Revealed: A culture of bullying in an English Cathedral

Revealed: A culture of bullying in an English Cathedral


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2021

The Bishop of Sheffield has issued a heavily redacted report about last summer’s sacking of the choir and musicians at his Cathedral.

The nub of the matter is this: The Visitation Team found evidence of an environment at the Cathedral which has tolerated bullying
and blaming and has been characterised by a fear of speaking out. 

So what’s to be done? Engage an expert third party to undertake an audit of senior management skills, capabilities and management styles, to ensure that all staff, but especially senior managers, are equipped with the requisite experience and abilities to enable a journey to a healthy and happy future…

It gets worse.

The Visitation Team found there was no meaningful consultation with stakeholders concerning closure of the choir prior to the decision on 6 July 2020. This failure, together with the failure to deliver a clear and consistent message about the reasons for the decision, compounded the reputational and relational hurt.

That’s really bad. What on earth should they do?

In the light of this, I direct that Chapter should
1. As a step to enabling the whole Cathedral community to move on and to the repairing of relationships, give serious consideration to issuing an unreserved apology for the unintended hurt that has been caused by the closure of the Cathedral choir and in particular to former choristers.
2. Explore the possibilities for some process of mediation with former members of the Cathedral choir and chorister parents.

In plain English: absolutely nothing.



  • Thanks, Norman, for chasing this story. An Anglican cathedral without a choir is no cathedral. And the pipe organ was axed twenty years ago. It is a story of neglect chiefly, in a city that is still half Christian.

    • Rogerio says:

      The Cathedral had a Visitation!!??
      Do you know how often that happens?
      Rename it! :
      “Our Lady of the Fear of Speakin Out”.

  • mary says:

    Bullying at as British and as institutional as Eton,
    Parliament, the Crown. It’s all rum, sodomy and the lash.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    This will come across as naïf, but it seems the olive branch of mediation is being offered, so perhaps members of the former choir, along with its music director, can sit down with the chapter and at least talk to each other. The presence of an independent mediator, from business, not church would be a boon.

    • SVM says:

      In the absence of any serious proposal to reconstitute the choir in some shape or form (or to provide institutional/financial support for the former choir members to reconstitute an independent or very loosely affiliated group — an easy goodwill gesture could be to invite such a group to use cathedral-owned premises for rehearsals and performances free of charge), it is difficult to see what mediation would achieve.

  • James Weiss says:

    Can we send all those responsible to Tower Hill?

  • John Borstlap says:

    But what about the INTENDED hurt? That is not mentioned.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Sounds like a typically mealy mouthed Anglican cop out. Why is a further audit needed, isn’t the visitation enough? Why not direct them to apologise rather than ask them merely to have a serious think about doing so? Why not spell out that the Dean’s position is now untenable?

  • M McAlpine says:

    Why do people who never come to church or contribute to the church in any way suddenly get very interested in things like this’d express their righteous opinions? If the church wants to change things that is up to the church and its members who attend and contribute, not people who never darken the doors.

    • La belle plus voix says:

      With the greatest of respect, if you are referring to the people who have commented bis dato, then I’m slightly at a loss to understand how you know that they do not frequent God’s own house.

      • M McAlpine says:

        It is just a guess. How many of them are actually paid up communicants of the Anglican church as a matter of interest?

    • SVM says:

      The established church has an enormous influence on the cultural and political life of this country, from the grassroots to the House of Lords. As a powerful institution representing an organised religious denomination and serving as a vehicle for all manner of charitable activities, it enjoys manifold legal privileges as regards property rights, tax status, and even the attestation of constables. Whilst I agree that it would be reasonable for “members who attend and contribute” to have the biggest say (as they already do, through vehicles such as Parochial Church Councils), the established church is still accountable to the citizenry at large to some extent (just as a registered charity claiming the tax advantages of said registration is accountable not only to its donors and beneficiaries, but also to the general public).

      • M McAlpine says:

        As is every other charity in the country. However, I don’t notice too many outsiders wanting to get involved in the micro-managing of other charities like they do the church. Please note that the charity has to fulfil the terms set out in the charity and that does not necessarily include keeping up traditions that do not fit in with 21st century worship.

