Thinking Anglicans

Soul Survivor/NST investigation concludes

See previous report here.

Today, there have been two announcements:

The full texts of both are copied below the fold.

The Telegraph has this report (£): Soul Survivor’s Mike Pilavachi ‘used spiritual authority to control victims’, report finds

NST statement

The internal Church investigation into Mike Pilavachi, being conducted by the National Safeguarding Team, NST, and the diocese of St Albans, has now concluded. Having explored the safeguarding concerns fully, according to House of Bishops guidance, the investigation team has concluded that they are substantiated. These relate to conduct in his leadership and ministry, both before and after he was ordained in 2012, spanning 40 years from his time as a youth leader through to current day.

The overall substantiated concerns are described as an abuse of power relating to his ministry, and spiritual abuse; described in guidance as ‘a form of emotional and psychological abuse characterised by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context’. It was concluded that he used his spiritual authority to control people and that his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns.

The investigation team is aware of the courage it has taken for the many people it has spoken to, to come forward and share their experiences. Support has and will continue to be offered to those who have shown courage in coming forward. Survivors who contacted the team have been alerted to the outcome.

Mike Pilavachi has resigned from his role at Soul Survivor and resigned his licence to the Bishop of St Albans, and therefore cannot currently minister in the Church of England.  More widely the Church is committed to ensuring that relevant safeguarding information is passed on if he were to minister elsewhere both in this country and abroad. Support has been offered throughout the investigation.

Separately but related to the case the National Safeguarding Team has been granted permission to take out a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure against Mike Pilavachi, relating to a safeguarding concern post ordination. This is an ongoing process, and no further details can be given until this has concluded.

In line with House of Bishops guidance statutory authorities have been informed at various stages during the investigation and this will include the outcomes from the investigation.

The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, said: “This has been a painful process for everyone involved, going back over years. I am sorry on behalf of the Church for the hurt caused  and would like to acknowledge the courage of those who came forward to share their lived experience. I am aware there will be further contact with individuals about a more personalised response.”

A senior pastor at Soul Survivor remains suspended under HR processes, having stepped back voluntarily from wider ministry, while the Church of England process, as outlined in the House of Bishops guidance, runs its course.

The investigation team stressed the vast majority of the safeguarding concerns raised related to Mike Pilavachi and his abuse of power in ministry.

Further investigations about concerns raised relating to a former senior Church of England leader linked with Soul Survivor Festivals are ongoing.

Now this stage of the process is over Soul Survivor Watford has commissioned an independent review to be led by Fiona Scolding KC. This is separate and independent of the internal Church of England investigation, with a full report to be published at the end.


SSW statement:

We have received the conclusions of the Church of England investigation conducted by the National Safeguarding Team, NST, and the diocese of St Albans, into safeguarding concerns relating to Mike Pilavachi over the past 40 years.

We are grateful to all those who have contributed to this process, who by coming forward have brought Mike’s abusive behaviour into the light. We are deeply sorry to all those people who have been victims of spiritual, emotional and psychological abuse, physical wrestling and massage under Mike’s leadership. There has been a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. We are saddened that these behaviours happened in a context that should have provided safety and spiritual support. We are committed to learning lessons from what has happened and to put in place further practices and procedures that will seek to ensure this kind of behaviour does not happen in the future.

Now that the NST investigation has concluded, we have commissioned Fiona Scolding KC to lead a full and independent review. The terms of reference of the investigation will be published in the coming weeks and the report of Ms Scolding’s review will be published in full. The Trustees are committed to implementing her recommendations.

Senior Pastor Revd Andy Croft remains suspended under HR processes while the Church of England process, as outlined in the House of Bishops guidance, runs its course.

Safeguarding concerns raised about Assistant Pastor Ali Martin, who was also suspended, have not been substantiated and Ali’s suspension will therefore be lifted and she will be reintegrating back into her role over the coming weeks.

We are aware of the hurt many individuals have and continue to experience as a result of Mike’s abuse and are truly sorry for the part Soul Survivor has played. We have been working with the NST to provide counselling and advocacy support to the individuals they have identified as finding it most beneficial. We remain committed to ensuring our church is safe and welcoming for all.

To read the statement from the Church of England please click here. For press enquiries please contact us here.

