Thinking Anglicans

Two cases of abuse involving evangelical Anglicans

Updated

The Daily Telegraph published a news article on 21 June: Minister ‘spiritually abused’ the vulnerable. This is behind a paywall, but the substance of it was subsequently reported elsewhere:

The original report prompted two statements, one from the Diocese of Southwark and another from Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.

In addition, Emmanuel Church has established a separate website to deal specifically with this, which is located here. It has links to several further documents, including the following:

Two notices dated April and May 2019 signed by the Bishop of Maidstone and 3 others.

Statements and a video recording from an event on 27 June, at which Vaughan Roberts, Sarah Hall (Emmanuel’s Safeguarding Officer) and Andrew Wales QC describe in some detail what the abuse consisted of, and what actions have been taken by Emmanuel Church and by others, in response to the disclosures received. The transcript is worth reading in full.

In a separate but related development, two statements were recently issued by the Anglican Mission in England:

To date, two articles have been published which comment on all of this:

Update

Church Times now has a further story  Fletcher faces allegations of naked beatings which includes the full text of a statement from Jonathan Fletcher:

“As part of a long-standing prayer group, I have in the past been involved in a system of mutual encouragement whereby we set ourselves targets in healthy and holy living and then imposed what I thought of as light-hearted forfeits if we failed.

“These included going without chocolate, cold baths and school-type gym shoe punishments. Although at the time we definitely did not think we were doing anything wrong, I’ve seen since that it could have caused much harm both to individuals and to the reputation of conservative evangelicalism for which I am profoundly sorry. Needless to say, this activity has now stopped.

“In addition, a number of people are reporting that I have had naked massages with them. I enjoy massage and benefit from it. To that end I regularly have it professionally administered. However, if I can avoid the cost by finding a male friend to administer, and in return receive, massage, I do.

“These sessions categorically do not have erotic or sexual overtones and I have never coerced or intended to coerce anyone into an arrangement. If any have felt pressurised by me to do this, I apologise.

“Again, I realise that in the position I have held in the past as an incumbent, it was unwise of me to involve anyone to whom I was also ministering and I apologise for doing so.

“I confirm that I no longer engage in public ministry.”

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Charles Read
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Charles Read

The comments on Martin Sewell’s article (on the Archbishop Cranmer site) show just how much the neo-conservatives don’t get it.

Bart
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Bart

What, all of them? The thread is now up to over 250 comments, many of them clearly identifiable as belonging to the “usual suspects” category, such as: Catholics.— Well, of course. What else do you expect from Protestants? Nonconformists. — Well, of course. What else do you expect from an established Church? Pro-public schools. — Iwerne Camps were a jolly good show and whatever Smyth and Fletcher may have done, they didn’t do it at Iwerne. Anti-public schools.— Trying to prop up the C of E by recruiting elite schoolboys was a bad idea from the outset. Freudians. — Look,… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

Is this what the ecclesiastical statisticians are hiding under the vague category of “OTHER” Abuse?

https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/Safeguarding%20Data%20Report%202015-2017%20for%20publication%20%28003%29.pdf (see Figure 2)

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

It had to come out in the end. I heard of holidays of young men in Ireland with JF back in the 70s from some who attended when there was extensive nudity. Even then I thought that this was weird. JF was the most powerful presence at Iwerne, and to be in his inner circle was a mark of being very significantly favoured. What is clear now is that there was significant pressure on some young men who were all in thrall to his powerful personality to join in with these activities. The notion that this could have been activities… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

“pressure on some young men who were all in thrall to his powerful personality”

Precisely. The power dynamic is what strikes me.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

I don’t know whether I am applying a modern sensitivity to something that happened “in the past”, but Jonathan Fletcher’s comments in the Update just read so wrong. In the early 1980s, I was homeless quite a bit. There were any number of homeless shelters run by various Christian denominations and groups, and one reason I remain Jewish but feel I have a foot in the door of Christianity is precisely because of those shelters and that most of the time I was treated with dignity and respect and made to feel I was of worth, in the spirit of… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest

I agree with Peter Gross, Rev’d Fletcher’s statement doesn’t read right. It seems to me a peculiarly perverted rationalisation of moral wrongdoing. After I first read it, I thought: ‘the other one’s got bells on it’.

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

This scandal is within a context of a tradition which describes some members as suffering from “unwanted same-sex attraction” Instead of rejoicing in a God-given sexuality, they employ ridiculous mental contortions to deny they are “gay”. They do themselves and others no favours when they preach self-hatred which they interpret as being “in Christ”. I wouldn’t want a child of mine anywhere near these evangelicals.

Stanley.Monkhouse
Guest

Fletcher’s attempted justification puts me in mind of the posh couple standing at the gates of their stately home in Little Britain, he trying to explain his latest sexual misdemeanou with “the wife” looking on. I suppose it’s a form of complementarianism.

CRS
Guest
CRS

What a wretched business.

