Clergy & Congregations Ethics News

Church of England plans to test aspiring clergy for skills, aptitude — and narcissis …

Members of the clergy enter York Minster for a special service in York, northern England, on Jan. 26, 2015. Photo by Phil Noble/Reuters

LONDON (RNS) — Responding to growing concern about the kinds of priests the Church of England is attracting, Anglican leaders are considering expanding its assessments of clergy candidates to include more rigorous psychological testing.

Anxiety about the quality of those who aspire to become clergy is rooted in the series of child sex abuse scandals that have emerged from Anglicanism’s mother church over the past 20 years. In testimony given last March to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse — the public body set up to investigate abuse in many organizations, including churches — Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner said his diocese could use psychological testing of ordinands to assess whether they are suitable. He said the testing is “something we will be starting later this year.”

Last week, Julian Hubbard, director of the Church of England’s Ministry Division, said in a statement, “This has been given added focus by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the requirement to provide greater assurance on the effectiveness of the selection process. So we are examining its potential as a means to identify candidates who might pose a risk to others.”

“But this is not only about safeguarding,” Hubbard added. “It is vital to use all means available to find people with the right skills and aptitudes for this unique, but very challenging, calling.”

The Church of England currently uses a variety of assessment methods for prospective ordinands, including lengthy interviews, written exercises, questionnaires, group discussions and detailed references.

But Leslie Francis, a canon professor of religions and education at Warwick University and an expert on psychological profiling of clergy, said more intensive testing can help spot pathologies such as narcissism.

Leslie Francis. Photo courtesy Warwick University

“Both introversion and extroversion can reflect the divine image,” said Francis, “but it is also very wise for the church to consider pathologies.”

In the book “Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do about It,” researchers R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls estimate, based on their 2015 study, that about a third of ministers in one mainline Protestant denomination in Canada showed signs of a narcissistic personality. Narcissists often come to apprehend God as a rival, not a loving presence, and eventually may see themselves as God.

Francis said narcissism can give pastors “a confidence in their own ability to the disparagement of others,” and a tendency to see “the black side of others rather than the contribution people make to the church. There is a temptation to bully and demean.”

In extreme cases, Francis said, clergy can display what psychologists call “the dark triad”: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. But he also warned that more rigorous testing could exacerbate a trend in the Church of England to recruit conventional clergy who do not rock the boat.

A study that Francis conducted with Greg Smith, published recently in the journal Theology, compared the psychological type and temperament of curates ordained in 2009 and 2010 to more than 700 clergy who had been similarly profiled in 2007. They found that increasing numbers of clergy in Church of England pulpits are conventional and less inclined to take an innovative approach to ministry.

“There is a nervousness in the Church of England about its economic security, and some managing types are thought to keep the show on the road. But then some creativity is overlooked,” he said.

Catherine Pepinster is an RNS correspondent based in London.

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  • Sounds like this is long overdue. Many years ago a friend of mine who worked for the Episcopal Church shared with me an article from a psychiatric journal entitled, “Narcissistic psychopathology and the Clergy.” The thesis of the article basically boiled down to the fact that the clerical profession attracts narcissists and that the profession feeds the narcissism by placing subjects on a pedestal and feeding their insatiable egos with constant adulation. So what to do about that?

  • This is an important step, but must be done correctly. This must be conducted by those highly trained in this field and OUTSIDE the church itself. It also needs to be more than just when people want to enter. This must be done for all in every length of service as well. Religious often speak of “on going formation” well this too must be on going to make sure the priestly culture does not turn people into what they are screening against. Having those highly trained also, will prevent aspirants from getting stuck with malformed individuals who think they know what they are doing causing more damage and thwarting what has begun.

  • Would it be inappropriate to ask why God didn’t or doesn’t appear to have done this? I mean, if the churches are His main domain, why do mere people or governments have to be in charge of vetting the clergy? Or——to avoid that kind of controversial minefield in such a question, maybe we should ask whether churches in their present iteration are particularly helpful at all. I have wondered a lot whether Jesus ever even intended for them to exist. If you search in the Bible for Jesus reportedly having mentioned the word “church”, you will find very, very, very little. Maybe Christianity was supposed to be an individual “in the heart” thing, not a group thing. Maybe religious institutions and clergy as we know it are largely a booboo.

  • Lots of people who believe in god have a hard time distinguishing between themselves and the god they purport to serve. It goes with the territory. Read these very pages.

  • “Anxiety about the quality of those who aspire to become clergy is rooted in the series of child sex abuse scandals that have emerged from Anglicanism’s mother church over the past 20 years.”

    Those pointing at the Catholic Church every day at least once might take note.

  • “Anxiety about the quality of those who aspire to become clergy is rooted in the series of child sex abuse scandals that have emerged from Anglicanism’s mother church over the past 20 years.”

    All those Trump supporters in the Church of England.