        • Saxon says:

          Er…there is a legal requirement for Anglican cathedrals to celebrate the office in choir. (This means they must have a choir and it must sing the evening service daily, or at least regularly.) The fact that it is the law in Britain means it really doesn’t matter what practising Anglicans want to do; the rest of society has told you what you must do.

        • SVM says:

          Actually, people *do* take an interest “in the micro-managing of other charities” or institutions, if they perceive such organisations’ decisions as having an impact on them, their communities, or their special interests… and especially if there are rumours of corruption, malfeasance, or cultural vandalism. Unsurprisingly, the most influential organisations tend to attract the most interest, and, like I said, the established church is one of the most powerful and influential institutions in the land, enjoying many unique privileges. But even very small and local concerns can become the focus of widespread and detailed external scrutiny if they “hit a nerve”. A classic example is when a dwelling once inhabited by a famous person goes on sale or is slated for demolition.

          Interest to the extent of “micro-managing” is not confined to the established church. For example, plenty of people express strong views on what my /alma mater/, the University of Cambridge, should or should not be doing as regards undergraduate admissions, despite most of them not having any connection with the institution (and despite the fact that, *unlike* most UK universities, Cambridge derives the majority of its income from private sources — endowments, commercial trading, international partnerships, &c.). And despite the fact that, unlike the Church of England (which has 26 seats in the House of Lords), the University of Cambridge no longer has an exclusive electoral franchise in Parliament (its two seats in the House of Commons were abolished in 1950).

          If a Parochial Church Council decided to demolish an iconic ancient building entrusted to its care, and proposed to erect a new block of flats in its place, do non-churchgoers not have the right to make representations? And could not the destruction of a longstanding choral tradition be likewise a matter of interest to the wider community?

  • Doc Martin says:

    This row reminds me of Dean Swift’s celebrated missive over the use of St. Patrick’s Cathedral choir in the troubled first performance of Messiah in Dublin, 13 April 1742 in the Musick Hall in Fishamble street, in aid of Mercer’s Hospital, the Charitable Infirmary and the Charitable Music society.

    When Handel humbly applied to the Dean for kind permission to use the Cathedral choir in Messiah, Swift, never a man to mince his words, responded with a splendidly excoriating broadside:

    “Whereas it hath been reported that I gave a licence to certain vicars to assist at a club of fiddlers in Fishamble Street, I do hereby declare that I remember no such licence to have been ever signed by me; and that if ever such pretended licence should be produced, I do hereby annul and vacate the said licence; intreating my said Sub-Dean and Chapter to punish such vicars as shall ever appear there, as songsters, fiddlers, pipers, trumpeters, drummers, drum-majors, or in any sonal quality, according to the flagitious aggravations of their respective disobedience, rebellion, perfidy and ingratitude.”

    None the less, the choir took part in the performance, to an audience of some 600 persons.

    Decades before the redevelopment and zoning of Dublin, I managed to salvage an old brick from the Musick Hall site.

  • Zandonai says:

    don’t worry just entrust Jesus with all your sufferings and someday you’ll go to heaven.
    Religion is such a CROCK.

    • M McAlpine says:

      Interesting the way some people always feel obliged to use the space for their anti-religious diatribes, even when they have nothing to do with the subject in hand.

  • Zandonai says:

    Anglican church is an illegal cult started by Henry VIII for the sole purpose of divorcing his third wife (and the Vatican).

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. But only illegal from the point of view of the vatican. From the point of view of the rebellious anglican church, the protestants and the humanists, the RC church is illegal. From the point of view of the atheists all religions except their own is illegal. From a purely legal point of view, religion is irrelevant. From God’s point of view, humanity is an irritating lot.

    • King Billy says:

      The Act of Supremacy effectively released England from the yoke of the Pope!

      William of Orange won the Battle of the Boyne. No surrender!

    • M McAlpine says:

      Christianity was illegal from the beginning. Its founder was crucified as a criminal, its early disciples were hounded and criminalised by both the Jewish establishment and (later) by the Roman State. So what’s new?