessons, which are to be held at one of the union?s London offices. ?I shall be very interested,? he said. ?Knowing that these things have happened in the neighbourhood, you want to try to make yourself less vulnerable.?
The survey of clergy safety by the Royal Holloway College found that during 1997 and 1999 some 12 per cent of the clergy had been physically assaulted; seven out of ten had suffered some form of violence, which included verbal abuse; one in five was threatened with physical harm; and four in ten felt afraid of violence while at work.
Roger Lyons, the MSF general secretary, said: ?These MSF members perform a vital service to their communities and they deserve to be able to carry out their work whilst feeling secure in their workplace from verbal and physical attack.?
Six priests have been murdered in the past five years, including two killings this year when a vicar in West London was stabbed to death and an elderly clergyman was killed in Hastings.
The number of violent incidents reported to police has risen sharply since 1996, when Father Christopher Gray was stabbed to death by a homeless man who called at his vicarage in Liverpool.
In February this year a woman vicar in Coventry survived attack by a local man thanks to self-defence training. The Rev Nerissa Jones was treated for cuts and concussion after being struck on the head with a bottle outside St Chad?s Vicarage, Wood End.
?I believe that I would have incurred far more serious injuries had I not been trained in self-defence,? she said. ?I was taught never to step back from an attacker, as it gives them more room to strike.?
She believes that she was attacked because of her outspoken criticism of a local gang. Other clergywomen have been picked on by people opposed to the ordination of women.
The Woman and the Church organisation described a case study in which a woman priest was sent a book filled with satanic symbols and accusations that she was the ?whore of Babylon?. The book contained death threats and a promise that an unknown assailant would rid the Church of all women priests and would burn their remains.
Many attacks on clergy are committed by disaffected members of a congregation who go to the vicarage. There have even been cases of vigilante-style attacks on priests at their homes. In 1998 Father John Hayes was attacked in his Lincolnshire parish by two men wearing Marilyn Monroe and Batman masks. They beat him with a pole studded with nails and shot at him with an air rifle.
Despite growing publicity surrounding the violence, the MSF says that many assaults still go unreported because of a sense of shame felt by the victims.
The clergy are also campaigning for employment rights, which they have been denied because they are not regarded as having ?a terrestrial employer?. Women priests, who are often paid less than male counterparts, are unable to claim sex discrimination because they have no rights.
Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard terms and conditions. To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website.
-------------------- "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do."-King Solomon
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,