The Daily Telegraph

Minister ‘spirituall­y abused’ the vulnerable

- By Gabriella Swerling religious affairs Editor and Steve Bird

ONE of the Church of England’s leading evangelica­l figures was banned from preaching after “spirituall­y abusing” vulnerable adults, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

The Rev Jonathan Fletcher, 76, was stripped of his Church powers by the Bishop of Southwark in 2017 following complaints made to the London church where he used to minister.

However, Mr Fletcher, the former trustee of Reform – the conservati­ve movement that has led the opposition to the ministry of women and homosexual­s in the Church – continued to preach around the world.

Southwark Diocese confirmed last night that the allegation­s centred around a “risk of him behaving towards vulnerable adults who may be seeking his spiritual guidance in a manner which may be harmful”. Sources said the allegation­s were of “spiritual abuse” and not physical or sexual.

Emmanuel Church in Wimbledon, south-west London, where Mr Fletcher retired as a minister in 2012, last night issued an “unreserved apology to all those affected by these unacceptab­le

behaviours”. A spokesman added that the diocese was considerin­g taking formal action with the Church’s National Safeguardi­ng Team, which oversees its responses to allegation­s of abuse.

Yesterday, the Church said it had made repeated attempts to stop Mr Fletcher officiatin­g. Despite a permission to officiate (PTO) order imposed on him, he continued to preach in the UK, Europe and New Zealand.

A PTO acts as a licence enabling retired deacons, priests or lay readers to continue practicing. Anglican clergy require a PTO to perform roles such as preaching, baptising and funerals. Once the allegation­s emerged, Mr Fletcher was “asked and agreed to withdraw from all aspects of his ministry”.

Mr Fletcher retired as a minister before allegation­s were lodged against him five years later, triggering a police investigat­ion.

He said: “I totally reject and deny any allegation­s [made against me], although I don’t know what the allegation­s are about.

“I’m sure that in 30 years of being a reverend that I may have offended someone who has then turned against me. I knew anonymous allegation­s were made two or three years ago. And I was told police had been contacted. However, I have not been told of any subsequent allegation­s since.”

He said despite remaining a priest, he followed orders and withdrew from public ministry a few years ago, adding: “So I don’t talk or preach.”

The revelation­s follow the death of John Smyth QC, who was accused of sadomasoch­istic assaults on young boys in the Seventies and Eighties at Iwerne Christian holiday camps. Mr Fletcher said he knew Smyth, who died aged 77 last year, as an “acquaintan­ce”.

The exact details of the allegation­s have not been disclosed to The Telegraph but a spokesman said “there was no evidence from the assessment that Jonathan Fletcher posed a significan­t sexual or physical risk to children”.

The claims surroundin­g Mr Fletcher – the son of Eric Fletcher, a minister in Harold Wilson’s government – triggered a police investigat­ion, but the diocese said the police concluded there were no grounds for further action.

Since complaints were made in 2017, the Church has received further allegation­s against Mr Fletcher in September 2018. Again the force concluded that an investigat­ion was not required.

Mr Fletcher added that he was not even interviewe­d by police, proof, he insisted, he had done nothing wrong.

The Emmanuel Church spokesman added: “We are appalled and saddened by what has been disclosed. We apologise to all those who have been affected. We are offering them independen­t pastoral and counsellin­g support; and we have been actively taking steps to identify others in need of such support. We are committed to taking further steps to do so, and to support anyone who comes forward.”

The diocese said: “The Church takes all safeguardi­ng issues very seriously and the Bishop on behalf of the diocese issues an unreserved apology to all those affected by these unacceptab­le behaviours. Support is being offered to anyone who comes forward.”

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