BY ED WEST
THE CHURCH of England's security adviser has said that vicars should drop the dog collar and adopt casual dress for their own safety.
The Clergy Lifestyle Theory report, commissioned after the murder of Fr Paul Bennett in Glamorgan, Wales, in March, argued that traditional dress made clergymen an "easy target" for vidence The report, drawn up by security advisory body National Churchwatch, said that one of the factors in assaults carried out away from the vicarage is "the fact that clergy are easily identifiable as they tend to wear a 'clergy collar' which clearly informs people that they are a clerk in Holy Orders".
Fr Bennett, 59, was stabbed in the grounds of St Fagan's Church in Trecynon, near Aberdare. The father of two was the fifth cleric killed in a decade, while between 1997 and 1999, the last years for which there are comprehensive records, 12 per cent of clergy were assaulted and 70 per cent abused or threatened. More attacks are carried out on priests than either GPs or probation officers and, as the report argued, most criminals see attacking a priest as "no different to attacking a shopkeeper, robbing an old lady or any other member of society".
But Fr Peter Newby, priest at St Mary Moorfields in central London, said clerical dress was an asset rather than a liability.
"I think it's nonsense," he said. "I feel much safer in a collar, especially in rougher places."
Fr Newby was himself threatened by a man demanding money in Stevenage, before a "group of hardcore parishioners attending a baptism" made a timely appearance, and he pointed out that Catholic priests may enjoy greater protection.
"Perhaps architecturally a lot of Anglican vicars are more isolated because their presbyteries are in much more lonely spots, close to cemeteries. while Catholic churches are more urban and on the whole there are more people buzzing around," he said.
Half of these incidents take place in the street. or while the clergymen is alone in the church. "The problem comes when the people leave the event and the vicar is left on his own to lock up, or the service is one that no one attends or that the offender asks the member of the clergy to speak in private after such an event," the report said.
"The fact that clergy are clearly identifiable away from their place of work/home raises the risk of them meeting a motivated offender who uses violence as a method of achieving their aims."
National Churchwatch was established in 1998 to liaise between churches and police forces about security, a response to rapidly increasing levels of crime against religious buildings; it also advises clergy on personal safety.
Nick Toslon, National Churchwatch co-ordinator, said in the report: "They [clergymen] haven't been streetwise in the past. They need to realise that wearing the dog collar makes them a target... It isn't wise for them to wear it out shopping or in the car and they should never wear it when alone. The archbishop and other bishops should give a lead in this."
The paper will be passed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will send it to all dioceses, ahead of a meeting to be held next year in which they will decide whether to act on the proposals. Many parishes, both Anglican and Catholic, have already taken measures to heighten security, with CCTV now a common sight and many clergymen refusing to see anyone alone.
Dropping traditional clerical uniform would not protect priests from drug-related violence, according to Fr Newby.
Ek said: "If you're nice to people, you have to be careful, because when people take drugs, they lose their conscience.
"These five people were in the wrong place at the wrong time; it wasn't because they were in dog collars,"
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