Is Your Priest or Bishop a Serial Bully?

By | June 10, 2021

One of the givens of change management is that conflict is inevitable in a declining organization. With the Episcopal church now in a state of precipitous decline in almost every aspect of its fortunes, it seems that there is a rapidly increasing level of infighting, bad behavior, bullying, and more within every level of the church.

With that in mind, I am reprinting the late Danni Moss’s article in full below, which was originally titled, “Is Your Spouse or Pastor a Serial Bully?” This piece, together with the rest of her excellent work, is maintained in her memory at

I’d add that I’ve observed these qualities in many Episcopal clergy, as well as signs of covert narcissism. Inevitably, parishes served by a serial bully do not recognize the toxic nature of their rector, nor the toxic but often friendly culture he engenders, which left unaddressed may linger for generations to come. And while the vast majority of persons suffering from NPD and anti-social personality disorder are men, thus resulting in my use of male pronouns, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of women as well.

Finally, successfully responding to the damage wrought by a narcissistic or sociopathic priest requires outside, professional resources. Simply getting a charismatic and skilled successor without more invariably results in the friendly but toxic culture continuing, usually leading to the failure of the rector or bishop who follows.

This information blew my mind. It describes my ex-husband so precisely, it’s just spooky. I’ve known quite a few pastors who fit this description as well.

Please note, this is not a gender-specific problem. The gender of a serial bully can be female or male. This applies in marriage – the bully could be a wife rather than a husband. It also applies in church leadership. The female serial bully may be a Sunday School teacher, pastor in some churches, elder/deacon/board member, women’s leader, etc.

The serial bully:

  • is a *convincing,* *practised liar* and when called to account,
    will make up anything spontaneously to fit their needs at that moment
  • has a *Jekyll and Hyde nature* – is vile, vicious and vindictive
    in private, but innocent and charming in front of witnesses;
    no-one can (or wants to) believe this individual has a vindictive
    nature – only the current target of the serial bully’s aggression
    sees both sides; whilst the Jekyll side is described as “charming”
    and convincing enough to deceive personnel, management and a
    tribunal, the Hyde side is frequently described as “evil”; Hyde is
    the real person, Jekyll is an act
  • excels at *deception* and should never be underestimated in their
    capacity to deceive
  • uses excessive *charm* and is always plausible and convincing when
    peers, superiors or others are present (charm can be used to
    deceive as well as to cover for lack of empathy)
  • is *glib, shallow and superficial* with plenty of fine words and
    lots of form – but there’s no substance
  • is possessed of an *exceptional verbal facility* and will
    outmanoeuvre most people in verbal interaction, especially at
    times of conflict
  • is often described as *smooth*, *slippery, slimy, ingratiating,
    fawning, toadying, obsequious, sycophantic*
  • relies on *mimicry, repetition* and *regurgitation* to convince
    others that he or she is both a “normal” human being and a tough
    dynamic manager, as in extolling the virtues of the latest
    management fads and pouring forth the accompanying jargon
  • is unusually skilled in *being able to anticipate what people want
    to hear* and then saying it plausibly
  • *cannot be trusted or relied upon*
  • *fails to fulfil commitments*
  • is *emotionally retarded* with an *arrested level of emotional
    development*; whilst language and intellect may appear to be that
    of an adult, the bully displays the emotional age of a five-year-old
  • is *emotionally immature* and *emotionally untrustworthy*
  • exhibits *unusual and inappropriate attitudes to sexual matters,
    sexual behaviour and bodily functions*; underneath the charming
    exterior there are often suspicions or hints of sex discrimination
    and sexual harassment, perhaps also sexual dysfunction, sexual
    inadequacy, sexual perversion, sexual violence or sexual abuse
  • in a relationship, is *incapable of initiating or sustaining
  • *holds deep prejudices* (eg against the opposite gender, people of
    a different sexual orientation, other cultures and religious
    beliefs, foreigners, etc – prejudiced people are unvaryingly
    unimaginative) but goes to great lengths to keep this prejudicial
    aspect of their personality secret
  • is *self-opinionated* and displays *arrogance*, *audacity, a
    superior sense of entitlement* and sense of *invulnerability* and
  • has a deep-seated *contempt of clients* in contrast to his or her
    professed compassion
  • is a *control freak* and has a *compulsive need to control*
    everyone and everything you say, do, think and believe; for
    example, will launch an immediate personal attack attempting to
    restrict what you are permitted to say if you start talking
    knowledgeably about psychopathic personality or antisocial
    personality disorder
    in their presence –
    but aggressively maintains the right to talk (usually
    unknowledgeably) about anything they choose
    ; serial bullies
    despise anyone who enables others to see through their deception
    and their mask of sanity
  • displays a *compulsive need to criticise* whilst simultaneously
    *refusing to value*, praise and acknowledge others, their
    achievements, or their existence
  • *shows a lack of joined-up thinking* with conversation that
    doesn’t flow and arguments that don’t hold water
  • *flits from topic to topic* so that you come away feeling you’ve
    never had a proper conversation
  • *refuses to be specific* and *never gives a straight answer*
  • is *evasive* and has a Houdini-like ability to *escape
  • *undermines* and *destroys* anyone who the bully perceives to be
    an adversary, a potential threat, or who can see through the
    bully’s mask
  • is *adept at creating conflict *between those who would otherwise
    collate incriminating information about them
  • is *quick to discredit and neutralise* anyone who can talk
    knowledgeably about antisocial or sociopathic behaviors
  • may pursue a *vindictive vendetta* against anyone who dares to
    held them accountable, perhaps using others’ resources and
    contemptuous of the damage caused to other people and
    organisations in pursuance of the vendetta
  • is also *quick to belittle, undermine, denigrate and discredit*
    anyone who calls, attempts to call, or might call the bully to
  • *gains gratification from denying people what they are entitled to*
  • is *highly manipulative*, especially of people’s perceptions and
    emotions (eg guilt)
  • *poisons peoples’ minds* by manipulating their perceptions
  • when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of
    others, responds with *impatience, irritability and aggression*
  • *is arrogant, haughty, high-handed*, and *a know-all*
  • often has an overwhelming, unhealthy and narcissistic
    need to portray themselves as a wonderful, kind, caring and
    compassionate person
    *, in contrast to their behaviour and
    treatment of others; the bully sees nothing wrong with their
    behavior and chooses to remain oblivious to the discrepancy
    between how they like to be seen and how they are seen by others
  • is *spiritually dead* although may loudly profess some religious
    belief or affiliation
  • is *mean-spirited*, *officious*, and often *unbelievably petty*
  • is *mean, stingy*, and *financially untrustworthy*
  • is *greedy, selfish, *a *parasite *and an *emotional vampire*
  • is *always a taker *and *never a giver* [Note from Danni: On this one I would say, never a giver unless there is a hidden motive of manipulation to gain.]
  • is convinced of their *superiority* and has an *overbearing belief
    in their qualities of leadership* but cannot distinguish between
    leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, co-operation,
    trust, integrity) and bullying (immaturity, impulsiveness,
    aggression, manipulation, distrust, deceitfulness)
  • often *fraudulently claims* qualifications, experience, titles,
    entitlements or affiliations which are ambiguous, misleading, or
  • often *misses the semantic meaning of language*, misinterprets
    what is said, sometimes wrongly thinking that comments of a
    satirical, ironic or general negative nature apply to him or herself
  • *knows the words but not the song*
  • is *constantly imposing on others a false reality* made up of
    distortion and fabrication
  • sometimes *displays a seemingly limitless demonic energy*
    especially when engaged in attention-seeking activities or evasion
    of accountability and is often a *committeeaholic* or apparent
    *workaholic*Serial Bully
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This is a moving piece. Thank you. Is there anyone who feels bullied into singing indoors lately? It happened today. While I’d love to sing and hit my “famous” high C at the end of Lift High The Cross, there are a number of us who are astounded by the reactionary decision made by our kind Bishops. How does this display, promoted by the Diocese, even resemble what is considered “common sense”. Days after stating that we need to slow down and be judicious? Beautiful service all around. We just are not ready to be at this stage yet. .I’m sorry if this takes anything away from this post. yes, everyone is masked and presumed vaccinated. but…would you present this as “safe” knowing many parishes are watching? Our choir director said he was never once consulted-it came from “above”.


