Thinking Anglicans

Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the abuse carried out by John Smyth

Updated to incude survivors’ statement

The Archbishop of Canterbury issued the statement below this morning.

A group of survivors has issued a statement in reponse and this is copied below the Archbishop’s statement.

There is a news report, with much useful background information, in the Church Times. The Guardian also has a news article.

Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury
20/05/2021

Following a recent meeting with survivors of the abuse carried out by John Smyth QC, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has made the following the statement today:

I am pleased to have met recently with a group of victims of the horrendous abuse perpetrated by John Smyth QC. I apologised to them that the meeting had taken so long to arrange and acknowledged that this has caused much frustration and anger.

In February 2017, I issued a general apology on behalf of the Church of England, as the story was breaking, and before we understood the full horror and scope of the abuse. Having met some victims now, I want to offer a full, personal apology. I am sorry that this was done in the name of Jesus Christ by a perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism. It is clear that the impact of this has been widespread. I want to offer this apology, in addition, to those Smyth victims that I have not met. I continue to hear new details of the abuse and my sorrow, shock and horror grows.

The victims I met have made clear that they are angry that John Smyth was not stopped in 2013, when disclosure to the Diocese of Ely was first made and I was duly informed. By this time Mr Smyth had been out of the UK for nearly thirty years. We, the Church, were unclear as to his activities abroad or indeed to the utterly horrendous scope and extent of his actions here and overseas. I recognise the anger of the survivors and victims but having checked that the Diocese of Cape Town was informed and that the police were properly informed and involved our jurisdiction did not extend further. I believe that by 2013 Mr Smyth was no longer attending an Anglican Church.

These victims are rightly concerned that no one appears to have faced any sanction yet, when it is clear a number of Christians, clergy and lay, were made aware of the abuse in the 1980s and many learned in subsequent years. I have not yet received a list of names. I am told by Survivors that some facilitated Smyth’s move to Africa. I have made it clear that the National Safeguarding Team will investigate every clergy person or others within their scope of whom they have been informed who knew and failed to disclose the abuse.

The victims asked me specifically to consider John Smyth’s victims in Zimbabwe and South Africa, known and unknown. Guide Nyachuru died at a Smyth camp in 1992 and I will be writing to his family. I apologise on behalf of the Church of England to all those in Africa who were abused after John Smyth had been uncovered in the UK in 1982, although the Church did not know, owing to the cover up, of the abuse until 2013.

I am aware of what a long wait it has been for John Smyth’s victims. The abuse was almost forty years ago, and it was first disclosed in 2012. I applaud the bravery of those who came forward and all those who have testified since. I know this has come at great personal cost and continues to cause suffering. I told the victims I met that I am absolutely determined that the Makin Review will be as comprehensive and strong as it can be. I have given an undertaking that it will be published in full. I pray that this can give some sense of closure for these victims.

The Church has a duty to look after those who have been harmed. We have not always done that well.

I know that words are inadequate and will have a different meaning and impact on individuals, but I hope that my words today can convey on behalf of the Church of England and myself our deepest sorrow.

A review of the Church’s handling of allegations of abuse carried out by the late John Smyth is being carried out by the Church and was announced in August 2019. The independent reviewer is Keith Makin, who will be assisted by Sarah Lawrence who is also independent. Further details are available on the Church of England website.

Survivors’ statement

In response, a group of victims of abuse by John Smyth QC wish to make the following statement:

As victims of John Smyth’s horrific abuses, we are pleased that the Archbishop of Canterbury is taking responsibility and acting as a good example for the other culpable parties involved in our story. We welcome his comments and also his commitment to publishing the Church of England’s independent review of Smyth in its entirety. We call upon the other organisations – the Scripture Union, Titus Trust, and Winchester College – to follow this lead and to reveal everything they know about the abuses and their coverup. It is clear a large number of individuals, clergy and lay, have known about these abuses for over thirty years and we call on them to cooperate fully with the Makin Review and the National Safeguarding Team. For victims like us, full closure is impossible without full disclosure.