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Nigel Ashworth
8 months ago

The RC Diocese of Northampton have shared this prayer which some may find helpful: Praise to you Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the source of all consolation and hope. Be the refuge and guardian of all who suffer from abuse and violence. Comfort them and send healing for their wounds of the body, soul and spirit. Help us all and make us one with you in your love for justice as we deepen our respect for the dignity of every human life. Giver of peace, make us one in celebrating your praise, both now and forever. We ask this… Read more »

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
8 months ago

Presumably the CDM process will also remove Pilavachi’s canonry if he does not do the honourable thing and resign from it.

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Fr Dean
8 months ago

So there has been a complete reverse- ferret from the initial ‘non-recent ‘ events defence offered at the beginning of the year. What is heart- breaking is that Mr Pilavachi has been able to hide in plain sight for some 40 years – so arguably he has also managed to exert his spiritual authority by dazzling many people further up the chain of command to view his popularity with younger people totally uncritically. The eventual enquiry by Fiona Scolding KC has to be welcomed even though the official report seems to be trying to mention the ‘House of Bishop’s guidance’… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
Reply to  Fr Dean
8 months ago

20 July 2023
The Bishop of St Albans accepted the Revd Mike Pilavachi’s resignation of his licence to minister in the Diocese of St Albans, and his honorary canonry of St Albans Cathedral, with immediate effect.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Anthony Archer
8 months ago

Thank you Anthony. Do we know if His Majesty has stripped Pilavachi of his MBE?

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Fr Dean
8 months ago

Not to mention the Lambeth Award that Justin Welby gave him in 2020 for “his outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people”.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Susannah Clark
8 months ago

Actually I apologise for that previous comment. Perhaps there was idealism and devotion in this man’s work with young people. Perhaps good was done and lives changed. And when we fall from grace, even so, that may not be the whole of who we are. Only God really knows.

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
8 months ago

“The overall substantiated concerns are described as an abuse of power relating to his ministry, and spiritual abuse; described in guidance as ‘a form of emotional and psychological abuse characterised byt a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour in a religious context’.” Many of us have experienced this albeit in a less extreme form. Priests are supposed to be the servants of their congregations but far too often they see themselves as our masters. “But the feeling, and I’m somebody that has advocated for victims and survivors for three decades, is that you are listening. But you are not… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  David Hawkins
8 months ago

Sexual abuse is almost inevitably enmeshed with emotional abuse, not least in respect to its after effects.

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
8 months ago

It is notable that SSW has done what some of us on General Synod wanted to do and appointed an independent KC (of some repute in the field) to lead a full and independent review. That is a step to be welcomed. I hope that the Church of England bodies and people involved will express their full support for this review and commit to co-operating with it. The NST statement merely notes the existence of the review. It is also unclear whether this two-stage process is a good one: here it seems to have focussed attention on immediate actions which… Read more »

Neil Flecks
Neil Flecks
8 months ago

Does anybody else find the SSW statement bland HR/legal speak devoid of any true emotional engagement let alone deep regret? Or am I utterly beyond cynical at this point? If the leadership had made an in-person statement before press and public, displayed a morsel of ‘sackloth and ashes’ attitude and mostly all resigned then I might believe.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Neil Flecks
8 months ago

No, I doubt you’re cynical at all. Remember, that statement has probably been cleared with their legal department before being issued, and so will be devoid of anything which can later be used against them. We see it all the time with the formularised statements issued by various public bodies when something has gone seriously wrong – and, personally speaking, I genuinely cannot believe them any more.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
8 months ago

I’m glad that this has been taken seriously, and that the alleged victims and survivors will have the opportunity to contribute to a proper, independent inquiry. What puzzles me is that the NST, together with St. Albans Diocese, have carried out a preliminary investigation, when they have so often asserted that they don’t do investigations. I’ve read, too, that Pilavachi will be subject to a CDM even though he has relinquished his licence. In my own case, the NST told me they could take no action against the priest who indecently assaulted me because he no longer had PTO. They… Read more »

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

Janet, clergy are subject to the CDM until the day they die. The only way to escape its jurisdiction is to renounce one’s orders.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Fr Dean
8 months ago

The application of that principle is inconsistent – as with so much in the C of E.

Jeremy
Jeremy
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

the NST told me they could take no action against the priest who indecently assaulted me because he no longer had PTO”
Hmm.
Did they say this in writing? If not, then it’s not an official position.
If they did, then perhaps they might now be asked to reconsider?

