Church clergy warned to remove dog-collars to prevent attacks

A British Christian group has warned Catholic and Anglican clergy should remove their clerical collars when off-duty so that they will not be singled-out for attack.

National Churchwatch, established in 1998 to advise churches and church workers on security and protection, has said that criminals often target clergymen because they believe they will have money.

Nick Tolson, head of National Churchwatch, has had experience working in the police force and as a Verger in Wells Cathedral. He said that the 'dog-collars' also can attract those who hold a "grudge against God".

He said, "They've got to be aware that when they're on their own, they're at high risk. What we're saying is that when clergy are off duty say when they're shopping at (the supermarket) they should slip off the dog collar and put it in their pocket."

In 2001, a study by the University of London found that 70 per cent of clergy had experienced some form of violence against them over the two year period between 1997 and 1999, Tolson says.

Even more alarming, more than 10 per cent of clergy had been assaulted.

|QUOTE|Although statistics show that most assaults on clergy are committed by parishioners, other attacks from strangers could be avoided if dog-collars were removed when not on official church business.

Tolson said that declining congregations had led to a decrease in respect towards clergy. He said, "A knock on effect of this is that attacking a member of the clergy is seen by most criminals as no different to attacking a shopkeeper, robbing an old lady or any other member of society."

The Church of England has welcomed the warning, but also added that its rules stated that "clergy should dress as clergy".

A Church statement said: "Many would be reluctant to shed this very public sign of their ministry. We know that parish clergy can feel torn when it comes to balancing the desire to be visible and approachable within their community against the importance of protecting their safety and personal time."

The Rev David Houlding, from St Paul's Cathedral, said, "I feel much safer wearing my dog collar when I'm walking through the streets at night. There is still an air of respect to it. Most of the time, I wear it every day. It's my uniform."