    Whooda thunk it?

  • Or the Episcopal church which teaches that it knows more than Christ – in His name even

  • The lay should be tested as well.

    – Durable spirit of generosity? Yes, No, or Huh?
    – Lack of interior complaint Yes, No, or Huh?
    – Cheerful long suffering Yes, No, or Huh?
    – Ongoing and deep study of the faith Yes, No, or Huh?
    – Obedience (yes, obedience, a counter to the king rat vice = pride) Yes, No, or Huh?

    I could name 40 more.

  • Why does the Episcopal Church threaten you so much? It must, because you take every opportunity to jump in and voice your hatred.

    Cults of Personality can occur in any church, they have to do with the clergy with high opinions of themselves and the folks in the pews who believe that they can do no wrong.

  • They work to threaten the legitimacy of Christianity in the lies they tell and their lack of adherence to Christ’s word. Hatred, no, disgust – absolutely – just like anyone else who lies about Christ in His name.

  • No my dear, you are the one threatening the legitimacy of Christianity. You drive folks away from Jesus constantly, all day, with your disgusting, un-Christ-like comments.

  • awwwww thanks for the blessing David; When you learn about Christ and Who He is, let us know, eh?

  • But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15
    BTW that was quoted by Luke

  • According to Luke.

    Look, here’s the problem. History has disclosed innumerable problems with “church”. As an institution, its members are easily misled AWAY from the root message of Christ and usually are the greatest foot-draggers in opposition to truth being told on any subject. The transformation of the world to the control of Putin and Trump is entirely church-driven at this moment. You could separate all the Christians to their individual prayer closets and make them into more decent people than they are in groups. We ought to be talking about this. That’s why I am talking about it.

  • Oh, kinda like the democrat party and socialism in general – yes?
    Talk to a liberal one-on-one and you may get a word in edgewise. Get two or three of them together and you’ll get called a racist, bigot, nazi; etc. Get 10 or more together; get ready for some serious violence and municipal destruction.
    The purpose of groupthink is to destroy the individual; the sole purpose of socialism. This IS the Democratic Party today.
    Besides all that; you have made an idiotic statement implying that Putin/trump is church driven? What??! I would LOVE to know how.

  • Anyone who is driven away by the truth needs to do some serious soul searching. Christ reveals himself to each of us. It is up to us to accept his invitation to believe in him and to follow him. sandi may be eloquent; but there is no way she is driving anyone away from Christ. Those people are choosing to walk away.

  • The worst of this, Bob, is they are now hiring homosexual pastors, and contemplating homosexual marriage. Perhaps they should assure the candidates can read the Bible first.

  • Outta malarkey now? Bye, bye, Sand. I don’t entertain drive-by shooters in the comment section who devolve to snark. You can still reply to me, but I won’t be seeing anything you write. You’re blocked and will need to find someone else to bother.

  • Telling folks they are bound for hell on your interpretation of ancient scriptures isn’t being presented with the truth, it’s religious abuse. An example of Jesus dealing with so-called sexual sin was the woman supposedly caught in adultery. There isn’t any example of him standing over her and condemning her to hell, “oh and BTW, you’re going there fast because you’re to be stoned right now. Someone pass me a big rock.”

    He stooped to her eye-level, perhaps asked her soft questions, perhaps taught her something in his quiet manner. Then when the crowd pressed for her death he didn’t stand in their way, he just gave then one requirement. That the person who had never sinned throw the first rock. When the bloodthirsty crowd slithered away, he quietly gave her a final instruction.

    None of the self-righteous prigs here comes close to the example of Christ. Yes, you drive folks away from Christ!

  • Telling them they’re not going to Hell maybe worse. The same issue occurs in every discussion That we have here on these pages regardless of the article subject matter.

  • It is, of course, not “religious abuse”.

    Examples of Jesus dealing with grave sin include Matthew 23: 13-33 and Mark 14:20-21.

    Christians are admonished to correct the brothers.

    Folks drive themselves away from Christ.

    However, generally admonishing IS a waste of time.

  • FriendlyGoat is not all that friendly.

    In fact he is downright prickly.

    He really does not care for having his opinions critiqued at all.

  • Most seminary graduates can not only read the Bible, as you do in English, but also have rudimentary or better understanding of the Bible in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek. Let us know when you’ve caught up.

  • Then perhaps the self-assured Christians witnessing here should retreat, regroup and then try following Jesus’ example and take a more loving approach.

  • Sorry-That was an incomplete post.

    The same issue keeps arising; here, as well as in the world: are you a sinner or not. What you so eloquently point out is that Christ forgave the women because she was a sinner.

  • Serious personality disorder testing is a good idea.

    It kept Atheist Jim Jones from leading a mainstream Church and killing far more.

  • Again, let us know when you’ve caught up.

