In a dispute with her church’s choir, a vicar accused her bishop of being ‘unethical and immoral’ in his campaign against him.

According to the Rev Catherine Relf-Pennington (64), the bishop of Norwich, the Right Rev Graham Usher, had supported a small group of wealthy white men rather than his clergy.

She attacked him with a shocking attack. He had “hounded” her right after attacking ‘the dark forces for cruelty’ that targeted Caroline Flack, TV personality before Caroline died.

After Ms. Relf-Pennington was made aware of her alleged ‘authoritarian’ style in 2017, shortly after being appointed vicar at Wymondham Abbey (12th-century Wymondham, Norfolk), the bust began.

The claims included that she assaulted the chorister following banning her from joining the choir.

Ms. Relfington, on the other hand claimed she had been bullied and was subject to false accusations from choristers who were “anti-woman priests”.

Additionally, she claimed that she was sent poison pen letters. She also claims to have had her truck’s tires slashed.

The rev Catherine Pennington who has been fiercely criticised by some of her choristers at 12th century Wymondham Abbey

Some of the choristers at Wymondham Abbey’s 12th-century Wymondham Abbey have harshly criticised Catherine Pennington, rev Catherine Pennington 

In an attempt to end the row, The Rt. Rev Usher published ‘directions’ in November last year. These included an order to apologize ‘without reservation’ for those who were unable to reconcile.

He also recommended seven pages of action to improve parish administration and address financial concerns, most likely due to the shrinking number of members.

After having sent three Commissaries, including former Bishop Graeme Knowles (retired Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral), to examine issues within the parish, the Bishop compiled his report.

Ms Relf Pennington was the first female priest of the Abbey over 900 years. She did not reply to the November report, but she has published her 12 page response on the Abbey website.

Former High Court judge Sir Mark Hedley was brought in by the Church of England in 2019 to investigate ill-feeling at the Abbey

In 2019, Sir Mark Hedley (ex-High Court Judge) was summoned by the Church of England to look into ill feelings at Abbey. 

The document stated that the behavior of the Rt. Rev Usher, and the other officials from the Diocese were disappointing to her and her parochial Church Council and church wardens and the worshipping community.

“False allegations, delays and threats have led to unremitting critics against a church that was doing its best in difficult times. It is widely respected by all other groups.”

“We are being harassed. The pressure on us has been relentless for three years. The intention was to ‘break the PCC people, the vicar and the worshipping community.

Ms Relfington also criticized the Bishop of Thetford (the Right Rev Alan Winton), saying that he was wrongly granted the Abbey’s Vicarage to live within, and she was given other accommodations.

She stated that Bishop Alan Winton’s and Bishop Graham Ushers behavior in regard to Wymondham Abbey was unethical and immoral, and they were self-serving.

‘They have done great damage to the Church of England’s reputation. This includes Wymondham residents and, in particular, the Church Council members, Wardens, Vicars, Worshipers and the vicar.

“Throughout these entire processes, the Diocese has listened more to certain individuals, in particular to a small group of wealthy white men who are strongly connected and have an enormous influence on Wymondham Abbey matters as well as the leadership of Diocese.

“It’s time for this Church of England to be accountable and make clear their position regarding Freemasons in the Church of England.

Ms Relfington described the report of the Bishop as “the latest in a long list of abusive Church of England processes used against the Vicars and Wardens”.

The bust-up began after Ms Relf-Pennington faced a string of complaints about her supposed 'authoritarian style' in 2017, soon after she was appointed as vicar of 12th century Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk

Following a string of complaints against Ms. Relfington’s alleged “authoritarian” style in 2017, shortly after her appointment as Vicar of Wymondham Abbey (Norfolk), 12th-century Wymondham Abbey. 

Elle added that these include a lengthy and prolonged Clergy discipline Measure process, humiliation to the vicar in national media, an episcopal visitation and publishing incorrect and disingenuous instructions.

These are power abuses. It’s not unusual for the Church of England, to seek out priests that are in violation of Bishops agendas.

“The Bishop has shown the same inhumanity that he condemned in other people when Caroline Flack died. He commented on Twitter, “May this light illuminates and change the dark forces that cruelty that hound people. More caring, less judging.’

“And yet, he has harassed the vicar of this parish incessantly and publically by using his power to silence those who ask difficult questions.”

Ms. Relfington described the allegations against her as “petty allegations and complaints”.