Thanks Joanne. I’m one of those who was never once consulted. We never are! It’s amazing how pathetically musicians are treated in some parishes. Fairfield doesn’t accurately represent CT. It’s astounding. I do know for certain that there was a “Clergy/Vestry/Lay Leaders” meeting on the 9th. It was never released on YouTube-I think they muted everyone and just—caved. It was clear to me that there was a problem-and on the following Monday morning (10th) one person in our Chancel Choir (who checks the parish e-mail before anyone else) claimed she saw an e-mail from the Bishops saying that we could sing inside. It wasn’t just to me: but to 48 active members. It wasn’t from the Rector, the Organist, or even the Senior Warden–who then sent the e-mail.


I received a curious text from our new-ish Priest-In-Charge. It pleaded that we “put aside our political differences” when choosing hymns for this Sunday, July 4th. I responded saying I had chosen the hymns already, they were nearly identical-as (surprise!) the newsletter had already announced a “patriotic Liturgy” – unbeknownst to me. Still-the hymns were the same, just flipped opening and closing hymns. I had suggested in May that perhaps-outdoor would be the smart choice. (harrumph harrumph) a few Vestry /committee gatherings —-and then came the decision last week. “We will only be indoors if it rains”.
Which is what I said-but par for the course “there were other considerations that you didn’t know about.” Well shit! The congregation is all of 26 members-I wonder what the 8 people on the Vestry talk about? Maybe that I have “opinions” that don’t jive with say-one political parties’ ownership of the word “Patriotism”-emboldened by one of these “P-I-C-S”- who miss SOOOOO many Sundays, never tell anyone, then (surprise!) there can’t be any hymns-it’s morning prayer led by the Treasurer who calls himself “The Priest when Mother/Father isn’t here”. Clergy are forgiven when they “need to attend to a personal matter”. Musicians with an M. Div or any advanced Liturgical Training aren’t allowed to attend to personal matters-(it’s so expensive to find a substitute-and since we don’t have to pay for priests, YOU are a financial drain. Is that all bullying? It’s not so much that I feel bullied so much as there is an expectation that I owe this failure of a Church “more hymns”-because by that logic- singing must be the reason why attendance has dropped 50% (virtually!)
God forbid they invest $150 in a camera (but iPhones were smarter, financially). No thermometers, the contact tracing is a complete joke, but I can’t miss a damn Sunday without making up for over a year’s worth of hymns. I think the Pandemic is my fault.But that’s not irrational, right? I think I should just pull myself up from my bootstraps, refuse the food stamps that I became eligible for when they cut my salary due to “no choir rehearsal”. Yeah-but no, Not bullied other than that.


Best wishes in the new year. Stay safe!