    BTW, no one hires LGBTQ pastors, they ordain pastors in whom is found evidence of the Holy Spirit, some of whom happen to be LGBTQ.

  • That’s the definition of a friendly goat, its an oxymoron.

    But he isn’t alone in having his opinions critiqued. You know, glass houses and all that.

  • As long as I am dealing with a rational individual, I am pleased to kibbitz.

    I filter the likes of “Lisa Strom” for good reason.

    UnFriendlyGoat simply filters people who disagree with him.

  • LOL, Sandi Luckins, you lecherous old cougar and despicable bigot, your Christ story is obviously a fairy tale and your Christ doesn’t exist.

    Get over your Christian fairy tales already and get with the modern world.

  • Well, Bob, speaking of yourself there. You are just a deluded old as$hole anyway.

    Die soon please, along with your sicko religious delusion and your opioid and gun addictions.

  • Bobose Arnzen Carioca, no, you are merely a bigoted, ly​ing, and deluded old fool. Blocking doesn’t stop others from reading posts, and doesn’t prevent your delusions from being exposed.

  • No, Bobose and Sandi Luckins, you deluded, mean, abusive old pair of fools, Ben’s posts are outstandingly rational in general, and he often shows unselfishness, rather than the self-worship that you accuse him off in your frequent, bigoted attacks.

    You suck, and you are horrible, bigoted people.

  • Perhaps you should try reading the Constitution first, and stop discriminating against people just because you do not like them.

  • Hmm, that’s a thought Charlotte. Gotta stop refuting you folks for free.

    (Maybe I could dial up Putin and see if he can spare a measly $3000 per month?)

  • They shouldn’t have anything to do with a pastor who confesses to being homosexual. Christians repent of their sin, not proudly announce them.

  • lol……..I know you have been deluded – probably to condone your own sin, but there is only one way to read:

    You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22
    If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13
    No need for a private interpretation – just for those who don’t want to acknowledge the truth. Get a grip.

  • Other than kowtowing on the part of many Catholic laity even today, the RCC’s doctrine and discipline play the key roles in elevating the ordained and subordinating the laity, at the expense of the laity. The ordained enjoy “ontological superiority” because they have the so-called “powers” to forgive sins, turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Decades ago, we heard of “priests (walking) on pedestals”. The laity are second-class citizens in the Church of Rome. I’m not accusing all presbyters of narcissism, but — thanks to JPII and B16 — we have been seeing a resurgence of clerics who lord it over others. The best description to date of such obnoxious clergy remains sociologist of religion Dean R. Hoge’s “Mind the gap: The return of the lay-clerical divide” in COMMONWEAL several years ago. It can be accessed at

  • The writer(s) of Leviticus were a product of their time and place. They knew nothing of any sexual orientation different from that of men impregnating young women. We’ve learned much about psychology, etc. since then.

  • “However, generally admonishing IS a waste of time.”

    So true. Thank God. Admonishers have nothing else to do, no life of their own. We agree, “R.A. Bob”.

  • It is the “priestly culture”, whether in the Anglican or Catholic churches, that facilitates clerical narcissism among predisposed clergy. A “priest”, by definition and regardless of religion, stands apart from others by virtue, inter alia, of standing between ordinary folks and the deity. The “priest” is the mediator between “up there” and “down here”. A narcissist can find a position of legitimacy in those religious communities with officially designated “priests”. The Second Vatican Council retrieved the term ‘presbyter’ (“elder”) from primitive Christianity but linked it with the ministerial/ordained “priesthood”. The two terms are not historically synonymous. Narcissistic persons can find perfect cover in ecclesial “priesthood”.

  • If they’re Bible readers, they’ll advocate a return to divinely sanctioned slavery. I know you don’t want anyone goin’ ‘gainst the Bible, do you?

  • Hmmm, this could easily backfire… if they screen out all the narcissists, who will be left to do the preaching? Like politics, preaching requires narcissism.

  • Doing good, thanks. (Just waiting on my $3000 from Vladimir Putin for infiltrating the RNS comment section.)

    Good to hear from you!

  • Psychological testing of candidates for ordination is common in a number of denominations. I am surprised the Church of England is so backwards in this regard.

  • It’s called quote mining and proof texting. It’s not actual understanding of what was read or quoted.

    Fundamentalists are taught early on how to use it to justify any behavior they want. Which is why they are such hypocriticsl and dishonest types in general.

  • I think it was Voltaire that said…

    God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, return the compliment.

  • If one is celibate, that’ good. If they are fantasizing about sex while celibate that is not good. The idea is to belong to Jesus and give the sin to Him.

  • In that case, we’ll move on. Not being a mind-reader, I’ll let you continue with your faux-intelligent comments.

  • How idiotic. You know, you don’t know a damned thing about life. That’s why you’re stuck there in crazy-town. And you don’t think a man can’t LUST after his wife? Wouldn’t that be displeasing to Christ?