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Jeremy
8 months ago

The man has since died, so no action will ever be taken. And the C of E has never really admitted that he was a predator. I’ll be writing about it soon.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Fr Dean
8 months ago

But what action can be taken against a clergyman who has resigned or retired? What incentive would they have to cooperate?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Sam Jones
8 months ago

There has been a CDM in relatively recent times with precisely that situation, and a penalty, I think prohibition, was imposed. I’m reasonably confident it was reported by Law and Religion UK but haven’t been able to track it down. It would seem to contradict what Janet was told. Someone with better search facilities might yet find it.

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Sam Jones
8 months ago

I was subject to a CDM after resigning my post. My incentive to cooperate despite being by then a RC layman was to not let a false accusation of criminal sexual behaviour go unchallenged. My version of events was accepted by the Bishop and I resigned my orders to prevent any repeat.

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
Reply to  Sam Jones
8 months ago

Admittedly the range of sanctions are reduced. It used to be the case that CDM paperwork remained on a cleric’s file for 60 years after their death. A formal rebuke would inhibit a cleric’s chances of reapplying for a licence or a PtO. A prohibition would stop such an appointment for the duration of its term. A lifetime prohibition necessarily means that any formal or public ministry is over.

Kate
Kate
8 months ago

I just want to take a moment to remember all of those who have been affected by over-domineering clergy whether you have come forward or not, and whether or not it is recognised by the Church as a safeguarding concern. I know that visible survivors are just the tip of the iceberg.

Thinking of you all.

David Hawkins
David Hawkins
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

Thank you Kate.

James
James
Reply to  Kate
8 months ago

I fully echo this. Thank you, Kate. As I have said several times previously on here, the cynical side of me suspects that the reason why the House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance lags behind standards seen in care settings, other secular settings, even other Christian denominations, etc., is because to bring in line with such settings would be to open the floodgates of behaviours seemingly tolerated within the CofE coming within the remit of serious complaint. I don’t think that the Church leadership really wants this, so we are left with the CofE’s safeguarding standards remaining far behind those seen… Read more »

Keith
8 months ago

The Crowded House, Sheffield.

No different save an actual, independent review.

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Keith
8 months ago

Sadly, I think it is about being too big to fail…the current ABC does not value parishes or parish worship and sees organisations like Soul Survivor as the way to preserve the church. If these start-ups have a less savoury side this has to be glossed over for the greater good. There was an online photo early yesterday morning of Pilavachi in a ‘group hug’ with beaming XXs Welby and Sentamu accompanying the headline of the NST report , but the picture had been taken down by lunchtime!

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Susanna ( no ‘h’)
8 months ago

Well said, Susanna. That’s it exactly!
If anyone has access to that online picture, I’m sure that it would be instructive to us all.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
8 months ago

I don’t like to deep link to images, but if you Google “Pilavachi Welby” I think you will find the image you are seeking.

Francis James
Francis James
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
8 months ago

The picture is here https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/05/16/justin-welby-soul-survivor-watford-investigation-archbishop/
It is half way down the text and the “hug” shows Welby, Pilavachi and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry – not AB Sentamu of York. Anyway, another very senior Anglican Bishop royally connected (wedding of Harry & Meghan) dazzled by MP. If you cannot access the Telegraph, just google W&P, and it pops up in images.

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
8 months ago

The picture can be found quite easily via Google if you type in the three names. Picking up Martin Sewell’s earlier point about emotional abuse so often being enmeshed with sexual abuse what was very striking to me was the size and build of Mr Palavachi when standing next to the XXs. It is difficult to see how any young man wrestling with him would not lose rapidly and ignominiously unless they were the equivalent of a very large and fit prop in a rugby line out. I suspect his physical presence was an integral part of the ‘spiritual abuse’-… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Susanna ( no ‘h’)
8 months ago

Thanks for the links Kate, Francis and Susanna. I found the picture.

Charles Read
Charles Read
Reply to  Keith
8 months ago

I am reading this in the library of Luther King House in Manchester. Nearly 30 years ago I was sitting in the common room next door talking to Chris Brain of Nine O Clock service infamy (he was not infamous then.) SSW and Crowded House – plus Emmanuel Wimbledon – all bear an uncanny resemblance to what happened with NOS. Too big too fail and too glitzy for proper scrutiny.

Keith Hitchman
Keith Hitchman
8 months ago

Is the NST report to be published? Can it be accessed on request?