I am withdrawing from TA. Thanks to Simon Sarmiento for his hard work.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Thank you for your discourse.

Neil Swinnerton
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Neil Swinnerton

A wretched business indeed! Thanks for all your input at this forum – you have been a well-informed voice of sanity. Some of us in Scotland still remember you in person from your days at St Andrews. All good wishes for the future.

Rowland Wateridge
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Rowland Wateridge

If it’s not a rude question, why? I have taken ‘sabbaticals’ from TA from time to time. Please continue to contribute if you feel that you can help constructive debate. Some of us in the C of E appreciate the input from members of the wider Anglican church as well as from people like Peter Gross with an outsider’s perspective.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Please stay, CRS. You use scientific precision to counter emotional opinion. I need what you bring. I’ve tried to have sabbaticals from TA, but never manage it for long. There’s a fair bit of narcissism on TA, and this together with the appalling hypocrisy of the CoE mean that I can cope only by taking the urine out of people and things. So back I come for for more, again and again. I might grow up one day.

Colin Coward
Guest

I’ve refrained from commenting for 24 hours because I’m stunned by these reports and because something fundamental seems to be missing. Are these two separate but related developments connected? Is there a connection between the abusive activities of Jonathan Fletcher and the “spiritual manipulation” experienced by Andy Lines? Why does Andy Lines use the circumlocution “manipulation” for what was clearly abuse? Why is the abuser not named? A thorough investigation has been carried out. Andy Lines testifies to the abuse. A person abused him. Has that person been investigated, suspended, subjected to appropriate discipline? I’m assuming the abuse perpetrated on… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

A statement issued by AMiE appears to draw a connection between the two developments: ‘In this matter AMiE’s primary concern and prayers are for Andy, his family, and other victims. We are also praying for the Emmanuel Wimbledon church family and others affected by recent news of abuse. We deplore all abuse in all its forms and we expect all AMiE churches to serve and support survivors of abuse.’ https://anglicanmissioninengland.org/news/permalink/06-2019/statement-from-amie-trustees-and-mission-director Colin, I echo your other questions and share your frustration. For the most part the Church seems unable and unwilling to face and address the unhealthy power structures and systemic… Read more »

Colin Coward
Guest

I’ve now watched the Anglican Ink podcast in full (I think it’s linked in one of the listed reports) and read the statement and watched the video recording from the event on 27 June. If this activity had been discovered among any Christian LGBTI group I can imagine the accusations and interpretations that would be flung at us from all of the organisations implicated in these reports. One of the implications that is obvious to me but not acknowledged in the reports is the suppressed homosexual desire in these men, despite Jonathan Fletcher claiming that “these sessions categorically do not… Read more »

Nigel LLoyd
Guest
Nigel LLoyd

As I look at the Church today, with a pro-heterosexual marriage ‘doctrine’ being seen (by some) as almost a keystone of Christian faith, I wonder to what extent the Church is being shaped by abuse and the struggle of many people to come to terms with the abuse that they have been subjected to (or maybe have subjected others to). I remember some words spoken by my mother (a wise and experienced marriage guidance counselor) in a sermon:- ‘Growing up is a wounding experience. The path to maturity is coming to terms with and resolving that woundedness’. Why is it… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

As a con-evo I have always found the scene to be fixed in a very few hands and hands which are public school, oxbridge and generally very wealthy. It has its own career structure, norms and controlling group. What strikes me in the statement is how things learnt at school (it reads like so many other public school abuse accounts) seem to have be normalised into parish and church life and taken as normal discipleship techniques. I find the comment that it is in no means sexual to be fundamentally dishonest and absolutely bizarre. I will be interested to meet… Read more »

Fr. Dean Henley
Guest
Fr. Dean Henley

How does anyone so lacking in self awareness ever get ordained? These chaps massaging each other whilst everyone was in the buff are explained away as non-sexual and un-erotic. Perhaps I don’t understand the culture in the major or for that matter the minor English public schools, but my contemporaries would have known that such naked pastimes were inevitably sexual. Why did Mr Fletcher have to be ‘outed’ so publicly by his evangelical compadres before he ceased public ministry? Anyone else would have been served with a CDM for flouting the consequences of the removal of his PTO: why not… Read more »

Marian Birch
Guest
Marian Birch

What of course is also not being picked up in this discussion about ‘spiritual abuse’ because of the understandable focus on intra-male physical abuse – is the way that conservative evangelical forms of Christianity can also be very abusive in its attitude to women. A few years ago Anne Atkins wrote a wonderful account of how she was treated at the Iwerne camps when she went there as a helper and did not know her place (as a woman)! I myself believe that I suffered what might be called ‘spiritual abuse’ at the hands of an Anglican evangelical organisation that… Read more »

Fr. Dean Henley
Guest
Fr. Dean Henley

One of my college contemporaries attended the marriage of two evangelical priests from his deanery. As they were pronounced husband and wife, the male priest turned to his friends and made a crude gesture which implied that the female priest he’d just married was now his sexual possession. As you say Marion, patriarchy has much to answer for and continues to be endorsed by the men leading the conservative evangelical movement.