She explained that “the ‘complainants’ were disgruntled employees of the past, people who oppose women’s ministries and those opposed to modern thought and changes that open the church up to the outside world.”

Wymondham Abbey: History of Wymondham Abbey, built by Henry I as his master butler

Wymondham Abbey, founded 1107, was built by William d’Aubigny as a Benedictine Priory. This notable Norfolk landowner and master Butler of Henry I.

Pope Nicholas V gave Wymondham Priory permission to be an abbey in the 15th century.

Henry VIII dissolution of the Monasteries in 1601 saw the monastery partially demolished, however the majority of the original building was preserved as a parish church.

In 2015, the abbey was expanded with the construction of a chapel and refectory.

Wymondham Abbey was founded in 1107 and built as a Benedictine priory by William d'Aubigny, a notable Norfolk landowner and Master Butler of Henry I

Wymondham Abbey was established in 1107 by William d’Aubigny. He is a prominent Norfolk landowner, Master Butler to Henry I and founded it as a Benedictine Priory.

“Complainants” were those who made threats of death or wrote poison pen mails. They also included someone who was a stalker and required police cooperation.

She said that the Clergy Discipline (CDM), process against her, began three years ago and was “not fit to purpose”.

Ms. Relf Pennington stated that it was an incredibly frustrating and malicious process.

Although she claimed that she had assembled nearly 1000 pages worth of documents to defend herself and her friends, the Rt Rev Usher’s ‘disingenuous instructions’ suggest that these were not fully understood or ignored.

She reported that the bishop should order the vicar not to apologize to any complainants, even those who did not comply with the standards.

To offer an apology means that you have good reason to apologize. This incriminates the vicar. This is another attempt to shame the vicar, who in reality had done nothing wrong. This abuses Bishop Graham Usher’s position of power.

His report stated that the visitation team of Rt. Rev Usher had “met many people who wept in front of them”. He said, “These matters have taken up a lot of my time since I became Bishop of Norwich.”

He criticized Ms. Relf-Pennington’s’refusal of admitting that she contributed in any manner to pastoral breakdown in benefice’ and ‘accept any error she made in her interaction with people.

She was initially subject to 37 complaints after being appointed as associate vicar at Abbey in 2013. In 2013, she was elevated to the position of vicar and in 2017. These complaints were eventually reduced to 19, including 13 complaints from the choristers.

A witness claimed the vicar shouted at a woman, who was allowed to join the choir but had been denied permission to do so.

Witnesses claimed the victim was visibly distressed and that the vicar attacked her with a forceful grab.

Born in Australia, Ms. Relf-Pennington worked in the field of artificial intelligence research before she joined the priesthood. She denied the allegations ‘in strongest terms’ and said that her actions were not comparable to an assault.

She said: ‘At no point did I raise my voice, even in the face of a very emotional outburst from (her)…I did at one point place my open, relaxed hand, gentle near her upper arm* I was attempting to guide her to a seat and offering her tea.

“I don’t shout, and I can’t imagine being called ferocious or abusive.”

According to the Bishop, no other action will be taken except for a vicar’s claim that he had damaged the car of a parishioner. This should be sent to a tribunal church.

However, she said it was highly unlikely that her truck was in the collision. It showed no evidence of damage.

Additionally, the Rt Revd Usher revealed that the parish hadn’t paid Diocese funds in 2020 and 2021. He said it had “may indicate that the financial situation of the parish is in disarray”.

However, Ms Relf Pennington claimed that church funds were ‘ina disorganised state’ prior to her taking over. Abbey reserves had also been used in the past to pay the Diocese.

In the Bishop’s Report, Ms. Relfington’s determination to remain in the old vicarrage was described as “irrational” and not supported by legal opinion.

The Church of England brought Sir Mark Hedley, a former High Court judge, in 2019 in order to examine ill-feelings at the Abbey.

Sir Mark appealed to both parties to end their disputes to avoid an open tribunal hearing.

In a statement, today’s Diocese of Norwich indicated that the vicar has a legal obligation to obey the Bishop’s directives and that failure could result in misconduct.

The Bishop of Norwich noted that Wymondham’s response to Wymondham’s November instructions, which were published following a formal visit to the parish in 2021, was acknowledged by the Vicar and Churchwardens.

The visitation of Wymondham Abbey was requested because of several concerns.

“A few of the Bishop’s instructions have not been followed yet. He will work diligently to address these matters. Wymondham matters are being addressed by the Bishop for the good of all.