Ethnic minority staff in Church of England asked to sign NDAs

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said that the Church of England had failed ethnic minorities
Nigel Roddis / Alamy Stock Photo

A number of ethnic minority staff in the Church of England were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements to ‘buy their silence’, according to the Church’s former adviser on race relations.

Dr Elizabeth Henry, who retired last year, has told the BBC Panorama programme that she felt frustrated with the lack of progress the Church had made on racism.

She said some members of the church had been offered compensation after making complaints of racism as long as they signed an NDA.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby acknowledged last year that the Church needed to do more to tackle racism after being “struck by the events” during the Black Lives Matter protests and said there was “no doubt” that the Church was “deeply, institutionally racist”.

The Archbishop made a public apology in February 2020 for any racism experienced by ethnic minorities in the Church since the arrival of the Windrush generation.

Dr Henry recalled an incident she had been told about where a young black man had been sent a picture of a banana with his head superimposed upon it, with the label Banana Man. He took it to HR and filed a grievance but the decision was taken that the image was not racist.

“That person left, and he received a very small compensation – however, he was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement,” she told the programme.

It is estimated that one in 25 serving clergy come from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The Panorama programme to be aired tonight (19 April) also hears the story of Brazilian Peterson Feital, who was told he was given his job in the Diocese of London as a “diversity show” and that his English was not very good. He was told to “find a job with people of your kind”.

He was given a £2,000 redundancy payment after his contract was not renewed, and is now out of work.

The Church responded that it could not comment on individual cases but that “any [racist] behaviour of the sort described by Dr Henry is unacceptable”.

There is not a single, central system to record complaints of racism. Over the past 35 years, there have been 20 reports looking at racism in the Church of England. Between them, these reports have made more than 160 recommendations.

This week the Church will publish the report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, which was commissioned last year by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to scrutinise previous reports and recommendations and establish what progress has been made.

Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York said in a statement: “The stories we’ve heard are shocking and there is no doubt that the Church has failed our UK minority ethnic brothers and sisters.

“I hope that we are at least now approaching the challenge of tackling racism in a more intentional way and that this will lead to much greater participation at every level of the Church’s life in order that we might become the change that we long to see everywhere.

“The heart of the Christian faith is that in Christ there is a new humanity. The old barriers of separation and exclusion no longer count.

“This is the faith that was born on Easter Day 2000 years ago, a faith that drew in excluded people and I want us to recover that vision of this new humanity where barriers of separation are broken down.”

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