This statement is issued by Andrew Graystone on behalf of a group of Smyth survivors.
For further information, please contact andrew.graystone1@btinternet.com
07772 710090

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Simon Sarmiento
Admin
3 months ago

The archbishop says that the NST will investigate every person who is known to have known about the abuse. Martin Sewell says (Church Times article) this number is over 100 persons. That is surely going to break the budget for the NST…

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

There is also considerable scope to prevaricate and delay the investigation of anyone who might be an embarrassment to the church by choosing to investigate others first.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

To what purpose, I wonder? Smyth is long dead; he represents no current safeguarding risk. Is the NST concerned with retrospective safeguarding failures? Isn’t this ground already potentially covered by Keith Makin’s investigation and forthcoming report? My recollection, without checking, is that his terms of reference extend to all C of E personnel (and others) whereas, surely, the NST has no jurisdiction over non-C of E people.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

Agreed, the clergy concerned will be retired or dead, so there is little that can be done. This is not a good use of NST time.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Sam Jones
3 months ago

The failure of a number of Iwerne alumni to tell what they know and take appropriate action extends to the present day, and includes men who are still in post. This is not all in the past.

martin sewell
martin sewell
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

The purpose in a word is integrity. If Church leaders cannot tell the truth about their own shortcomings they lose respect and credibility.

If I cannot trust you to tell the truth of what you knew and when you knew it, why would I trust and believe you when you speak of the resurrection.

Isn’t there a parable about being trusted with small things?

A Church that lacks integrity it is not worth being a member of

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  martin sewell
3 months ago

Nowhere have I suggested that integrity doesn’t matter or that the past should be swept under the carpet. My point was that Keith Makin was already doing the job, and should be nearing completion, with a mandate whereas the NST would be starting from scratch and with no apparent authority in relation to non-C of E personnel. I don’t think you have read my comment with sufficient care.

Fr. Dean Henley
Fr. Dean Henley
3 months ago

Thank goodness for the investigative journalism that brought this terrible business into the open. The Channel 4 news piece was chilling to watch, and the Makin review looks likely to be a harrowing read. Hopefully the survivors will get some justice at last, and be compensated for their years of trauma. Hopefully Makin will look carefully at the role of those who turned a blind eye.

Andrew Graystone
Andrew Graystone
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
3 months ago

Thank you.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Fr. Dean Henley
3 months ago

It’s difficult to envisage that the survivors are now men in their late 50s – or early 60s possibly. But a cautionary note. You refer to their years of trauma. I can’t see that ‘turning a blind eye’ is in itself actionable. Any compensation can only stem from Smyth’s actions, I suggest, and that would include long-term symptoms directly attributable to the abuse. It’s not clear who will compensate the survivors, but they have legal representation which will doubtless seek to achieve the best possible results for them.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rowland Wateridge
Toby Forward
Toby Forward
3 months ago

The abuse is the main story here, and it was horrific. I don’t seek in any way to minimise that. But there’s another story alongside, not as brutal, but still significant for what it says about what the C of E was, and to some extent still is. ‘The Iwerne Trust invited boys and young men from public schools and top universities to attend holiday camps, with the aim of ensuring that future members of the establishment be committed Christians.’ I’d like our Old Etonian Archbishop to say something about that as well.

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

From Welby’s statement: “The victims I met have made clear that they are angry that John Smyth was not stopped in 2013…. I believe that by 2013 Mr Smyth was no longer attending an Anglican Church.”

We’ve heard Welby claim previously that Smyth was not an Anglican. Why does he feel the need to make that claim? I hope we’re not being softened up for a future report concluding that this was all very unfortunate but ultimately not the C of E’s problem.

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
3 months ago

“… by 2013 Mr Smyth was no longer attending an Anglican Church” is a more specific comment I think. Not whether he is Anglican or not. I read it as to do with where responsibility and accountability lay at a specific time – not an attempt to distance.

Alice
Alice
Reply to  David Runcorn
3 months ago

If someone knew which church Mr Smyth was attending, someone should have let the leaders of that church know of Mr Smyth’s history in the Church of England. There are ecumenical advisors, lawyers, and even police who can do that kind of thing. Smyth moving churches doesn’t let Lambeth off the hook.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Alice
3 months ago

A joint reply to you and Fr Dexter Bracey. These comments simply don’t take account of the complexity of the whole history. Smyth had moved to Africa around 1984 – three decades before the concerns of 2013. Originally based in Zimbabwe, he moved to South Africa and according to Archbishop Welby the Diocese of Cape Town was informed by letter (possibly by the Bishop of Ely, although this is not clear) about the 2013 disclosures. What happened as a result of that letter is not apparent. I have many times made the point here (and on ‘Surviving Church’) that Smyth… Read more »

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

Rowland Wateridge is right to insist this is all more complex than we try to make it sound. But then, so are our expectations of Archbishops and Bishops. On the one hand they are criticised for centralising authority and power to themselves. ‘Politburo’ is favourites tag for some here. Winchester is recycling that debate on the neighbouring thread. But when it comes the Smyth scandal, Safeguarding and other issues, they are criticised if they cannot respond with surveillance levels of precise information on individuals, diverse organisations and stories spanning decades (and in Smyth’s case, the world).    

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