Then there is the question about the ‘enablers’. ‘Evil succeeds when good men do nothing’. So very true in this case. These individuals need to be called out by name, and called to account publicly. This isn’t the first time this has happened in Charismatic Anglican circles, and unless it is addressed openly, it won’t be the last.

David Lamming
David Lamming
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
8 months ago

Simon,
It is correct that if the CDM process concludes with Pilavachi accepting a ‘penalty by consent’, minimal information will be provided on the CofE website in accordance with the changes to the Code of Practice approved by General Synod in July 2022. However, if the preliminary investigation finds a case to answer and Pilavachi contests the charge(s) at a subsequent Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal, the full judgment of the Tribunal will be published on the website, subject to probably redaction to preserve the anonymity of victims/witnesses.

‘Adrian’
‘Adrian’
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
8 months ago

Every time the Church fails to investigate safeguarding failures properly and fails to apply the lessons from each case, it actively encourages perpetrators to seek out church environments for their own acts because they can be so confident of a lack of scrutiny and/or investigation. Others know the cases much better than me, but even now the following failures of the past are actively encouraging some perpetrator that we have yet to hear about. I admit I am only scratching the surface and there are hundreds of other cases that illustrate the Church’s ongoing failings. Known Failings of the church include:… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  ‘Adrian’
8 months ago

Also Robert Waddington, Bishop Whitsey, and Brandon Jackson.

Incidentally, as far as I know George Carey didn’t have a role in fast-tracking Brain to ordination. That was done in Sheffield Diocese, which is in the Northern Province and not Carey’s patch. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

‘Adrian’
‘Adrian’
Reply to  Janet Fife
8 months ago

Carey certainly had Brain down to the Bishop’s Palace in Wells when Carey was Archbishop-elect. Wells is a very long way from Sheffield, and not even in the same province as Canterbury as you point out. According to Surviving Church, Carey had him contribute to the book Carey coordinated on the ‘Decade of Evangelism’. https://survivingchurch.org/2018/08/06/looking-back-to-the-90s-holiness-and-evil/ But I certainly agree that the Bishop & Archdeacon in Sheffield were (even) more to blame. Even in those days the Church was already marking its own homework, so of course the two of them got to write the Church’s official review. No prizes for… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  ‘Adrian’
8 months ago

Yes. Four women had gone independently to Archdeacon Stephen Lowe to complain of Brain’s sexual abuse, but Lowe refused to act. He was directly responsible for NOS at the time. And when it was all over, Lowe was promoted to bishop of Hulme! I was responsible to him for a while, and was definitely not impressed. He once said to me, in the presence of the university’s chair of the chaplaincy council, ‘I’m using you as a pawn.’

Charles Read
Charles Read
Reply to  ‘Adrian’
8 months ago

The decision to fast track to ordination is taken by the sponsoring bishop -so here by +Sheffield, who was then David Lunn. There was no official inquiry afterwards as far as I remember and in this video Bishop Lunn says there is no need for one as this was just a case of a rogue / wicked clergyman.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Charles Read
8 months ago

And heaven forbid we should look at the people and systems which allowed a rogue wicked clergyman to flourish!

Lunn protecting his own back, of course.

David Lamming
David Lamming
8 months ago

The SSW statement says: “Now that the NST investigation has concluded, we have commissioned Fiona Scolding KC to lead a full and independent review. The terms of reference of the investigation will be published in the coming weeks and the report of Ms Scolding’s review will be published in full.” Nothing in the statement indicates how the terms of reference (ToR) are to be set/agreed: in particular whether “the many people” who came forward to share their experiences with the NST/St Albans investigation team will be consulted or have a say in setting them. Readers of this site will no… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  David Lamming
8 months ago

Not really the subject here, but the Letby official inquiry could not be in a safer pair of hands.

Jeremy
Jeremy
Reply to  David Lamming
8 months ago

Much of this speaks to the different resources that a private organisation such as SSW and Government can bring to bear. Terms of Reference necessarily have financial implications.

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
8 months ago

Coming to this late, but I have every confidence in the scarily able Fiona Scolding KC to handle this. There are a number of strands to the inquiry, the most important of which is how the investigation will properly engage with victims and survivors (including at the initial stage of agreeing the ToRs), and the critical ultimate need for redress, and how it is to be provided, and by what mechanism. Scores of future ordinands came through the SSW machine. What kind of leadership was modelled before their ordination training? For the Diocese of St Albans in particular, the two… Read more »

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