An Aberdeen bishop at the centre of “bullying” allegations has alleged that she has been targeted by “hate crimes” herself.
The Scottish Episcopal Church has published an independent report tasked with investigating issues within the Aberdeen and Orkney diocese.
It has recommended the Right Rev Anne Dyer, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, be granted an immediate sabbatical before “stepping back permanently”.
Professor Iain Torrance, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland, who wrote the report, warned continuing her tenure could lead to more people feeling “diminished and discouraged”.
However, in a letter to the diocese, Mrs Dyer says she has also been subjected to “bullying” since taking up the position as Scotland’s first female bishop in 2018 – adding that she has reported repeated “hate crimes” directed to her on social media to the police.
Bishop says she has been target of ‘hate crimes’
No decision has been made about the future of Mrs Dyer, despite the recommendation that she step aside.
In a letter to the diocese, the bishop herself says she has experienced “bullying” since her appointment in 2018 – revealing she has been subjected to “repeated attacks” on social media.
She has stressed there are also those with a “different story to tell” about their experiences within the church.
She wrote: “There are a diversity of views in the diocese, different perspectives and understandings of what is happening among us.
“In addition, I am also conscious that since his investigation was carried out, I have continued to be subject to repeated attacks on social media, some of which has been described as simple ‘harassment’, and others reported to the police as possible ‘hate crimes’.
“Many of us are feeling bruised at present. It is my earnest desire to seek to understand and take responsibility for my contribution to the present distress.
“I want to take very seriously the feelings and opinions of those who are represented in the report. I also want to understand the feelings and opinions of those whose contributions have not yet been included.
“However, we need to hear and understand these things together if we are to take responsibility, say sorry where needed, and look for a way ahead.”
A police spokesman said: “We received a report relating to concerns about messages posted on social media on Saturday, September 4.
“Officers offered appropriate advice to the complainer.”
What else is in the report?
The investigation includes allegations Mrs Dyer rushed a “hasty merger” between St Andrew’s Cathedral and St Mary’s Episcopal Church, due to major problems with the cathedral’s heating.
However, the manner of the move created friction with the fallout cited by Mr Torrance as a major cause of the bishop’s “loss of credibility”.
The report outlines a fallout between Chris Cromar, musical director of St Andrew’s, and Mrs Dyer.
It has become a scandal and I fear her position is irrecoverable.”
Iain Torrance, former moderator Church of Scotland
In response, the bishop is accused of taking the “unnecessary action” of instructing Mr Cromar to be barred from attending worship the next day and have his keys for St Mary’s collected from him.
The Rev Isaac Poobalan, who had been provost of St Mary’s until Mrs Dyer assumed his position in the merger, was instructed to carry out the task.
However, when Mr Cromar attended the following service, Mrs Dyer suspended Mr Poobalan while describing Mr Cromar’s behaviour as “intimidating and threatening” – descriptions later described as “baseless” in the report.
In his report, Mr Torrance wrote: “No explanation was given to the congregation for his suspension. Suspension is a serious matter and carries suspicion of an impropriety. Rumours circulated.
“Suspension for eight months without a stated and appropriate reason cannot be nuanced as merely the directness of a Yorkshire woman.
“In my view, it is to do a serious damage to another priest and is a violation of normal procedure.
“In my view, her treatment of Dr Poobalan, perhaps more than anything else, has undermined the credibility of the bishop. It has become a scandal and I fear her position is irrecoverable.”
The report outlines several other fallouts, including fears operations had become “centralised” under Mrs Dyer, disappointment at repeated “rebukes” by e-mail and concerns about the “manner and tone” of human relations.
What happens next?
The Scottish Episcopal Church has stressed there were differing views about Mr Torrance’s report.
It has said that “certain voices” within the Aberdeen and Orkney diocese were not heard within the process.
So, an independent process of mediation has now been instigated as the next phase of the process to help the diocese move forward as a whole.
Mrs Dyer has told the church’s College of Bishops that she believes there are “major errors and omissions” in the report that need addressed – adding she did not have the opportunity to hear or response to specific allegations made against her.
A statement from the College of Bishops said: “The college recognises the level of hurt and upset experienced by a number of people in the diocese and hopes that the mediation process will help to bring healing.
“In the meantime, the college reiterates its appeal to members of the church to act with restraint, respect and Christian charity and grace and to join with the college in praying fervently for a just and fair outcome to future process.”