FrDavid H
Guest
FrDavid H

Is there no limit to Anglican comprehensiveness? The idea of being a ‘broad’ church encourages all kinds of odd-balls to hold the crankiest of beliefs which a liberal, secular society must surely regard as weird. As a member of the CofE, I find some of my co-believers promote a totally different religion. I remember the days when the CofE could claim to be the national Church. Today it’s a strange sect consisting of some very strange people.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Thank you Marian. You are quite right to point this out. Like so much of the broader debates on sexuality, so much of the reporting and discussion of these disturbing events is presumed to be male centred and about men – like the historic traditions the behaviour is found within. What this reveals about men and male identity in the church is yet to be honestly faced.

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Thank you for saying that Marian, you are absolutely right. So far little has been heard about the abuse of women in our Church, but when we are heard it’s going to be massive. As an example, when I was parish deacon at St. Michael-le-Belfrey the church had a group of elders, and I wasn’t one of them for the first couple of years. An ordained woman was considered less a leader than a number of unordained men. Incidentally ‘Letters to a Broken Church’, edited by myself and Gilo, is published this coming Saturday. It contains the stories of both… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Sorry to be so ignorant, but who or what are ‘elders’ in the C of E, and what legal standing, if any, do they have? For example, are they subject to the CDM? Churchwardens are.

Maybe I’m out of date, but reading many of the posts on TA gives an impression that Canon law has gone out of the window. Confusion about the present C of E isn’t confined to members of the ‘liberal, secular society’, which FrDavid H mentions above.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

My question has now been partly answered by looking at the website of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese (and too late to edit my earlier post). But I’m not clear whether this has been adopted in every diocese. I don’t know of any elders in my locality, hence the initial question.

But it also begs the further question who (at first) vetoed Janet’s inclusion – the incumbent or the existing elders?

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

This happened in the late 80s-early 90s. It was (and possibly still is) the custom for some evangelical churches to have elders as well as the churchwardens and PCC. It makes for a very complicated structure and, as you say, shows little regard for Anglican structures and canon law. However, where they exist they tend to have more influence than the PCC. In the case of St. Mike’s, they were the most powerful group in the church and being excluded was a sign that my status was a very lowly one. I minded not just for myself, but because I… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Your experience sounds highly irregular, if not positively unlawful.

Apparently in St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese ‘lay elders’ are commissioned by the bishop, but in my admittedly brief researches I haven’t found anything corresponding elsewhere. Suffolk seems to be a ‘special case’.

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

I remember vividly being interviewed at St Michael-le-Belfry for a curacy post in 1984. The process was a multi-day experience culminating in an interview. The interview setup was myself and 26 ‘elders’ arrayed in a semicircle around me. It was extremely intimidating. One of the issues we discussed was our different expectations about the length of service implied in the position. My understanding was that this was a second curacy post lasting the normal three years, after which i would explore employment at an incumbent level.The elders communicated very clearly to me that they did not see it this way.… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Surely, all this must have been illegal? When I tentatively searched other dioceses (after St Edmundsbury) yesterday, I specifically looked for York and all the search engine results deleted the word ‘elders’.

For readers who don’t know it, St Michael-le-Belfry is literally next door to York Minster. Someone senior in the Church ought to have known about, and put a stop to, such irregularities.

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Jeremy, I’m sorry your interview was such a difficult experience. There were some lovely – and very creative – people at St. Mike’s but it could be a very difficult place to be. There were some people who continually objected to my wearing a clerical shirt – even on Sundays and for taking services – and one day two of the elders pulled the plastic insert out of my shirt. You did indeed have a lucky escape.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

What you describe could have been, and probably was, an assault. I’m still not clear how ‘elders’ are appointed and whether there is any legal basis for the authority they claim to exercise. Are ‘ordinary’ congregation members happy with this?

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Congregation members were happy with it, yes. I think it was David Watson who set up the scheme, but it was before my time so I don’t know how it was done. Presumably he had permission from the bishop and/or archbishop at the time.

Near the end of my time there Archbishop Habgood commissioned a Visitation. Watching Tina Baxter handle the PCC was a treat. I still have the report, it makes very interesting reading. I was told they wouldn’t be allowed another woman deacon (as we then were) because they treated them so badly (I wasn’t the first).

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

I’m fairly sure Andy Lines would never have been considered a “vulnerable adult”, yet it seems he has felt it necessary to withdraw at least for a while from ministry in order to try to come to terms with what happened to him. It just shows how damaging it can all be. Some people may find it somewhat disparaging to be labelled as vulnerable, as if a person of greater strength or character would not have allowed things to happen. This sad case shows we are all potentially vulnerable. Perhaps we should not think of “vulnerable adults” as a specific… Read more »

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

I agree. Anyone is vulnerable when it comes to their relationship with a person who has power or influence over them – however strong they might be in other settings.